When someone else’s dog attacks, the psychological toll can be as significant as the physical injuries and financial damages. Dog bites are dangerous and prone to infection, and being attacked by a dog is terrifying. Many victims suffer considerable psychological effects that should not be ignored. If this is the difficult situation you find yourself in, don’t wait to consult with an experienced New Jersey dog bite lawyer.
To begin, it’s important to note that dog attacks are far more common than you may realize. If you’ve been attacked, you are not alone. Consider the statistics shared by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA):
If you or your child has been attacked by a dog, taking the matter seriously is always the best policy.
In addition to wounds and other dog bite injuries, many victims suffer mental trauma, including PTSD.
The Mayo Clinic defines post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event. Being attacked by a dog is a prime example of a terrifying event. While many people have temporary difficulties after going through a frightening experience, others face far more challenging aftereffects. When any of the following apply to the symptoms associated with the terrifying event in question – such as a dog attack – it points to PTSD:
The symptoms of PTSD are generally grouped into four basic categories. It’s important to note, however, that the signs and symptoms can evolve over time and can switch back and forth between improving and worsening – with little rhyme or reason.
The following are examples of intrusive memories:
The following symptoms tend to signal negative consequences in relation to mood and thought processes:
All the following are signs that you may be attempting to avoid thinking about the dog attack:
If you experience changes in the way you react to physical or emotional stimuli, they’re called arousal symptoms, which can include all the following:
The Mayo Clinic advises victims of traumatic events like dog attacks to take their symptoms seriously, which includes consulting with a medical or mental healthcare provider if any of the following apply:
PTSD has a nasty way of sneaking up on victims and getting progressively worse over the course of time, which makes seeking the help you need sooner rather than later always in your best interest.
In order to diagnose PTSD, doctors generally begin with thorough physical exams to ensure that there isn’t an underlying medical condition causing the symptoms in question. Other diagnostic tools include:
Treatment for PTSD is designed to help you regain a sense of control over your life in the wake of a traumatic event like being attacked by a dog. While the primary mode of treatment is psychotherapy, there are also medications that can help. The basics of psychotherapy include all the following:
The bottom line is that PTSD can be very isolating, but you don’t have to face the problem alone.
Psychotherapy for PTSD breaks down into three basic categories that include:
Any one of these – or any combination of these – may help you get a better handle on your PTSD symptoms, which can afford you the opportunity to move forward with greater purpose and hope.
As mentioned, children are the most likely to be negatively affected by a dog attack, and the consequences can be long-lasting. If your child was attacked by a dog – or saw someone else be viciously attacked by a dog – an assessment regarding whether or not trauma counseling is called for is in order. It is not uncommon for children to suffer emotional consequences in the wake of such events, which can include PTSD.
Even if your child doesn’t display clear emotional signs of a problem, problems can develop over time. Further, your child may be suppressing their symptoms as a coping mechanism. Early intervention is the surest means of warding off latent emotional consequences that can gain momentum over time and can lead to issues like the following:
One of the most challenging aspects of PTSD is that it tends to isolate sufferers – whether they are adults or children – and to push those who are closest to them away, just when they’re needed the most.
Children count on adults to protect them from the dangers of the world, and this includes protecting them from dogs that turn aggressive. Most children have a natural fondness for dogs, which means they tend to lack the weariness of strange dogs that most adults have. If your child was attacked by someone else’s dog, the person to whom the dog belongs is responsible for the event – regardless of whether or not they knew their pet had aggressive tendencies.
By avoiding comments like the following, you help show your child that they are in no way to blame:
While your child is not to blame for the pet owner’s failure to protect them, teaching your child the warning signs of canine aggression is an excellent idea and could help protect them in the future.
The ASPCA shares the following signs of escalating aggression in dogs:
It’s important to recognize that dogs don’t necessarily proceed through these steps, and some dogs will go straight to attack mode. In other words, it’s important to remain vigilant whenever you believe a dog could pose a threat. Helping your child understand the signs of canine aggression can help empower them and provide them with greater control over the emotional consequences they experience.
There are also protective measures we can take to help protect ourselves from dog attacks, and teaching these to your children can help protect them and help mitigate their anxiety regarding dogs, including:
Because of their size in comparison to children, dogs generally bite them on their faces or above their shoulders. This sense of being overpowered by an animal that is larger than they are is compared to the fear adults who are attacked by bears experience, which can lead to shock, long-term anxiety, and overwhelming residual stress.
While adults recognize that talking about such experiences can be healing in and of itself, children do not. Children recognize that their trauma affects those who love them and tend to suppress it in response. Getting your child the help they need and encouraging them to openly share their feelings about the dog attack are the first steps on the path toward healing.
If your child exhibits any of the following signs, it’s time to seek the professional guidance of a mental health professional with extensive experience working with children who’ve been traumatized:
Getting your child the help they need early on can provide them with the tools they need to defeat the debilitating emotional consequences of a dog attack.
As mentioned, talk therapy is one of the most effective tools for overcoming the emotional consequences of a dog attack. A primary form of psychotherapy is cognitive processing therapy (CPT), which can take several helpful forms.
After an event as terrifying as a dog attack, it’s natural to experience distorted or otherwise negative thoughts, and these can play an important role in any PTSD you experience. Common examples include – I caused the dog to attack me, and Every dog puts me at great risk. Neither of these, however, is true, and CPT can help you reframe these thoughts into statements that better reflect the reality of the situation. Shifting your negative thought processes in this way can help you reduce the level of fear and anxiety you experience as a result of the dog-bite trauma.
CPT can help you process the traumatic experience and integrate the related memories of a dog attack – rather than living in fear of them or allowing them to take over your life. Often, this involves talking about your experience in an environment in which you feel safe and supported, exploring your related emotions, asking any lingering questions you have, and working through your unresolved feelings. This approach allows you to create a personal narrative, including the dog attack, that supports your recovery – in a manner that makes sense to you.
CPT can also help you not only identify but also address any behaviors you’ve adopted to avoid thinking or talking about the dog attack, which are likely to get in the way of your recovery. Avoidance behaviors often include:
CPT can arm you with the tools you need to gradually confront your avoidance behaviors and ultimately move beyond them.
CPT can provide you with a full set of coping skills that help you manage your problematic emotions, physical manifestations of anxiety, and other symptoms related to your dog-bite trauma. Common coping skills include:
The more tools at your disposal, the better your ability to manage triggers and improve your ability to cope and overall resilience.
People who’ve experienced trauma, such as being attacked by a dog, tend to turn on themselves, but CPT can help you break this chain with increased compassion for yourself. CPT encourages you to treat yourself with the kindness that you deserve and to throw some self-care in for good measure. When you focus on your own emotional, psychological, and cognitive well-being, you set the stage for a healthier and happier future. Nurturing yourself is one of the most important steps toward overcoming trauma.
One of the most emotionally damaging aspects of dog attacks is that they often come out of nowhere – leaving the victim blindsided and terrified. This effect is much more significant for children because even a relatively small dog can be frighteningly large to them and can swiftly knock them off their feet. The feelings of helplessness that go along with such attacks help to ensure that they generate significant emotional responses that can lead to PTSD and other psychological setbacks.
The role of therapy in the aftermath of a dog attack is to encourage the victim’s healing and to both validate and normalize their emotional responses, which are designed to help them regain a sense of control and to empower them moving forward. Once you’ve regained control of your fear and anxiety, it paves the way toward conquering any lingering fear of dogs and taking a less fearful approach to life in general.
You did not cause the dog that attacked you to do so. Many owners of dogs that bite contend that the victims shouldn’t have done X, Y, or Z, which often include not looking at the dog, not walking near the dog, or not speaking in the dog’s presence. This flies in the face of the immense responsibility dog owners have to protect the public from their dogs. You can’t be expected to know a dog’s quirks, and you’re not responsible for failing to do so. The right therapist for you will not cast any blame your way.
You’ve been attacked by a dog, and you need emotional support. Further, not every form of support is helpful in every situation or for every dog bite victim. As such, you’re looking for a therapist who has comprehensive therapeutic resources available – to help ensure you receive the brand of support that is most helpful to you.
The right therapist for you will help you process what you’ve been through to the point that you’re ready to get back out there and live your life to the fullest. This can mean walk-and-talk therapy, in which you take walks – or engage in other outdoor activities together – while addressing any lingering emotional reactions you may have.
When you find a therapist who listens to you, hears what you’re trying to say, and is invested in creating a therapeutic plan that suits you and your unique situation, you’ll be well on your way to getting the help you need.
David J. Cowhey is a trusted dog bite lawyer at the law firm of The New Jersey Dog Bite Lawyer, who focuses his impressive practice on helping dog bite victims like you fully recover financially for their physical, financial, and emotional losses. To learn more, please don’t wait to contact or call us at 866-343-3181 today.