Attachment style theory is a widely known phenomena. Developed by John Bowlby in the late 1960’s, it provides a framework in an attempt to attribute a ’cause and effect’ reasoning as to why, and how, children develop either a healthy, ‘secure’ attachment style, or an unhealthy, ‘insecure’ attachment style… It is based on the idea that, the love we receive in childhood by our primary caregivers has an inevitable impact upon the way we give and receive love in adulthood. A lesser known phenomena though, and one which I want to discuss today, is attachment theory in relation to [domestic] animals. Where a dog is living in a house characterised by frequent arguing/abuse, is it not inevitable that, in the same way a child living in such a house would be impacted, so too will the dog be impacted?…
The reason I am asking this question is based on something I observed in my own dog. It was Saturday night and my Mum had been drinking (she’s an alcoholic and had relapsed pretty bad). When she drinks, she can’t not argue and, because no one was arguing back with her, she started punching the door with her fists. My dog, Martha, was terrified and started running across to the other side of the room, tail between her legs, evidently really frightened. Even when my Mum went to stroke her she kept running to the other side of the room, cowering. My other dog though, who we have only had two years, didn’t bat an eye. She remained sitting next to me on the sofa, completely unphased. I thought nothing of it at the time until I realised the significance of this. Martha is seven, we got her when I was 15 and, the proceeding few years, what with me having developed Anorexia, my Grandad having been diagnosed with cancer, and my Mum’s alcoholism having gotten really bad, it meant that life at home was very… chaotic (to put it lightly). Arguments constantly, never knowing where you were from one day to the next. And, Martha was there through all of that.
Like a child who relies on their parents to look after them, for they can’t do so for themselves, so too does a dog. And so, also like a child, when a dogs needs go unmet, the impact can be lasting. And damaging…
We can’t see into a dogs mind, so we don’t know exactly what goes off in there but, we do know that they can pick up on emotions, that they’re intelligent, that they learn quickly, forming patterns:
- Recognising the sound of your car pulling up outside.
- Knowing what time you will be home every day.
- Somehow knowing the time- standing by the door at 4pm every day ready for their walk…
- & the day- getting excited on a Saturday Morning for the remnants of Friday night Fish and chips…
And, we know that dogs can remember trauma, that they do remember trauma. Just think about all the adverts we’ve seen over the years for the likes of the RSPCA/the PDSA etc. Images of emaciated dogs tied up outside, abandoned. Footage of said dogs being rescued by charities like the RSPCA but having no trust, to the extent where even just touching them is a mammoth task to be approached with the utmost patience from handlers, for in such fear and distrust the dogs have been living (well, existing). We know this but, perhaps something you don’t know; dogs can actually develop PTSD* as a result of trauma/as a result of being emotionally traumatised, just like people can…
*(Roughly 5 to 17% of dogs are affected with canine PTSD).
Remembering all the arguments then, all the abuse, do dogs, like children who get ‘caught in the middle’, internalise their feelings, subconsciously being left to question if they are somehow to blame?
Are dogs, like children who witness domestic abuse for which they can’t really understand- still trying to make sense of the world- also made to feel insecure?
Who knows but, if they are, then is this why my dog, Martha, is so sensitive? Or was she just born that way? (Is her sensitivity nature vs nurture)?…
This (^) is the question which we all want to know the answer to, isn’t it. Not just in dogs, but in the context of humans, too… The answer to the longstanding question of;
‘How much of our personality is nature–
how we are born,
how much of it is nurture–
how we were brought up and ‘shaped’?…
In other words;
How much do I have ‘God’ to blame for my problems-
(I’m not religious but, you know what I mean, I hope),
How much do I have my parents to blame?…
Nature VS Nurture.
Acceptance VS Blame.