Trauma After a Dog Fight: When Emotional Scars Surface, The Real Work Begins

It’s always darkest before the dawn. 

At the ripe age of 58 and after decades of resistance, I have finally learned to embrace the darkness.  I know and trust it will not only shift into light but will shift me into a new phase.  Possibly an enlightened phase. Maybe a new understanding of dogs. Definitely a lesson in there. A big lesson has been coming.

Luna, our foster dog from Animal Control

Luna, our foster dog from Animal Control

Once I clear my emotional pain and remove my unreasonable human expectations, the real work can begin.  Dogs are animals. Never forget that. We are living with animals yet sometimes expect them to have evolved into our human family.

Just a few weeks back, a tremendous dog fight took place here. My foster dog Luna was on the treadmill and my personal dog Petunia walked up to sniff her bottom. Luna snatched her up onto the treadmill and never missed a beat.

Looking back, Luna was triggered into fight or flight from previous bad experiences surrounding her root chakra.  This was confirmed for me during a reading by Erica Tibbetts, my animal communicator.  Luna had previously been held against her will and bred in a way that was unfair and emotionally traumatic. Unbeknownst to me, she was emotionally scarred from her past.  I could see the darkness behind her eyes yet never knew why. Until now.

Even though Luna had worked face to face with Petunia through a pool fence for five months without so much as a grumble or a hackle, being approached from behind by Petunia was too much for her to cope with.  She struck and she did damage.  I feel certain had this happened in someone else’s home, she would have done insurmountable damage to another animal or injured a human who mistakenly put their hands in the middle of two mouths. For the record, we broke up the fight with a full strength garden hose.  

The end result by my superiors was the decision for her euthanasia as she could not be placed safely in another home. She died peacefully in my arms in my vet’s office but not without first teaching me important lessons.

Petunia healed quickly from a physical standpoint.  However, the attack left emotional scars that would surface almost a month later.  Petunia started attacking our eldest dog Jojo.

My first thought was because Jojo is old and getting close to crossing over. He’s the weak link in the pack. But this pack is not at risk in the wild. We’re in Scottsdale living in safety FFS!

Why would she bring harm to her best friend?  Her buddy she plays with and sleeps with.  The same dog she shares bones with.  Just the day before, all four dogs were piled into my suv for our family trip to Sedona. It’s our summer of love for Jojo as we are fairly certain his end is approaching quickly.

I was so angry, disappointed, sad and shocked.  I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. She has done phenomenally over the past five years I’ve been rehabbing her through her dog aggression. Why now?  I knew I was missing a piece of the puzzle. 

I reached out to my girls Erica, Alicia and Christine to help me understand it further.  It’s important to point out that not one person has all the answers, learning is lifelong and you need to learn from teachers hands-on.  There is no substitute.  There’s also not one answer.

The discussion of bullies came up. I’m thinking bully breeds. Nope. Bullies.  Bullying. Is my dog Petunia a bully now?  The short answer is yes.  

She is traumatized by what happened with Luna and has taken a few steps backward into her old trauma patterns that she arrived here with. Petunia was a fighter when I adopted her in 2014.  

She came with deeply rooted patterns that stem from a time in her impressionable first 18 months of age when she was cared for at the hands of someone else who did not have her back.  Someone who did abuse her and bred her inappropriately.  Skinny, sick and underweight while expected to have puppies in a backyard on the west side of Phoenix. 

Five years later, Luna bit her seriously.  I didn’t have her back. The trusting bond that we formed has been broken because I did not keep her safe. The fact that she walked up to Luna’s treadmill doesn’t forgive the fact (and it’s simply a fact) that I did not keep my dog safe.  She was attacked while in my care and that undermines our relationship. My Jojo has now been attacked and, if I’m not careful, he won’t trust me either.

This is not meant to beat myself up because I am certainly not blaming myself.  I am sorry that this is where we are but I know, as my friend Tracy says, “God doesn’t waste pain”.  This is a huge lesson in canine PTSD. Patterns. Abuse. Aggression. Trauma.Fight or Flight.  Petunia will always choose the fight. Jojo always chooses the flight.  I have to make sure I work both dogs down past avoidance and into acceptance.  This is where the real work begins because it’s not just once. It’s over and over and over until the trauma lessens a bit more each day.  This will allow my CCR (Conditioned Calming Response) teachings to really take effect by bringing my pack back together into a place of trust and healing.

If you’ve ever been in therapy, know that you must get to the root of the trauma and then learn how to accept and then work with new tools for coping. It doesn’t mean you’ll never be triggered again.  We learn how to lessen the response to those triggers.  

I recently was involved in a large meeting where a nasty, vile man with his own agenda triggered many of the women.  I immediately wanted to square off and take his ass down.  Punch.  Kick. Bite. Kick in the balls. Whatever I had to do.  I worked through those feelings quickly and disengaged completely.  It doesn’t mean the ability to be triggered goes away. I’ve just learned through practice how to cope better.  I didn’t hit him because I knew the consequences for me would be great.

What I am also coming to understand now is that Petunia is so triggered to her core trauma that she’s itching for a fight. This past weekend’s attack was #3. Still stumped, I called Alicia.  WTH am I missing here?  I just don’t get it.  

My playground bully is looking for a fight with the weaker dog because she’s traumatized and needs to win one in order to feel better about herself.  I’ve never understood the psychology behind a bully until now.  And maybe that’s the big lesson for me.


When she’s not in her kennel, she’s muzzled full time.  Jojo is always safe.  After the first attack on him, I removed the muzzle six days later. It happened again. It was a big mistake I won’t make again.  I owe it to Jojo to keep him safe too.

My first thought was what a pussy move that is though - to pick on the weaker dog.  “Go pick on someone your own size” is how I was taught.  There’s my pesky human emotions getting in the way again.  Nobody deserves to be picked on.  She’s a dog trying to deal with her internal struggle and I’m attaching human emotions to her.  You do realize that that’s how this business opened, right?  I learned from some very big mistakes.

Then it hit me this morning in the shower where I do some of my best thinking. My brother used to bully me. We didn’t call it bullying back in the dark ages of the 1970’s. He was known as a punk. A hoodlum. He used to pick on me in the streets in front of his friends. In his leather jacket.  Obviously he had no balls. Picking on his little sister of 10 and he was 17.  Now I can stop and say “hmm....I wonder who in his social circle was bullying him”? 

It certainly doesn’t erase what happened to him or me or Petunia. But now, as the leader of the Pack, I have a better understanding of aggression and bullying. And that there might be my first step into forgiveness for him. 

Like I said, it’s always darkest before the dawn.  I knew there’d be lessons here that reach far beyond dog training.  

I’m grateful to be able to share my lessons with you as they unfold.  I work hard to stay open to what the universe is teaching me but boy is it tough some days!

I’ll close with a beautiful quote from one half of my veterinary team - “Setbacks are a great teacher”.  Amen.  Thank you, Dr. Marzke!

Blessings to all of you.  Please keep us in your prayers as we work through our lessons.

The entire pack at work. PLACE with Conditioned Calming Response training.

The entire pack at work. PLACE with Conditioned Calming Response training.

Titty Tat Georgie possesses such wonderful leadership and calming cues. He joined in our Conditioned Calming Response exercises.

Titty Tat Georgie possesses such wonderful leadership and calming cues. He joined in our Conditioned Calming Response exercises.