While finding help for your pet’s behavior issues is often the first step, I think it is equally as important for owners to have support specific to them and the ways caring for their pet is impacting their life. Below are three ideas of what that support could look like.
Talking with someone about what you are going through can be really helpful. Veterinary social workers or other mental health professionals sensitive to the human-animal bond can be a support for the pet owner navigating caring for a pet with behavior problems. Counseling and support groups can help provide a space for you to process your own feelings about caring for your pet and also find strategies for stress management and self-care.
It can be a little difficult to find a mental health professional sensitive to the human-animal bond, but there are many of us out there! One place to start is to look for professionals in your community who provide pet loss support, and talk with them to see if they would also be able to provide caregiver support to those caring with “special needs” pets. The Pet Loss Support Page includes listings by state of counselors. You could also ask your veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, or trainer if they have any recommendations for counselors in your area. Another strategy is to do a search on Psychology Today and look for therapists who focus on grief and loss or stress and caregiver support, and then talk with them to see if they are sensitive to these issues for pet owners.
2. Education & information about dog behavior
Many owners I’ve spoken with have shared that understanding more about their dog has helped them immensely. There are many great books, scientific articles, and online courses to support you in learning more about dog behavior. I was introduced to the world of dog behavior through FetchFind’s Behavior Fundamentals course, which helped me increase my own understanding and knowledge of dog behavior. Chicagoland Veterinary Behavior Consultants has this reading list on their website. E’Lise Christensen DVM Diplomate ACVB reccomends the following resources:
3. Support groups & online forums for pet owners
Across the country there are now in-person support groups for pet owners of pets with behavior problems. And there are also several online forums, such as the “Fearful Dogs” Facebook group facilitated by Debbie Jacobs and the “Living with Dogs in Need of Space” course developed by Jessica Dolce. Janet Finley’s “Your End of the Lead” is another online forum that many owners have found helpful. These forums allow for owners to connect (virtually) and offer support to one another.
Many of the owners I’ve spoken with have indicated that connecting with others who “get it” has been a huge support to them. (Especially when there are people in their world who don’t get it and are not supportive in the ways they need). These are often peer-to-peer support groups, and these support groups do not replace professional help.
Where have you found support?
Kristin Buller is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a Certificate in Veterinary Social Work. Kristin lives in Chicago with her husband and their dog, Ruby. For more information on Kristin, visit www.kristinbuller.com.