Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, The


The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing. What happens when a young brain is traumatized? How does terror, abuse, or disaster affect a child’s mind–and how can that mind recover? Child psychiatrist Bruce Perry has helped children faced with unimaginable horror: genocide survivors, murder witnesses, kidnapped teenagers, and victims of family violence. In The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, he tells their stories of trauma and transformation through the lens of science, revealing the brain’s astonishing capacity for healing. Deftly combining unforgettable case histories with his own compassionate, insightful strategies for rehabilitation, Perry explains what exactly happens to the brain when a child is exposed to extreme stress-and reveals the unexpected measures that can be taken to ease a child’s pain and help him grow into a healthy adult. Through the stories of children who recover-physically, mentally, and emotionally-from the most devastating circumstances, Perry shows how simple things like surroundings, affection, language, and touch can deeply impact the developing brain, for better or for worse. In this deeply informed and moving book, Bruce Perry dramatically demonstrates that only when we understand the science of the mind can we hope to heal the spirit of even the most wounded child. (Hardcover, 288pp, 2007)

Coalition Staff Member Review

“Relationships are the agents of change and the most powerful therapy is human love,” Dr. Bruce Perry, child psychiatrist, concludes in one of the last chapters of the book The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog. This book is a collection of Dr. Perry’s case studies in which he uses his expertise in brain development and neuroscience to study how traumatic experiences shape behavior in children. Each chapter focuses on an individual child’s case. These include a child who was raised in a kennel, another who murdered two teenage girls, the children involved in the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, and many other disturbing situations.

The most fascinating part of the book is the path Dr. Perry took himself as he came to understand how the developing child’s brain works, especially under the impact of early-life stress and violence. He learned how to better his practice from each case and was always willing to acquire knowledge from others. For example, “Mama P” was an experienced foster mother who did not hesitate to hold, soothe, and rock a 7-year-old boy who had missed this essential nurturing during his infancy and toddler years. Through Mama P, Dr. Perry learned the importance of meeting children where they are cognitively, not just in biological age. I appreciated how, in cases of neglect, he was careful not to automatically villainize birth/adoptive/foster parents as some were unaware that the neglect was occurring or had simply been parenting as they had been parented. One of the most important factors he discovered in the process of learning how to treat these children is that the powerlessness felt by a child during a traumatic experience must be counteracted. The brain of a traumatized child can be “rewired” with patterned, repetitive experiences in a safe environment.  According to Dr. Perry, lasting, caring connections to others are irreplaceable in healing. Medication and therapy cannot do it alone.

Be forewarned, it is difficult to read this book more than a chapter or two at a time. The stories are horrifying and heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting as the children progress in their healing. This collection of case studies would be a perfect choice for a book club. That space would allow you to reflect and digest these stories with others and that may lighten the emotional load they carry.


Author: Bruce Perry, Maia Szalavitz
Additional Author: Basic Books
Count: 1
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