Fear in Dogs and dealing with it

When a dog doesn’t understand something or finds himself in an unusual situation, he may become fearful. A well-adjusted dog who has been handled by lots of different people and constantly exposed to new things will take unusual situations in his stride, says Susan Anderson, D.V.M., a clinical instructor of outpatient medicine in the department of small animal clinical sciences at the University of Florida College of veterinary medicine in Gainesville.

A dog who was not a fortunate and was left alone too much when he was young will be confused and may have a difficult time making sense of the world around him.

The Fearful Dog:
A dog who gets nervous about many things – people approaching him, going for a ride in the car, loud noises such as thunder or the whir of the vacuum cleaner – is a fearful dog. This kind of dog assumes everything will come crashing down on him at any moment, so he tries to protect himself in anticipation. When people see a dog cower as someone friendly approaches him, they think the dog has been abused. While he may not have been physically abused, his self esteem has been damaged all the same.

The sight of a dog who is so afraid that nothing can calm him down is disturbing. He may growl, shake or try to run away and hide. And if you don’t solve the problem, his fearfulness can turn into aggression and fear biting.

How to Curb Fear:
Changing a fearful dog into a stable one is not easy and may take a long time, but it’s worth the effort. Don’t reassure your frightened dog by hugging him or telling him everything is okay. It’s not and he knows it’s not. He may be so panicky that he may try to bite you.

Instead, act calm and your dog will most likely follow your example. If you can laugh while your dog is struggling to escape the veterinarian’s exam, the upbeat mood will probably rub off on him. Its okay to give your dog a gentle touches when he’s nervous but don’t make too big a deal out of what’s bothering him.

To help your fearful dog, socialize him more by taking him everywhere you go. Bring along some dog biscuits and when people approach, ask them if they wouldn’t mind giving one to your dog. While he may not take it at first, he will eventually. If you do this often he will soon come to enjoy meeting strangers.

It also helps to handle your dog a lot. Rub your hands all over him as an examining vet might. This will relax him and accustom him to being touched.

You can also enroll your dog in obedience classes where he will learn the basic commands of sit, stay, down, heel and come. Not only does this build his confidence, it also gives you a technique to use with him the next time he gets spooked. He’ll regard you as the one in charge and the next time he gets worried, he’ll look to you to reassurance.

Fear of Loud Noises:
When dogs are afraid of loud noises they have good reason to be. “There sense of hearing is one hundred times greater than ours is, so everything sounds much louder to them than it does to us,” says Dr. Anderson. So don’t be surprised the next time you drop a tray of dishes or the alarm goes off and your dog rushes off and cowers in the corner.

To make your dog feel comfortable before the next big boom, play lots of noise games. While he’s eating, laugh out loud and rattle some pots and pans. Or pump up the volume while giving him treats. He’ll soon realize that noise is no cause for alarm.

Fear of Objects:
You can never predict what objects will frighten your young pup. It could be a large vase placed on the floor, an outdoor garbage can or that tire you put in the yard for him to climb on. Until he becomes familiar with them, your puppy will consider most objects as unknown “monsters.” He may stare at a strange object for a while before barking and running backward. If he’s feeling brave he might even creep forward slowly and quietly so as not to disturb it. To familiarize your dog with new things, go over to the object and sit beside it. Talk to your dog and reassure him in a very upbeat tone of voice that this is a very nice object. Run your hand over it. When your dog sees that it doesn’t attack you, he will gradually become less afraid.

Fear of Strangers:
Some people look scary without meaning to. The way they walk might seem menacing or that big hat they’re wearing can intimidate a young puppy that hasn’t seen much of the world yet. Some dogs are nervous just seeing people other than their family.

If your dog is frightened of people, take him with you when you visit a friend. Ask your friend to stoop down at your down at your dog’s side and offer him a small treat. Stand nearby and be calm. Don’t yank your dog’s collar or leash to prevent him from backing up. If he doesn’t want to take the treat, your friend can toss it to him. It can take some time for dogs to be comfortable around other people, so be patient. Don’t try to rush his progress.

“Once your dog improves, start asking other people to hold his leash while you stand there,” suggests Kathy Marmack, an animal training supervisor at the San Diego Zoo. “This way your dog learns that others can be leaders too.”

With enough practice, your dog will soon be confident enough to go sniffing strangers’ hands for treats the minute someone new approaches.