Common Fears in Dogs and How to Banish Them
There are plenty of movies and reality shows out there depicting dogs as these fearless protectors, able to chase down every bad guy and protect their humans from harm in every scenario. But that’s exactly what it is – a movie. Well, truth be told, there are some amazingly brave dogs in the world, such as police dogs, but these types of pooches are specifically trained to be obedient, brave, and relentless.
Other dogs, they are just big softies. In fact, dogs are highly emotional and sensitive creatures, and no matter the breed, they are more likely to run away at the first sight of danger than to stand their ground. So if you got a German shepherd to keep your front yard safe from intruders, you are in for an unpleasant surprise.
Even if your pooch is displaying aggressive behavior towards strangers or other dogs, it’s 100% because they are scared, and not because they are trying to protect you. Now, while you should never expect of your dog to be inherently brave or protective, there are certain common fears you should look out for and aim to eliminate in order to increase their quality of life in the long term.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the common signs that your dog is living in fear, after which we will delve deeper into the fears themselves and give you the tools to banish them for good.
Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian, just a proud dog owner with many years of experience under my belt. So I encourage you to take the following advice just as it is – advice. Be sure to visit your veterinarian for a professional consultation regarding your furry friend.
5 signs telling you your dog is scared
Before we take a look at the actual fears, let’s address the common signs you should be looking for:
- They don’t respond to commands– if your dog is not responding to your voice, it might not be because they’re stubborn, it might be that they’re scared. Take a moment to assess their posture: if their head is tilted down, with their tail between their hind legs, they are frightened.
- Refusing to eat– a dog will never refrain from a delicious meal unless something is very wrong. It might just be a sign of fear and situational anxiety.
- Sudden change of behavior– if your pooch suddenly starts crying while walking, scratching and sniffing around, it might mean that something is causing them stress.
- Panting heavily– if it’s not too hot outside yet your dog is panting heavily, it’s a sign that something is not right and that you should immediately offer a comforting gaze and a loving pat on the head.
- Constant alertness– this problem is often mistaken for a lack of focus and attention. While your dog might be all over the place especially if they’re young, it’s more likely that the poor pooch is afraid of something. You can try to banish their fear by frequently returning to the same place, or you can take them to a different park.
Dealing with separation anxiety
No dog wants to be left alone. After all, dogs are like toddlers that never grow up, and they really do want your undivided attention throughout the day. While it’s only natural that you have other things to do and need to leave them alone, you should never expect your dog to overcome the fear of separation on their own. Remember, dogs learn through training and positive encouragement.
So much like you would teach your dog any other trick or behavioral pattern, you should work over time to gradually eliminate their inherent fear of abandonment. After all, if you let this problem persist, you will not only decrease your dog’s quality of life and their lifespan due to excess stress, but you will also run the risk of your dog displaying bad and self-destructive behavior.
First things first, you want to practice departure exercises where you pick up your keys and bag several times during the day, walk out, and then come back immediately when the dog calms down, praising them with treats and plenty of cuddles. Next, it’s always a good idea to exercise your dog before leaving them alone, so that they’re too tuckered out to make a fuss.
You can also try natural calming remedies such as essential oils. Make sure your pooch has plenty of toys to keep occupied, and make a nice bed for them out of worn clothes that have your smell to calm them further.
Banishing the fear of other dogs
Socialization is extremely important for dogs, and I am saddened to say that most dogs are not socialized enough and as a result they live out their lives fearing other dogs, or even being aggressive towards them. This is not a way to enjoy your life together.
One area where I think Australian dog owners are doing great, is taking their pups to professional dog training in Sydney and other areas around the country. That way, that through positive encouragement and plenty of professional oversight, the dogs can learn to trust other dogs and banish their fears. This works great for adult dogs as well, but do keep in mind that you will also need to learn how to socialize your dog, making sure you keep bringing them to dog parks when you finish training.
Remember that keeping your dog constantly on a leash is not only bad for their emotional and psychological well-being, but that keeping them away from other dogs can be detrimental to their quality of life in every aspect. Much like humans, they need to be among their kind.
Calming your dog before travel
A dog is a creature of habit, and they would love nothing more than to have a fixed routine they can follow every single day. But that’s not how life works, and sometimes stressful situations, such as travel, will occur. While every dog loves a good outdoor adventure, not all dogs will welcome the notion of car, train, or God forbid, air travel.
The key here is training and positive encouragement. Before you even start the car, let your dog sniff around and inside, making sure every bold step is rewarded with a treat. It’s always a good idea to play car or airplane sounds, depending on the method of travel, to your dog so that they don’t get startled when the travel day comes.
Eliminating the fear of strange noises
As a dog owner, you probably hold higher disdain for fireworks, firecrackers, and other unpleasantly loud noises, than anyone else. And not because you’re afraid, but because you know the terror your dog is going through! While you can’t ban pyrotechnics altogether, you can try to eliminate their fear.
Firstly, it’s important to stay calm at all times. Dogs are highly intuitive, and they know exactly what you’re going through, so if you’re stressed out or nervous, they will notice, and they will mimic you. But if you stay calm through the “storm”, chances are your dog will remain calm as well.
Secondly, it’s always a good idea to offer comforting words and a supportive stroke on the back in order to further calm them down and even reward them for being brave. However, if your dog cannot calm down no matter what, it’s a good idea to give them a vet-issued sedative, or to take them to your vet immediately.
Lastly, remember that noise time is always play time! Whether it’s a storm or a barrage of fireworks, you always want to distract your dog by initiating a game, whether it’s tug of war, jumping around, or simply playing fetch. Again, make sure you reward their efforts to focus on the game with plenty of hugs and treats.
Your dog should never fear you
On the last note, it’s important to address a painfully obvious, yet seldom-addressed issue, and that is the problem of dogs fearing their owners. Read the following carefully: your dog should respect and love you, and they should never fear you. If your dog is afraid of you, then you’re doing something wrong.
This can be the cause of two things: you either adopted a terrified street dog who is yet to recognize you as their loving owner, or you’re beating your dog to teach them manners when all you’re doing is scaring them to death and ruining your relationship. Either way, you have some work to do.
First of all, never beat your dog, it’s counter-productive and it will be detrimental to your relationship. Keep in mind that all it takes is some firm scolding for your pooch to understand they did something wrong. Next, spend plenty of time with your dog, holding them in your arms, petting them, and talking to them. This will create an inextricable bond between you and help them banish their fears.
Dogs are gentle and inherently kind creatures. It is only the improper training and conduct of their human owners that creates an aggressive, frightened, or ambivalent personality in a dog, so understand that it is up to you how your dog will develop and live out their life. With that in mind, be sure to follow these steps in order to discover common anxiety signs in your pooch, and eliminate their fears for good.