Dogs fear is normal emotional response to a source of danger, such as a loud sound, a certain object, the presence of a person or an animal. Fear is always related to a certain event and situation and is manifested only when the “trigger” is present. It is necessary for survival and adaptation when the animal finds itself in an awkward situation because it activates the defense mechanisms for “escape or fight”. Then there is an acceleration of the heart, high blood pressure, dilation of the pupils…
Most side effects in the form of fear have been learned, and animals can be “weaned” from them with appropriate behavioral modification. Also, there is an innate (idiopathic) fear of unknown etiology, and it has been observed in certain breeds: Siberian Husky, Bernese Mountain Dog, Vipet, Border Collie, Great Pyrenean Dog, Standard Poodle. It is important to know that fear is generalized, that it spreads and upgrades. So, if the animal is already tied to a source of danger by negative experiences, a place from which it could not escape or escape, or caused it pain or stress – then the fear increases and it becomes a phobia.
Phobia is a pronounced permanent fear, usually excessive or unjustified, and it appears in connection with a specific object or situation. Phobia is an overemphasized expression of fear during a certain event or an irritation (thunder, firecrackers). The phobia is, in fact, panic. Phobic dogs experience a panic attack, then they do not hear or see the owner, they do not react to treats or commands. In these conditions, they intensively try to escape, their reactions are sudden and escalating, and often self-harm occurs. When these panic attacks last longer, and for several hours during the day, and are repeated from day to day, then it grows into a state of anxiety.
Anxiety is a state of tension that is not related to a specific object or situation (as is the case with fear). The dog has a feeling that “something terrible is going to happen”, he is upset, often feels and / or shows psychomotor tension and restlessness. Anxiety can be a short-term condition (eg in situations of increased stress) or a long-term condition that seriously impairs the dog’s daily functioning.
Anxious dogs are in a state of constant anxiety and trepidation, they are often hyperactive, they make sudden and inarticulate movements, the tension of the whole organism is expressed without the possibility of calming down and resting. Such dogs often have aggressive outbursts if someone wants to approach or touch them, all due to reduced tolerance (irritability) due to constant stress.
Dogs fear types
Most fears, phobias and anxious behaviors develop until the dog is fully mature, from 12 to 36 months. Expressed fear of unknown things most often occurs between the eighth and tenth month, and the appearance of separation anxiety in older dogs is related to the aging processes themselves and poorer memory.
Fear of thunder
Fear of thunder, or professionally astrophobia, is one of the most common fears in dogs. The intensity of fear and reaction varies from dog to dog. Some just die while the thunder lasts, and as soon as it stops they are immediately ready to play and go outside. In others, the reactions are more intense – hiding, panicking, whining, while in some there are panic attempts to escape, redirected aggression and the inability of the owner to control and calm the dog.
Fear of firecrackers and fireworks
Some dogs are afraid of firecrackers, but not thunder, and vice versa, while some are generally afraid of loud sounds. A visual moment can also be added here, when the dog is frightened by strong lights and colors. This fear also varies from mild reactions to intense panic attacks. During the holidays, supplements based on serotonin stimulants, which calm the dog, are generally recommended for this type of fear.
Fear of loneliness
Fear of loneliness, or separation anxiety, is one of the most common behavioral problems that causes owners to turn for help. This fear manifests itself in the form of panic attacks of excessive vocalization, destructive behavior or inappropriate urination. The treatment is based mainly on changing the routine of departure and arrival of the owner, desensitization to triggers and the introduction of active feeding from so-called smart toys.
Fear of driving in a car
This fear develops if the dog as a puppy did not ride often in the car, so he did not adequately go through the process of habituation (habituation), or only negative experiences were created while driving the car – driving to the vet, vomiting in the car, sudden and fast driving. This problem is overcome by driving the car should be paired with the game and the prizes, the driving should be shorter and more pleasant, with the practice of gradually getting into the car.
Fear of stairs
When a dog is afraid of stairs, it is mostly the fault of the breeder, and then the owner in the first days after the puppy arrives in the new home. From the third week, the puppy should get used to various surfaces, climbs, ramps and steps. The easiest way to overcome the fear of stairs is to turn it all into a kind of game with howling, throwing toys and rewarding. If older dogs notice reluctance to climb stairs, it is mainly related to problems with the hind legs – the development of arthritis, dysplasia and rheumatism.
Fear of male persons
This is not such a common fear in dogs, but in some it exists. What can scare dogs in this case is a deeper voice, a person’s height or a larger build. According to some statistics, more women keep dogs than men, and this may be related to the lack of socialization of the dog with men while he was a puppy. This fear is overcome by the techniques of gradual desensitization in a calm and pleasant environment, with a male person who knows how to approach a frightened dog.
Fear of strangers
This fear is similar to the previous one, except that dogs in this case are afraid of all people they do not know. This is a very inconvenient problem because it is simply impossible to teach a dog to love all people. It is very important that we let the dog gradually, in its own rhythm, approach whoever it wants, and that we then reward a certain behavior in order to change the negative association into a positive one. Frightened dogs should never be forced to “face” their object of fear because that is the shortest way to get an aggressive and biting dog.
Fear of children
This is a very common fear in dogs and occurs for two reasons – the dog as a puppy did not have contact with children, so his children with their fast and sudden movements, squeaky voices and small stature are very strange and vague. And the second reason is the negative experience with children – either the child was well-meaning, but did not know how to treat the dog, so the cuddling turned into rudeness, or it was some more serious incidents on the street by unknown children. This problem can be very serious, and it is always recommended to consult a professional.
Dogs Fear of specific objects
This fear usually means fear of hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, umbrellas, strollers, bicycles, children’s toys… In most cases, the problem is solved by moving certain objects so that the dog does not see them, or try not to be a dog when used. nearby. If this is not possible, then the problem is overcome by simple counter-conditioning techniques.
Dogs fear Diagnosis and therapy
In the case of changes in behavior, it must always be established first that the cause is not of a physical nature. The veterinarian can determine whether the cause is of a health nature, mainly through blood tests and specific diagnostic tests of the nervous and endocrine systems.
If the dog is physically healthy, then fear or anxiety can be diagnosed, so the cause of such behavior is first sought so that appropriate behavioral modification can be applied based on that, sometimes with supportive drug therapy.
Drug therapy for anxiety and fear is the last option and is usually done first on behavioral modification, which means that the dog learns relaxation techniques, avoiding an unpleasant stimulus and “fighting” it to the point where the stimulus ceases to be aversive and slowly becomes tolerable. positive.
This is done in strictly controlled conditions, where the presentation of the stimulus takes place according to a clearly defined protocol, when all the time attention is paid to the dog’s reactions, ie. on the body language of the dog. It is very important that everything is done exclusively up to the dog’s tolerance threshold.
The behavioral modification techniques used in fear therapy are called counterconditioning techniques and desensitization techniques. Fears are never resolved by obedience courses and classical socialization, much less by force and coercion. If you have a timid dog, it is necessary to seek the professional help of a behaviorist, a veterinarian behaviorist or a trainer who is trained to implement adequate behavioral techniques. The principle of behavioral modification in this condition is based on rewarding, encouraging peaceful and confident behavior while preventing the occurrence of unwanted behavior.
Owners often try to solve this type of behavior problem by deliberately exposing or flooding their dog with stimuli or situations in which he feels fear and discomfort, all with the goal of “learning that nothing will happen to him”. The implementation of this technique in practice is not recommended because it exposes the dog to additional stress, and the result is very often an increased feeling of fear, the development of phobias and biting.
In some cases, the use of canine soothing pheromones DAP, as well as tryptophan-based dietary supplements (an amino acid from which serotonin is synthesized – a neurotransmitter responsible for good mood) can be helpful. There is also a special medical food based on benzodiazepines and serotonin stimulants.
Another type of therapy against fear and anxiety are “vests” (thunder shirts), which apply the same pressure all over the dog’s body, which is strong enough for the dog to feel but also gentle enough not to cause pain and discomfort. This product was created after research in which it was established that this vest in a dog causes the same changes in the body as a hug in humans, especially in people suffering from Parkinson’s syndrome, as well as in schizophrenics, manic-depressive and anxious people. A hug has a calming effect on the peripheral nervous system, reduces irritation of nerve endings, lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and has a generally relaxing effect. The vest has the same kind of affect on the dog’s body.
Caressing and fear
As dogs are practically “frozen” in states of fear and only think about how to escape and take shelter, and do not notice any food or sweets, they also do not notice cuddling. Research has shown that in a stressful situation, cortisol does not drop at all when the dog is petted or beaten. Cuddling a scared dog can only help your conscience. The mechanism of fear is the same in all living beings, because it triggers the same physiological processes for survival, and there are no comforting words and touches (or treats) that will overcome the instinct to escape or fight.
Expectations and forecasts
Owners whose pets suffer from fear and anxiety should be aware that it is an emotional problem, so that solving it is more complex and much longer than teaching a dog a behavior or action, e.g. to sit down or bring a ball. The solution to the problem, in addition to the will and effort of the owner, is also influenced by the environment in which the dog lives, the time period since the problem existed, the experiences gained at an early age.
Due to all that, solving the problem can take several months, and in severe cases even longer. But regardless of the duration, solving problems based on fear and anxiety will greatly facilitate the dog’s everyday life and improve his quality of life. And scientific research has shown that these problems affect the health and life expectancy of the dog. So, if your pet feels fear in everyday situations, try to find a way to help him and make his life easier.