We get fearful of many things in daily life, including someone shouting at us, fighting with someone, and road accidents, so it isn't unusual for dogs to fear similar frightful experiences.
AKC Chief DVM Jerry Klein points out,
Fear is a defense mechanism and isn’t something we can eliminate. Wolves and other wild canids rely on fear to keep them alive.
It only becomes a severe problem when fearful behavior poses dangers to the dog and other family members. Also known as Phobia, the fear culminates into an intense and persistent fear of something.
Is phobia a problem?
Whether you know it already or not, your canine companion is phobic, and it’s a big problem.
These common phobias can have various causes, including a lack of early socialization, a negative experience, or a sudden frightful experience. You can tell your dog is under stress by seeing the tell-tale signs, including cowering, trembling, drooling, barking, destructive and aggressive behavior, and, in some cases, aggression.
The additional cause of phobias in dogs includes genetics, but this is very rare. Most of the time, your dog grows phobia for something when they have a frightful experience.
Unlike us humans, dogs can't rationalize their phobia. Hence, it's our responsibility to reduce their stress when they're phobic and assure them that they're safe.
7 Common Fear and Phobias in Dogs
The frightening stimuli listed below are among the most common fears and phobias in dogs.
The loud thundering noise from the sky often trembles our own feet, so it isn't usual for dogs to fear thunder.
There are a few reasons thunderstorms instill terror in dogs. The most obvious of them is the loud noise. Dogs that are frightful of thunderstorms are also frightful of deafening noises.
There is even research that suggests noise phobias can be inherited.
The other more scientific reason behind the fear of thunder is the release of static electricity into the air. Dogs experience this static as a tingling throughout their hair coat and may even receive multiple shocks before the storm lifts.
This is why many dogs flee to the grounded areas in the home to escape the exposure to static electricity during thunderstorms.
Vetstreet's Dr. Marty Beckers suggests that rubbing your dog's coat with a dryer sheet can help to minimize static.
The fear of fireworks is much similar to thunderstorms. Fireworks instill a fear of loud noise in dogs which often turns into phobias. A sound phobia is common in dogs that are mostly inherited.
According to Dr. Klein,
Herding breeds are susceptible to noise phobias, perhaps because they are so attuned to their environment.
Not only are fireworks extremely loud, but they also cause frightening odors and visual effects. The vivid display of lights and the smell of gunpowder often make dogs tremble in fear. This may make dogs run away, coil in, or become lost.
Dogs with a severe fireworks phobia may require anti-anxiety medication or sedatives. As an option, you can use preventive measures like Thundershirt, a snug-fitting garment that helps calm dogs by applying gentle, even pressure to the torso.
Fear of riding cars or any other vehicle is common in dogs who have experienced a frightful moment or lack gradual exposure to car rides.
The traumatic experience often includes road accidents, being stuck inside the car, and a car ride to the veterinarian.
Dogs often become car sick when they aren't used to riding vehicles from an early age. It's similar to young children who get motion sickness from riding cars for the first time.
It's possible to overcome their fear response of car and motion sickness by working up to taking rides in small steps such as opening the door, getting in, spending some time, and then getting out or taking a brief ride around the house or neighborhood. After every successful step, you should reward them with treats or praise to install a positive appreciation.
The Visit to Vet
Most dogs are fearful about visiting veterinarians because they associate it with a past negative experience such as getting injected, surgical treatment, restrained, and strange smells.
Dogs have blood injection phobias, commonly referred to as a fear of needles, a similar experience faced by many people. They don't understand that veterinary visits are in their best interest; hence you should make them feel secure in a strange environment.
The irrational fear of the vet may be dealt with by bringing them to the vet for an occasional social visit that doesn't involve an examination. You can reward them with treats after every visit to instill a positive reaffirmation.
Fear of being alone or separation anxiety is a situational phobia. It often results in destructive behavior such as chewing on stuff, housebreaking accidents, incessant barking, and relieving themselves.
Dogs that aren't used to being left alone often face separation anxiety.
As a treatment, you can make necessary habit changes to alleviate their anxiety. Desensitization, the process of slowly getting the dog used to being left home alone, can also benefit dogs suffering from separation anxiety.
If the separation anxiety is severe, you can consult with the vet to provide medication to your dog.
Fear of strangers and other dogs
Fear of person is common in dogs that lack socialization from an early age. Most dogs fear meeting new people because they had a bad experience with them, such as being abused and abandoned.
Dogs that have not spent much time around other animals will exhibit fear of animal. This is commonly due to a lack of socialization.
For this reason, dog trainers and veterinary professionals recommend socializing your dog early and often. It would be best if you considered taking them to doggy daycare to introduce them to other animals. Interaction with other animals in the park often helps in socializing them at an early age.
Nervousness around strangers can be an inherited trait, but research shows that proper socialization can overcome this problem.
What should you do?
Here are few things you should keep in mind.
- Keep an eye on your dog's body language so you can be more aware when they start exhibiting signs of fear. The standard body languages include pacing, panting, shaking, attempting to hide, salivating, etc.
- If your dog starts growling at something, you should immediately remove them from that environment.
- Talk to the behaviorist to develop a desensitization and counter-conditioning program for your dog.
- Start socializing your dog with other humans and animals at an early age.
Check out this infographic for more information.
Get in touch with Urban Pet Hospital & Resort, the best doggy daycare in Urbandale, to start socializing your dog in the presence of expert animal behaviorists and trainers.