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'help-your-dog-conquer-their-fears

Help your dog conquer their fears


by VitaPaws
16/05/2017


Is your dog a bit of a scaredy-cat that cowers behind your legs at loud noises or avoids being sociable with other dogs? Just like us humans, our four legged friends can differ in personality and naturally be a little more afraid of things than other dogs. Experiences in their past can also mean they may be more fearful of certain stimuli and this can especially be the case in rescued dogs whose past might not be completely known. There are always ways to help your dog manage their fear and slowly get over it, but the most important thing is to never punish your dog for being scared. They won't understand why they are being punished and this will simply reinforce the idea that there is something to be scared about. Below we outline some of the signs your dog may be scared, along with a couple of theories and techniques you can employ at home to help your dog get over their phobias.

 

The difference between phobias and anxiety

The first thing we must do in order to understand our dog's behaviour is to know the difference between anxiety and a phobia. A phobia is a persistent and excessive fear of a particular stimulus, for example fireworks or a thunderstorm. Once the stimulus has been associated with fear, this becomes a learned response and then any memory or association of the stimulus is enough to bring on a fearful response. Common phobias in dogs are associated with loud noises such as the above mentioned fireworks or thunderstorms. Anxiety differs from phobias in the fact that it is the anticipation of future dangers of the unknown which result in typical fearful behaviour. Separation anxiety is common in some dogs with fear and anxiety being present when they are left alone. Both separation anxiety and phobias produce responses that are similar in nature yet treatment for both can differ slightly.

Signs of fear

Common signs of fear in your dog can include, but are not limited to:

Recognising signs of fear are essential to understanding your dog's behaviour and therefore understanding what triggers their fear so that you can start working on reducing the levels of fear in your pet. Understanding what your dog is afraid of and how afraid they are is the key to beginning to help your dog get over its fears.

Causes of fear and anxiety in your dog

Again, understanding the possible reason why your dog is afraid is of vital importance to helping them to overcome their fears or anxiety. It may not be possible to determine the origin of the fear or anxiety, especially in rescued dogs where past experiences may not always be known, but understanding as much as you can is only going to help your dog as you help them to get over their fear or anxiety problem. Common causes of fear and anxiety in dogs can include:

Helping your dog overcome their fear

As previously stated, it's important to never punish your dog for being afraid. If you were afraid of something and were just yelled at or punished for being afraid of that particular thing, would it help you get over the fear? Probably not, and the same can be said for dogs. Modifying your dog's behaviour to make them less fearful in a reassuring and calm way can take patience and time and there are a number of techniques that have been proven to work for dogs with anxiety or fear.

Determine what causes your dog to be fearful

This could be a particular place (the vet), a sound (a firework) or a person (your mother in law) and it's necessary to determine what triggers your dog into either fear or anxiety in order to work with your pet and achieve success in rehabilitating them.

Soothe your dog while they are fearful through petting and providing a treat

Some say this technique can in fact be detrimental to helping your dog overcome their fear as you are reinforcing the negative behaviour by giving treats and petting, but a substantial amount of research suggests that soothing your dog can help them get over their fears. Leading your dog to a place they feel comfortable while they are fearful, such as their bed or crate, and staying with them can help in your dog understanding that the stimulus presented doesn't need to produce fear.

Place a lead or harness on your dog and introduce them to their fear in small doses when they are calm.

A good example of this could be if your dog is fearful of the car. When your dog is calm, slowly put their lead on in a calming way and gently lead them towards the car with the ignition off for a few minutes.

Praise and introduce treats to reinforce a positive experience

Perhaps hide a few treats in the car, encouraging your dog to have a sniff around and become more familiar with the car. Through introducing treats, the association with the car is positive and if your dog is looking for affection, give it to them!

Increase the exposure when your dog is relaxed

Over time as your dog becomes more familiar with the car, gently start introducing new stimuli such as turning the engine on, or getting your dog to jump in the back through the use of treats. Have your dog perform commands such as 'sit' or 'lie down' so that the focus is on you, not the fear and praise and give affection when appropriate. Repeat the process again and again until eventually your dog can be around the stimulus which once made him fearful without showing any signs of fear.

Conclusion

The above method is just one of many ways you can attempt to reduce levels of fear in your dog. Staying calm and gradually introducing the trigger for fear while also introducing positive things such as treats or affection can help to reduce fear by desensitising the dog to the trigger and changing the association to something positive. If you have a fearful dog, be supportive, never get angry or frustrated with them and always consult a vet to ensure there are not any more serious underlying issues going on.



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