Many dogs suffer from fears and phobias. These phobias can have a variety of causes, including a lack of early socialization oe a negative past experience. Signs of fear in dogs include cowering, trembling, drooling, barking, destructive behavior, and, in some cases, aggression.
Is your dog fearful? Have you determined why? Learn about some of the most common dog fears and phobias so you can help your dog.
Fear of Thunder
Astraphobia, fear of thunder, is very common in dogs. The degree of this fear can differ from dog to dog. Some may just have a mild fear of thunder. In this case, a dog may tremble slightly or you may notice flattened ears, wide eyes, and a tucked tail during a thunderstorm. Other dogs may have a more severe phobia which leads them to hide, become destructive, or even lose control of their bowels or bladder.
Dogs with astraphobia may or may not be afraid of other loud noises. Many dogs have a general noise phobia. They become fearful when they hear thunder, fireworks, loud music, trucks driving down the road, and so on.
Fear of Fireworks
Another common dog phobia is the fear of fireworks. Similar to the fear of thunderstorms, the loud and unpredictable sounds and light displays of fireworks make many dogs tremble in fear. This fear may even cause a dog to run away and become lost.
For some dogs, slowly getting them used to the sound of fireworks can eliminate the phobia. In other cases, you may need to use management techniques. Dogs with a severe fireworks phobia may need to be treated with anti-anxiety medications or sedatives.
Fear of Being Left Alone (Separation Anxiety)
The fear of being left home alone is referred to as separation anxiety. Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety tend to exhibit destructive behavior as soon as their owners leave the house. Other symptoms include excessive barking and housebreaking accidents when left alone.
A change in the dog owner’s behavior may help ease a dog’s fears. Simply by making changes to their habits before leaving the house and staying low key when they leave and return home, dog owners can alleviate some of a dog’s anxiety. Desensitization, the process of slowly getting the dog used to being left home alone, can also be beneficial to dogs suffering from separation anxiety.
Sometimes, training a dog to stay in a crate while the owner is away may also help. If separation anxiety is severe, sometimes medication for the animal is warranted.
Fear of the Veterinarian
It’s somewhat common for dogs to be afraid of going to the veterinarian. A dog’s first exposure to going to the vet usually involves strange smells, being handled in new ways, being restrained, and getting vaccinations. It’s no wonder dogs can easily become fearful of a trip to the vet.
If there are no other phobias involved, fear of the vet may be dealt with simply by bringing a dog to the vet for a few social visits that don’t involve an examination. Offer lots of praise and treats if your dog remains calm.
Fear of Riding in the Car
Some dogs are afraid of riding in the car. This fear is often due to a lack of early exposure to car rides. It may also develop after negative experiences with riding in the car, such as getting car sick, riding in the car to be left at a shelter, or only going for a car ride for a visit to the veterinarian. It’s possible to overcome your dog’s fear of riding in the car by using treats and praise to slowly lure your dog into the car and then working up to taking rides in small steps. Make sure the destination is a happy place, like to the dog park or for a walk, and not too far away.
Fear of Going Up and Down Stairs
A dog owner may not realize his dog has a fear of going up and down stairs until his dog puts on the breaks as they approach a set of steps. This phobia is almost always due to a lack of early socialization and exposure. A dog who isn’t exposed to steps as a young puppy may develop a fear of going up and down them when he encounters a stairway later in life. Some dogs can overcome this fear if you turn going up and down steps into a game. Other dogs may need to learn to navigate stairs, literally, step by step. This will take time and plenty of positive reinforcement.
Older dogs may become reluctant to use stairs if they have arthritis or other mobility issues so be sure to rule out medical issues for this behavior. If a dog has had a bad fall down the stairs in the past, this may also be a cause of the fear.
Fear of Men
It may surprise people to learn that it is fairly common for dogs to be afraid of men. In some cases, this fear can stem from being abused by a man. However, it is more commonly due to lack of socialization. Dogs that have not spent much time around men may be afraid of their deeper voices, larger builds, and even facial hair.
Dogs who are fearful of men should be slowly desensitized to men in a non-threatening manner. Keep in mind that a fearful dog may growl, snap, or bite someone as a result of this fear. Carefully expose your dog to men from a distance. Make sure the men know not to make eye contact or try to approach your dog. It can take time for your dog to get over this fear.
Fear of Strangers
A fear of strangers is similar to a fear of men, but in this case, a dog may be afraid of anyone he doesn’t know. This can be a difficult problem to overcome because it’s impossible to teach your dog to accept every possible new person. It’s important to allow your dog to approach new people in his own time. Forcing a fearful dog to accept a stranger could push a dog to become aggressive.
Fear of Children
Dogs develop a fear of children for several reasons. Most commonly, it is due to a lack of early exposure to children. Many people will get dogs before becoming parents. Unless you bring a puppy into a household with children, your dog may not get the opportunity to socialize with them. Try your best to expose your dog to kids of all ages starting from puppyhood.
Dogs afraid of children may have had negative experiences with children. While a child’s intentions may be good, a dog may interpret overtures of affection as a threat. Some dogs may not understand a child’s noises or jerky, uncoordinated movements, or their small size. Dog owners who are dealing with a dog with a fear of children should consult a dog trainer or behaviorist to work on this phobia.
Fear of Specific Objects
Some dogs develop a fear of a particular object: the vacuum cleaner, holiday decorations, a child’s toy, construction equipment, and more. Very often this type of fear is not a big deal, as many objects can simply be moved out of sight. In certain cases, however, it can be problematic. For instance, if your dog refuses to walk past a statue outside your apartment building or if he turns into a trembling, anxiety-stricken mess every time you need to vacuum the carpet. In this case, you may need to slowly introduce your dog to objects he is afraid of in a positive, happy manner.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet’s health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.