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You come home to find the furniture chewed up. Maybe there’s poop in your shoes. Your dog jumps at the end of the leash anytime another dog walks by—or simply won’t get in the car. You don’t need a degree in dog psychology to know something is wrong. Common dog fears often lead to these behaviors. So what do you do?
Want to understand dog psychology? Familiarize yourself with these common dog fears, then learn how to alleviate them.
Like humans, our beloved dogs are prone to a variety of fears. Some of these are innate, while others are the result of scary experiences. Recognizing common dog fears and knowing basic tips to address them will help your canine companion and deepen your relationship.
1. Why are you leaving me? Separation anxiety in dogs
You probably inundated your dogs with attention, affection, and a long weekend when you first brought them home. But eventually, work or travel takes you away for extended periods.
Separation anxiety in dogs is real. A dog suffering from this anxiety may destroy property, bark excessively, or even chew on their own tail or engage in other compulsive behaviors.
- Practice departure activities, like picking up your keys and bag, and then come back quickly with treats. This may remove some of the negative associations that build up anxiety when readying for departure.
- Exercising (a dog walk or game of fetch) before you leave tires your dog and helps him relax while you’re away.
- Consider a pet sitter as a transitional or ongoing assistant to ease your dog’s loneliness or isolation.
- Make a “bolt-hole” for your pet and work on creating safe spaces for him, from the dog crate a special pet bed or blanket.
- If you’ve got a puppy, talk to your vet about DAP (dog appeasing pheromones) that mimic a mother dog’s pheromones, which can establish a sense of security.
- Some dog lovers recommend other herbal remedies like calming essential oils or Rescue Remedy.
- Offer engaging dog toys while you’re away. The KONG is a popular puzzle toy that can be stuffed with peanut butter or other treats to give dogs something to work on.
2. Road trip blues: dog car anxiety
Dogs that fear the car might be responding to a fear of being trapped, or may simply feel unwell once those wheels start turning. Car sickness is a real problem for some dogs, and symptoms can include drooling, whining, and vomiting—so it’s no wonder it might lead dogs to fear the car.
Even if your dog doesn’t suffer from full-on motion sickness, he may have had previous bad experiences with the car that lead him to be reluctant about jumping in.
- If the car is a scary place, just approaching it will produce anxiety. Help your dog form a positive reaction to the car before even starting the engine. Walk up to and around the car, giving your dog lots of treats as you do.
- Slowly introduce your dog to the inside of the car this way, too, before you actually go anywhere.
- If your dog’s motion sickness is bad and regularly induces vomiting, limit food before car trips. You may also want to consider providing your dog with anti-nausea medication before you travel. Talk to your vet for options.
- Make car trips as comfortable as possible with a safe seatbelt, comfy blanket, and soothing music (which can help some dogs.)
3. Did you hear something? Noise anxiety in dogs
Sudden or perpetual loud noises can initiate something akin to a dog panic attack, and knowing how to react—or not to react—is important.
- Don’t overcompensate, pretending nothing is happening or refusing all cuddling, but focus on something fun that your dog would do when they’re not anxious.
- Some recommend dog playtime during a storm, reinforced by “thunder treats” and other tricks to associate the noise with a positive experience. These are all aspects of CCC (classic counter-conditioning).
- Many dog owners also swear by the ThunderShirt, a research-based solution that uses pressure to soothe.
4. What are these creatures? Fear of strange dogs and people
Dog fears often revolve around the unknown, whether it’s a fear of strangers or a fear of other dogs. In both cases, socialization is key, and will take patience and time.
- The leash is going to be helpful in this process, whether you’re out for a walk or even in the house.
- Don’t force interaction with humans. Let your dog get comfortable at a distance, rather than forcing them closer.
- With other dogs, keep treats as a reward for calm behavior while another pooch passes.
- For some dogs, especially those with a difficult past, reactivity is a larger issue that will require positive training techniques and practical solutions such as avoiding triggers. Read more about reactive dogs here and here.
5. My dog is afraid of me
Was it something I said? My breath? If your adopted dog is afraid of you from day one, this is due to past negative experiences. With patience, you can gain your dog’s confidence and trust.
In general, your body language and stress level affect your dog, so much so that you might be accidentally scaring your dog if you’ve had a bad day. A quick strategy? Take a breath, project calm confidence, and your dog might just relax, too.
- Spend time on the floor—as much on your dog’s level as possible—so they don’t feel dominated.
- Slow movements, gentle gestures, and lots of treats can be helpful.
- This may also be a time to consult a professional canine behaviorist or dog trainer specializing in anxious or reactive dogs. Take video and describe behaviors first.
Top image via Flickr/Tim Dawson, Creative Commons license