You come home to find the furniture chewed up. Or maybe there’s poop in your shoes. The door has scratch marks, and the barking won’t stop either. 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. If your dog is prone to fearful bolting, try signing up for the Nextdoor Pet Directory to help your neighbors virtually “meet” your dog and understand his quirks.
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 just as real as when a five-year old child loses a parent in a Christmas shopping crowd. Instead of crying, your dog may destroy property, even chewing on their own tail or doing things to hurt themselves.
- Practice departure activities that might make the dog anxious, like picking up your keys and bag, or starting the car and coming back. Reinforce good behavior with treats. This may remove some of the negative associations that build up anxiety when readying for departure.
- Increased physical activity before and after you leave may help tire your dog and let him relax while you’re away.
- Consider a pet sitter as a transitional or ongoing assist for loneliness or isolation.
2. It’s a trap! Canine confinement anxiety
Does your dog’s environment when you’re away feel secure, cozy, and provide mental stimulation? The problem may not be as much about separation as confinement anxiety. Dogs respond well to having their own cozy nest or zone where they feel at home, which will help alleviate their fear of being trapped.
- Make a “bolt-hole” for your pet and work on creating safe spaces for them, from the dog crate to the floor mat you train them to sit on.
- 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 and bonding with their environment.
- Some dog lovers recommend other herbal remedies like calming essential oils or Rescue Remedy.
- Offer engaging dog toys while you’re away—dogs need toys that engage their mouths and minds.
The KONG is a popular puzzle toy that can be stuffed with peanut butter or other treats to give dogs something to work on while you’re away.
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 they would do when they’re not anxious. Some recommend playing 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).
- Some also swear by the ThunderShirt, which also looks pretty darn cute.
4. What are these creatures? Fear of the unknown
Fears often revolve around the unknown, whether it’s a fear of strangers or 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 and let them get comfortable with distances rather than forcing them closer.
- With other dogs, keep treats as a reward for calm behavior and staying put while another pooch passes.
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, you might face a challenge gaining your dog’s confidence and trust. Your body language and stress level might be affecting this, so be sure to read up on how you might be accidentally scaring your dog.
- 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. Take video and describe behaviors first.
Top image via Flickr/Tim Dawson, Creative Commons license
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