My dog is scared of … me, other people, fireworks, other dogs, children, thunder, storms… the list goes on and on. If you don’t know why, or you don’t know how to help them, read on to discover what could be behind your dogs fears and how you can help them to be more calm and confident.
What is Your Dog Scared About?
There are so many things that your dog can become scared about, ranging from people to places, objects to animals, sounds, and situations. Some dogs are so timid that I’ve heard owners say ‘my dog is scared of everything’.
People can be a major source of dog fears, particularly men and children, although there are plenty of dog owners who say that their dog is afraid of them too. This is often thought to be a result of the puppy missing out on the very early, first and critical stage of socialisation. It is recommended that puppies be handled from about 4 weeks so they get use to the smell and sound of humans.
Certain places can also scare dogs, from a particular spot in their own backyard, right through to the local park or wide open spaces. These fears often relate to a bad experience they had in these places, or outside the home. The fear may even be caused by a smell, perhaps of another animal, that remains undetectable to us.
The list of objects a dog can be scared of is endless. Common items that scare a dog are the vacuum cleaner, telephones, and TVs, all of which could be more about the noise it makes than the object itself. However, other fears I’ve noticed include hats, TV remotes, clocks, beards, and balls! Again, a bad experience connected with these objects could have scared the dog.
Animals, especially other dogs are another source of fear. Some dog owners have to pick their dog walks with great care because they can’t risk meeting another dog. The worry with this particular fear is that it could spill out as fear aggression towards the other dog.
Loud noises such as thunder, storms, high winds and fireworks are other very common sources that scare dogs. Sounds in the home such as the rumbling of a washing machine, the sound of the doorbell, or high pitched ringing of a telephone can also cause problems and some dogs are so over sensitive that almost any sound can start them trembling like a leaf.
Finally situations like being left home alone, or left in a car alone, even for just a few minutes can create so much anxiety in a dog that they will pace, tremble, howl and drool excessively from the moment you leave.
Why do Dogs Get Scared?
Socialisation is very important to a young puppy, with critical periods being from around 4 weeks of age. If a dog reaches the age of 6 months and has had very little socialisation, fear problems can get set in.
Dogs need to be exposed to other people and other animals, roads, cars and as many experiences as possible of things they will come into regular contact with, in a safe, controlled way in order to build their self confidence.
But missing out on socialisation isn’t the only reason for dogs becoming scared. Bad experiences or traumas, such as being attacked by another dog can create serious problems as can being harshly scolded by someone reduce their self confidence and turn them into a scared dog.
How To Help Your Scared Dog
Make sure you always stay calm and don’t show anxiety around your dog. If you are feeling scared or nervous, your dog will take a lead from you and will feel they have even more to be scared about.
Regular training can help you build your dogs confidence in themselves and their trust in you.
Make your training sessions fun and use lots of positive rewards. Take it slowly and proceed one small step at a time, making sure you never reward scared behaviour. That means praise, treats or play when they confront a fear and not giving them attention for scared behaviour, so don’t go and comfort them because it doesn’t help. Act as if there is nothing for them to worry about.
Never use punishment as you are likely to make your scared dog worse. It has been proved not to help reinforce good behaviour, and you risk losing the trust of your dog.
Finally, learn how to be a calm and assertive pack leader and build a strong bond with your dog. When they can trust you to take charge and make decisions it will help build their own self-confidence. If you want a step-by-step training programme to help your scared dog, click on the link and find out more about dog anxiety and our new eBook, as it could make your life a lot easier too.