Fear is a natural, instinctual response that helps every species survive. This reaction to a perceived threat is essential but excessive fear could be just as harmful. Since we can't explain things to dogs, certain noises, actions, or places may trigger a fear response. But how do we help our beloved pets cope or even conquer their fears?
Signs of Fear
A scared dog may exhibit some of these behaviors:
The fear of thunder, or astraphobia, is most likely the most prevalent fear that dogs have. If a thunderstorm is approaching and your dog starts to exhibit any of the signs listed above, you know that big storms can be extremely stressful for dogs. This stress can be triggered by the sounds of thunder or wind, static electricity in the air, lightning flashes, or barometric pressure changes. Dogs can pick up on even the smallest changes in the air pressure, which usually go completely unnoticed by humans.
Dogs with long or double coats can even be affected by static electricity. A dog that has built up some static electricity in its coat may touch a conductive surface and be in for a little shock. However, it's uncertain that this static buildup is the cause of the fear of thunderstorms.
How To Help: Thunderstorms
- Buy a Thunderjacket
- Rub the dog down with unscented anti-static dryer sheets
- Tight-fitting wraps or jackets
Fireworks and Other Loud Noises
Loud noises like fireworks, gunshots, or even your annoying neighbor smashing away on their drumset can upset your dog. Remember that dogs hear up to four times further than humans can, and pick up on twice as many frequencies. So what you think is just a nuisance, could be downright terrifying to a dog that doesn't know any better.
How To Help: Loud Noises
- Let them decide where they feel safe, then make it a comfortable spot
- Use white noise or soothing music as a sound buffer
- In extreme cases, soundproofing or acoustic treatment may be necessary
- Maybe something a little more high-tech?
The fear of being alone is another one that many dogs deal with. Their owners leave for work, school, or errands, and they don't know what to do with themselves. Dogs that have separation anxiety typically also exhibit destructive behavior when left alone. When you're away, their behavior can be frustrating, but it's important not to get mad at them.
How To Help: Separation Anxiety
We've got an entire article dedicated to helping your dog cope with separation anxiety, but here are some quick tips:
- Establishing a goodbye word/phrase like "see you later, be good"
- Leaving recently used clothes or blankets for them
- Leaving plenty of toys or chews behind
- Loosely containing them in a playpen or baby gated area; makes it has space to move, a bed, some toys, and access to water
- Turning on the TV or radio, if they respond to that as a safety cue
Fear of Strangers/Men
Dogs are usually very warm and friendly, so seeing a dog hide and cower when they see a stranger can be heartbreaking and worrying. Some dogs can be born predisposed to being fearful of strange people, especially if one of their parents displays skittish behavior. Another main reason would be a failure to socialize the puppy correctly. A puppy that doesn't experience many new things early on in their life will sometimes develop fears of these things when they appear later on in their life. Socialization of your puppy is a huge factor in how they react to new situations when they grow up.
Some dogs are fearful as a learned trait; they were raised in abusive households and fear humans because their interaction with humans were negative. It's important to take things slowly if you're rescuing a dog from an abusive home or a scared stray and let them warm up to you on their own terms.
Dogs may be afraid of men because they haven't been around many men, and men are typically larger and have deeper voices. This comes back to socialization, so when you get a new puppy, make sure they meet as many different people as possible.
How To Help: Fear of Strangers
If you've got a dog that is afraid of strangers and it's past the developmental stages, you'll need to work with them to conquer their fears. Let them do so on their terms, do not force them to accept attention they don't want. When you meet new people, try to remain calm and relaxed to sure your pup that everything is okay. Prepare guests and visitors by letting them know to ignore the dog and avoid making quick movements. Let the dog approach the stranger and sus out them out at their pace. Even if your dog seems to warm up to the stranger and get close enough to sniff, don't force your dog to accept pets. Tell the new person to avoid making contact unless your dog fully embraces their presence.
Give your dog their own space to escape when the stress of meeting new people is too much. Let them hide out in a bedroom or a crate so they can feel safe and relax.
There are many other fears that dogs have; these are just the most common. Anxiety and fear in dogs can be a real problem, try using natural remedies if the fear isn't debilitating. If the concern is too much or none of these methods work, you may need to consult your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medication.