Friday, May 10, 2013

Stages of Fear: How to Help Your Dog When They're Afraid

Dogs tend to wear their emotions right on their, well, paws. A happy dog is easy to spot, but can you tell when your dog is even the slightest bit afraid? Once you have learned to read the signs of stress in your dog (see our blog post “Happy or Stressed Dog: Do You Know the Difference?”), you can begin to tell what their fears and phobias are as well as how to properly deal with them. Severe stress in dogs can be caused by both fear and phobias, but it is important to know the different signs depending on the dog.

A phobia is when a dog is anticipating something and experiencing unease during the build up. For example, if your dog had a bad experience with a dog on a particular road and now won’t go down that street or barks and thrashes when taken to that area, that has become a phobia.
A stuffed Kong toy can be a good distraction for a dog that is beginning to show signs of fear.
Fears are when a dog is afraid of a current situation. For example, when a stranger comes into your home and your dog barks and backs away, that is a clear sign of fear in your pooch.

There are different stages that dogs go through before their fear becomes extreme. These can be broken down into four general stages, but it’s important to recognize that some of the stages can be more complex, and not all dogs will display or feel all of them.

Many people can recognize when their dog is feeling fearful, but you can help your dog feel safer in unsure situations by learning to recognize the early signs of mild fear. You can start by learning to understand the process and stages that your dog’s mind goes through when facing this kind of situation. The stages start with avoidance and go all the way down through shutdown.

Avoidance: When a dog turns away from what they are interpreting as “bad.”

Tolerance: A tolerating dog will withstand the “bad,” and is willing to put up with it for a good amount of time. The dog is coping, but doesn’t like it. It’s important to be able to tell the difference between enjoyment verses tolerance; just because your dog is tolerating something doesn’t mean they are actually enjoying themselves in the situation.

Enough Already: A dog in this stage will display a negative reaction to the “bad” thing. They may become aggressive or lash out, leading to negative consequences. You do not want your dog to get to this stage if you can prevent it, which you can do by picking up on your dog’s signs in the earlier stages.

Shutdown: You will essentially get no reaction from your dog in this stage. A dog that is shutdown will appear to have a complete disconnect from the situation. This is where your dog turns off and shows no signs whatsoever.

All dogs don’t react the same way, so signs can be different in different dogs. The best way to help your dog is to recognize the signs at the beginning stages and address your dog’s issue before they move to the next stage. Recognizing fear is crucial in order to help solve the issue that your dog is facing.

Thundershirts aren't just for showers... these cozy coats help nervous dogs feel secure. Hood optional!
You can lower the stress by removing your dog from the situation, removing “the bad,” pairing the bad with something good, and doing things that you know calm your dog. Remedies can range from ThunderShirts, which a dog can wear to help them feel secure, to calming music to stuffed Kongs. Many of these products are available for purchase in our lobby at Morris K9 Campus If your dog has high anxiety and you can’t seem to solve it, it is always best to consult a trained professional. Taking your dog to private lessons can help pinpoint your dog’s fears and help you both to move past them. Call us at 973-252-5100 or visit our website to learn more about our private dog training today.

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