Is your dog a scaredy cat? Most of us have experienced anxiety at some point in our lives, so we know just how crippling it can be. If you have a scared dog, no matter what they may be scared of, that fear can also extend to you as an owner.
Unlike with humans, you can’t just comfort your dog by telling them it’s going to be ok. It requires a different set of skills, and the crew here at WINPRO Pet wants to help.
If you’ve been looking for ways to really comfort your scared dog when stress strikes, we have a few tips and tricks that you can use today to start soothing their fear in a way that they’ll really understand.
Why Human Techniques Don’t Work On Scared Dogs
Think about how you feel when you’re anxious. Your brain seems to be moving at a mile a minute, and your racing thoughts are usually always pointed towards all of the terrible things that can happen. It’s exhausting and overwhelming, to put it mildly.
However, when you’re feeling worrisome, you can rely on coping techniques and even medications to help you calm down. Having people there with you to tell you that you’re ok, and that things are going to work out, is hugely helpful.
Dogs don’t possess the ability to learn and grow from negative experiences the way that we can. When we sit with our dogs and try to calm them down with soothing words and petting, we can actually reinforce the behavior we are trying to stop.
This really comes down to negative versus positive reinforcement. When you use the same calming techniques on your dog, they learn that their fear is actually something that they get rewarded for. That means that they’re more likely to do the same thing when confronted with their fear next time, because they’ve learned that fear = reward.
Evaluate Where The Fear Is Coming From
As humans, we fear all kinds of things - airplanes, heights, not having enough money to pay our bills, the death of a loved one, etc. Dogs are much more simple creatures, mostly because they aren’t so far removed from their wild ancestors.
Normally, fear in dogs is directly tied to instinctual behavior, and leads to one of four different responses - fight, flight, avoidance, or surrender. Fight or flight are fairly straightforward. Avoidance tends to be seen as your dog ignoring whatever it is scared of, and surrender is more of an acknowledgement of the trigger without having a strong reaction.
According to the American Kennel Club, some of the most common fears and phobias fall into four different categories:
- Sound- This includes things like fireworks, thunderstorms, or other loud and sudden noises. Herding breeds (Australian Cattle Dogs, Collies, etc.) may be especially susceptible.
- Blood injection- If your dog is afraid of a trip to the veterinarian, it may be because of a phobia of needles.
- Situational- Separation falls into this category, as does any new or different experience.
- Strangers- New people, or even known people who may be wearing different clothes, can trigger a fear reaction in some dogs. Many dogs also have a greater fear of new men than women.
It can be tricky to truly understand what is triggering your scared dog in some situations, because they are so much more attune to things we don’t normally pay attention to. If you really can’t figure it out, it’s worth calling in a dog behaviorist.
Keep in mind that every dog shows fear a little differently, especially depending on how they react to it. Dogs prone to exhibiting a flight response may run away and cower under the bed or in a different room, while those inclined to “fight” bare their teeth and may even attack.
Look for raised hackles (the hairs on the back of the neck and by their tail), wide eyes (known as “whale eye”), flattened ears, a tucked tail, and even panting or lip licking if you’re worried that you’re dealing with a scared dog.
Dogs Can Pick Up On Our Emotions
A lot of people misunderstand what it means when we say that dogs can pick up on human emotions. It’s not that our emotions are floating around the room, and that dogs are sensitive to them in an empathetic way. Instead, it comes down to basic dog instinct.
Dogs are pack animals, and that desire for natural hierarchy leads them to watch the people they see as “leaders” very carefully. If you’ve noticed that your dog seems to stare at you a lot, it’s likely out of respect and acknowledgement that you are in charge.
It’s because of that mentality that really being their leader when they are experiencing anxiety is essential to helping your scared dog calm down. Dogs learn by imitating the behavior of their pack so, if you can exhibit calm behavior in the face of fear, they will more likely be able to as well.
That can be a lot easier said than done, of course. If your dog is afraid of something that you’re also afraid of, like loud noises or snakes, you’ll have to learn how to control your fear as well.
If you’re afraid, the dog’s natural inclination is to step in as pack leader, which is why so many fearful dogs actually appear to be aggressive. It’s a free for all and, even if your dog is afraid, they will react to that fear by trying to control it themselves.
How To Work On Your Dog’s Anxiety
Although this isn’t an option in every case, controlling the exposure your dog has to what scares him while you work on helping him learn to develop his “surrender” instinct can really help. You may want to combine this with other techniques that can help reduce stress, like supplements or thundershirts.
Essentially, you want to expose your dog to what scares him or her in a controlled environment, where you can be prepared to demonstrate calm, in control behavior. Over time, your dog will learn that this trigger may be scary, but that you are in control and can help them to feel in control as well.
In some cases, your dog’s phobia may be too much to handle at home. Dog behaviorists, as well as veterinarians, are trained to help modify problem behaviors in dogs, and have a wide range of techniques and medications at their disposal.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help when you need it; that’s what the professionals are there for!
Keep in mind that working on any phobia can be a lengthy process, and requires consistency to address. You have to be committed to helping your scared dog, because trying to address it inconsistently can actually worsen the issue. You’re not only helping your dog, but you’re also helping yourself. It’s well worth the time and effort.
If your dog is experiencing anxiety, you don’t have to feel lost or overwhelmed. Learning how to identify the signs of fear in a dog, and what your options are to help treat it, can put you back in control.
After all, even the scared dog is a pack animal, and naturally looks to you to tell them how to behave.
With a little advice from WINPRO Pet on your side, you can help turn your scaredy cat back into your canine best friend in no time. WINPRO’S Calming supplements can help promote relaxation for your scared dog. If you want to learn more about how you can be the best pet owner possible, check out our blog for tips and tricks that will help you and your furry friend live a happy life together.