Owning a fearful dog is a challenge. Indeed, our friend’s dogs are not able to face their fears by themselves to overcome them. Their reaction to fear is twofold: flight or defense. It is up to man to help his fearful dog overcome his fears and restore his confidence. However, the education of a fearful dog is careful and time-consuming.
Why is a dog fearful? How to help a fearful dog? How to train a dog that is fearful?
Why is a dog afraid?
Just like in humans, it can happen that a dog is fearful by nature, it is in his temperament. But the reasons that make a dog fearful multiple.
The education of a dog from an early age is a factor that plays in the future character of the dog. The way in which the dog is trained, reprimanded, and socialized are determining factors. The socialization of the dog is done from weaning to 6 or 7 months. If during this time the animal has not been confronted or accustomed to humans or to all kinds of situations, the risk that it will develop a fear of anything and everything is high.
The first 3 months of a dog’s life are also decisive. A puppy whose first few months of life have been very poor in stimulation will develop what is called the sensory deprivation syndrome linked to a low threshold of sensory homeostasis.
In other words, the way he is stimulated during his first 3 months will influence his rate of adaptation to new things for the rest of his life, or at least during his teenage years. For example, a puppy confronted with various situations will be used to living new experiences and will face the next ones without fear. Conversely, a puppy with little or no stimulation will have difficulty adapting to anything new and will easily become fearful.
In another case, if the dog has been subjected to violence or even mistreatment, he has not only developed a fear of humans but he simply no longer has confidence in himself. It becomes more difficult and time-consuming to rehabilitate a dog with a difficult past, but it is not impossible. A dog can become fearful at any time if it suffers a trauma or associates a situation with a threat.
Typical behavior of a fearful dog
Body language says a lot about a dog’s condition. Fear usually translates into drooping ears, tail between the hind legs, moaning and shaking, and maybe compounded by growling and loss of bladder control, causing him to urinate in fear.
If your dog reacts in one or more of these ways to certain situations, he is afraid. It is important to consider this reaction in order to remedy it because this fear may intensify over time.
Rehabilitating a fearful dog
A dog that is afraid is a dog that does not trust. The first solution is to restore the dog’s confidence, whether, in relation to an object or to humans and to do this, it will be necessary to stimulate it in order to desensitize it.
It is never too late to treat a fearful dog and only you can help your dog overcome his fears. But you must keep in mind that a dog’s fear must be treated on a case-by-case basis, so the advice of a veterinarian is good to take before you start.
Desensitization should be done gradually and gently by confronting him with the situation, object, or noise that frightens him. But you must also be relaxed, dogs are able to feel our emotions and if you are anxious the dog will feel this way too. Little by little you have to break the fear between the object of fear and your dog by confronting it, reducing the distance between them.
Do not rush the animal and go at his own pace, no need to put his fear directly in front of his nose but let him approach it by himself. After a while, your dog will go to smell, tame the object, the place, or even the person. As soon as a level is reached, it is important to reward your dog with caresses and favorite treats.
A good way to desensitize a dog to a specific noise is to play that noise when the animal is busy. For example, you can play with him and at the same time ask another person to reproduce the noise. Incorporating this noise into the environment while the dog is busy is a solution to get him used to it and make him forget his fears.
If the dog is scared to death of humans after a traumatic experience with humans, you must be patient so that you can regain his confidence. You must be able to spend a lot of time with him to teach him not to be afraid of you anymore, go little by talking to him, by coaxing him until he lets himself be approached and stroked.
But this does not mean that everything is won because even if he lets himself be manipulated, the fears linked to his past remain and it will still take a long time before, for example, he is no longer afraid as soon as you take out the broom or any other object that reminds him of a trauma.
Seek professional help
If the fear of the dog is excessive and uncontrollable, you alone may not be able to overcome your dog’s phobias. The help of a professional becomes necessary. A canine educator will be able to work with your dog to banish his fears and give you all the necessary instructions to apply at home.
You can also call upon a behaviorist, a professional in animal psychology. His job is to analyze, decipher, and understand an animal’s behavior in order to put the finger on what causes such behavior in the animal. However, this “profession” is not recognized and there is a risk of encountering a swindler. Do not hesitate to ask questions to the person you have called to make sure you are dealing with someone competent.
If you have ever had to deal with a fearful dog, we invite you to share your experience in a commentary to discuss it and give advice to people in the same situation.