Fear in dogs can cause a lot of different behaviour problems. Just as humans, dogs have a variety of emotions to help them cope with the world. The emotions our dogs are having are never neutral and can vary in intensity. Like us a dog can go from being super happy to being very afraid or frustrated. Emotions affect how our dog’s brain is structured and how it works, and in return that affects how our dogs behave (Read more about a dog’s emotions here).
The so-called core emotions are the emotions that a dog is born with. These emotions help the dog to survive. Fear is a core emotion that helps the dog avoid potentially dangerous situations. This is also known as the innate fear.
Then there are the learned fears, which are often the ones that are causing problems and making our dogs behave in ways that might be problematic for both the dog itself and for us. Those are the fears that a dog has learned through his/her environment. It could be the fear of an object, because the first encounter with that object was scary for the dog, and the dog hereafter made the association between the fear (s)he was feeling and the object. It could also be with humans or other animals, if the first or continuous encounters have left the dog feeling scared.
Flight or Fight?
Fear often shows its face in either flight or fight responses. Some dogs freeze with their tail between their legs, making every effort to avoid the situation, while others go right into fight mode with growling, lunching and/or biting. Most often a dog will first try to flee from the scary situation and will normally only become more reactive and start fighting when there is no way of escaping.
Many fear related behaviours can be helped with proper training as it is often a learned fear stemming from negative environmental impressions our dogs have had (Read here how to train your dog). However, some experiences have caused the dog so much trauma that it might have made a chronic biological change in the dog’s brain and thereby a permanent change in their behaviour as well. Those cases often need additional help through medication or continuous screening from a specific stimulus throughout the dog’s life. We also need to consider the dog’s personality when working with fearful dogs. Some dogs have a more timid and insecure nature which makes them more prone to exhibiting fear related behaviours.
How to help your dog
By providing a fear-free environment where your dog does not go over threshold, meaning his/her fear is on a tolerable level or not there at all. Meanwhile giving your dog choices by introducing different games (Read more about Choice here and Download free e-book about Choice here) and enrichment that gives your dog a boost of self confidence and provides a positive feeling towards the scary stimuli (Read more about enrichment here and Download free e-book about enrichment here) and finally creating an environment that involves play you are setting your dog up for a great possibility to battle his/her fear.
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