It is common for dogs to show fear or aggression under a variety of circumstances. The most frequent phobias in scared dogs are related to thunder, fireworks, car rides and other animals, for example.
Countless factors contribute to the development of trauma and you may find your dog scared out of the blue. To get around these situations, we’ve put together some tips on how to deal with the behavior in the best possible way, highlighting key information on the subject.
Find out what makes dogs scared
If your dog wakes up scared or appears scared frequently, it is extremely important to look for the source of the problem in order to treat it as soon as possible.
As we mentioned, several factors can affect the psychological state of the animal . Find out below the most common reasons and check if one of them may be related to your dog’s daily life:
Absence of primary socialization
Between 8 and 16 weeks of age, puppies go through a crucial period of behavioral development. Therefore, puppies that are not exposed to new experiences during this time become more likely to have fears and traumas in the adult stage.
Despite this, the traumas triggered by the absence of primary socialization can be remedied through the gradual introduction of the factor that generates anxiety, associated with positive reinforcement techniques. You can, for example, introduce new places, people and objects into the scared dog’s daily life. This practice helps to eliminate fear, or at least reduces the constancy and intensity of behavior.
Genetic predisposition can also trigger phobias. Just as an animal can inherit traits such as coat color and build from its parents, it can also receive personality traits and grow up to be a scared dog.
It’s difficult to determine whether genetics is really the official cause of the fears, but a starting point is to look into the animal’s family tree to understand the behavior of the parents. It is also important to consider that there are predominant characteristics and personality traits in some species. Therefore, some dog breeds tend to be more restless.
Trauma related to genetic predisposition can be difficult to overcome. However, the help of a behavioral specialist and dog training can be beneficial practices for their quality of life, making the phobia manageable and ensuring more comfort and safety for the dog.
Negative experiences can also be responsible for the development of trauma. If the dog associates a person, place, sound, odor or item with a bad experience, it is possible that he will develop a fear and manifest anxiety when he comes into contact with this associated factor.
Often, the link is not related to the episode itself, but to the place where they lived and, sometimes, to some pain or physical injury. Trauma can be remedied through associated techniques of “desensitization” and “counter conditioning”, which consist of reducing the strength of the response to a stimulus, counterbalanced by positive reinforcement techniques.
Therefore, as well as in cases of lack of primary socialization, the introduction of new places, people and objects into the routine can eradicate or reduce the fear of the scared dog.
We emphasize that it is extremely important to keep the animal’s fears under control, because, in more serious cases, fright can cause seizures and permanent neurological damage.
Calm the scared dog
There is a visual communication between dogs and their tutors, based on their perception of human body language. Therefore, when living with us, they will also understand and be guided by our gestures and behavior.
To reassure a scared dog, the first step is to be calm. Gently distract him with some activity to take his attention away from what is causing him anxiety. This way, you will reassure the dog and make him understand that there is no reason to be afraid.
If the attempt to divert the scared dog’s attention is not successful, bet on other ways to correct the problem. Check out tips to work around the most recurring situations:
Fireworks and thunderstorms
- Get your dog used to the noise: Fireworks and dogs are not a good combination, but behaviorists can teach your dog that noises are harmless. It is also possible to use recordings to accustom the dog to specific sounds. Talk to a dresser to understand about the possibilities;
- Keep your dog indoors: a dog scared of fireworks tends to run away and, as a result, ends up getting lost or hurt. For that reason, it’s good to keep it in a closed and safe place during explosions;
- Muffle external sounds: close the windows and curtains to try to muffle the sound. Play some music or turn on the television in an attempt to ensure constant and identifiable sounds that mask the random noise of the rockets;
- Talk to a veterinarian: if the dog continues to show signs of restlessness in the presence of fireworks noise, evaluate the possibility of a prescription that can calm him down.
People and other animals
- If the dog growls at a person or another animal, keep it away: fear and aggression can be associated, especially when the animal has suffered episodic or continuous trauma;
- Seek expert care: find positive reinforcement best practices for your pet;
- Anxiety control with physical activities: exercises, such as walks and games, release large amounts of brain neurotrophic factors (BDNF – Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which act on certain neurons of the nervous system and calm the dog;
These practices can improve memory, executive functions, and overall health. They also help lower stress and anxiety levels and positively reflect on the relationship with fears. In addition, activities such as walks promote the animal’s socialization with people and other dogs, helping to manage behavioral disorders.