Show Me The Love! Have No Fear
Fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that something is dangerous. A phobia is an extreme or irrational fear. Fear is a necessary part of a dog’s life. Fear is a trait of an intelligent dog and is needed for survival. Fear is healthy, a phobia is not. Phobias lead to numerous other behavioral and physical issues. Phobias can be caused by nature (offspring of fearful dogs) or by nurture (environmental factors). Keep in mind that instinct does not just skip a generation. If you breed dogs that are phobic by nature, you will probably produce fearful puppies. You will soon discover that it’s not “ALL in how you raise them”. You can socialize those puppies all you want, but you will not change their nature. You will forever be managing those irrational fears. Some phobias are caused by nurture; environmental factors will help determine if that normal puppy fear will develop into a phobia. Environmental factors such as vaccines, preventative drugs and how you deal with your puppy are all influences. It is imperative that you understand where your dog’s fears are coming from so that you can adjust your expectations and determine the best course of action.
No matter the cause of these fears, and whether they are irrational or not, you must avoid exacerbating them. Coddling a dog in the midst of a panic attack will reinforce that phobic behavior. Don’t get me wrong, you should reassure and protect the dog, but telling him that “it’s okay” when he’s hysterical is in essence encouraging him to panic. One way to break the panic cycle in an otherwise healthy dog is to remove the dog from the situation. If unable to move him away from the source of fear, bring him closer to you for reassurance. One good way to get him to come closer to you is to teach the peek-a-boo command whereby he will stand between your legs, thus surrounding himself with you and feeling protected. Any trick you train will help build confidence in your dog and remember that confident dogs have fewer fears. And when they do experience fear, they overcome it more easily than their less confident counterparts. Furthermore, tricks also serve as distractions when a dog is starting to panic. Tricks will redirect the dog’s focus and mitigate his anxiety. Resist the urge to get frustrated with your dog when he is displaying apprehension. Do not scold your dog or force him to “face his fears”, as this can backfire and turn a rational fear into a phobia.
You should always be a source of protection for your dog. Intercepting what he deems as dangerous, especially when he is an impressionable puppy, will cement in his mind that he is safe when you are around. The idea is to build his confidence up through positive experiences. Canine performance events, training, praise, play and affection will all help turn a puppy into a confident adult. So the next time your puppy is afraid of your new Thanksgiving yard decoration, resist the urge to tell him “you’re fine”. After all, Christmas is just around the corner and you don’t want him running for dear life at the mere sight of Santa and his nine reindeer on the neighbor’s roof.
If you enjoy Christina's writing, check her books out! She is the author of “Chester Gigolo: Diary of a Dog Star” and "Insider Training: Chester Gigolo’s Dog Training Secrets Revealed” for which she won the 2016 DWAA Captain Haggerty award for Best Training Book and the 11th Annual National Indie Excellence Award (Animals & Pets). She is also a contributing author to “Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors”. She has written multiple articles which have appeared in various international publications.