Just like people, some dogs have fears and nervousness that can be as trivial as a noisy vacuum, a thunderstorm, or fireworks. Some pups, on the other hand, suffer from separation anxiety. Separation anxiety can manifest itself through compulsive digging, destruction of items in the home, howling or continuous barking. These things I can understand. However, some dogs have phobias that are, shall we say, down right weird. Cats; we all know have bazaar fears and phobias and ritualistic ways. In fact, their fear of just about any new, inanimate object that is brought into the home that was not previously in the home; brings about some degree of curiosity, anxiety and fear. Thus, the term , “scaredy cat“.
When I adopted my rescue puppy at six weeks of age, she showed no obvious signs of fear or phobias. She became a momma’s girl right away and stayed pretty close by my side; especially when outdoors but not out of fear. She didn’t appear to be a scaredy cat when it came to thunderstorms or loud noises. She barks at the vacuum, but I think it is more out of agitation from the noise than fear. That appears to be normal behavior for most dogs. But, what about a dishwasher; specifically; a dishwasher door. I never open the dishwasher door while Baylie is underfoot unless I’m prepared for relentless barking, taunting and running about. Yes, I have a 52 pound scaredy cat of a dog that goes bonkers over a dishwasher door.
When you bring a new pup in the home, you try out dozens of toys until you figure out what your dog prefers as his new best buddy. Baylie is a large breed dog with herding instincts and requires relentless exercise to bridle her energy level. Fetching balls, frisbees and sticks are her favorite pastimes. As she grew bigger and more active, I figured she would like a large ball that she could push about the yard. So, I purchased a large, beach ball style ball thinking this would become her favorite outside toy. Baylie was scared to death of this ball from the moment I threw it in the backyard. I tried to “think like a dog” and rationalize this odd behavior by trying to understand just what was it about this ball that was so frightening. Was it the large size? Was it the pink color? Or, was it the green polka dots? Whatever the reason, she wanted no part of it. All I have to do is pick up this ball from the yard and Baylie makes a beeline into the house; peeping her head out to see if the coast is clear. Or, she’ll run to the other side of the yard and peep around the corner of the house; keeping a watchful eye.
Another green, two headed monster in Baylie’s mind, is a cap. Doesn’t make any difference if it’s on someone’s head or she spies it laying on the table. Again, I try to rationalize.
One of the most common causes of a fear or phobia in dogs is a lack of early socialization. Dogs go through a critical period of development when they are between the ages of 8 and 16 weeks. Dogs that aren’t exposed to new things during this period may become fearful of new things later in life. This is one of the main reasons dogs become fearful of things such as riding in the car, strangers, and going up and down stairs. Negative experiences are another reason dogs develop fears and phobias.
Genetics also play a role in fearful behavior. Just as a dog can inherit coat color and size from his parents, so can he inherit personality traits. It makes sense that a shy and timid dog is more likely to produce shy and timid offspring. It can be difficult to determine whether a dog’s fear stems from genetics, but one clue is that a dog whose fear stems from a genetic predisposition may appear fearful to many things rather than having just one specific phobia. There are also some breeds that are generally more skittish than others. It is important to remember to be patient with your dog. Don’t punish them for their fear. It will only make matters worse. You can also try to counter-condition your dog. Try to create more positive associations. Play a game with your dog to distract them from their fears. Don’t force your dog to play if they are completely terrified. Try again another time when they are just starting to exhibit signs of fear.
Please let a comment below and tell me about your pet’s biggest fear or phobia.
Amy Bender, about.com. Causes of Fear in Dogs, DogTraining Louisana.com