The dog freak out. We’ve all either seen it or experienced it first hand. One minute your dog is fine, the next he’s either in kill mode or trying to crawl up your leg. What causes this dreaded phenomenon, and why do only some dogs get it? Today, we’re going to talk about the dog freak out and why it can happen.
I have a question! I’ve heard that certain dogs and certain breeds turn into entirely different dogs on night walks compared to day walks. My Dog is 100% like this. Everything spooks her at night and she might even growl at someone walking past me when she would never do that during daylight. I wondered why this is? Is she feeding off my energy being a bit spooked out at night, or is it something else?
What Causes the Dog Freak Out
I recently came across the above post in the dog forums from an owner whose dog is perfectly well adjusted during the day but turns into a fearful and sometimes quasi-aggressive pooch at night. According to the owner, everything spooks the dog at night, from shadows to other people to unseen sounds. She asked one key question that brings me to my first reason for dog freak outs – “Is she feeding off my energy?”
Cause #1: Following Your Lead
The owner’s dog is absolutely feeding off of her energy. Dogs view we owners as the pack leaders. As such, we set the tone for life at all times. One of the major causes of dog freak outs is an owner’s anxiety level. An owner who is nervous will transfer that tension to their dog. After that, it’s all over. The dog is immediately on high alert.
The Story of Seamus
When I worked at the vet, there was a Boston Terrier named Seamus that no one could get near. He snapped and growled and was a general holy terror. His owner left him there for boarding while the family was on vacation. Within 2 hours, Seamus was all over me. I entered the run, and it was all kisses and tail wagging and play time.
When his owner came back, Seamus immediately went back to being crazy when the owner put on his leash. You see, the owner had decided that Seamus could hurt someone, so she was filled with anxiety. Seamus fed off of that, and his personality changed in an instant. I finally got her to chill out, and immediately Seamus was fine.
Cause #2: Temperament
Sometimes, dog freak out syndrome is just a symptom of your dog’s demeanor. The “high strung” dog isn’t a myth. There are some dogs out there that are just born afraid of everything. I’ve seen it first hand. We had a client who brought in a puppy that was terrified of everything. The puppy wasn’t rescued, and his owners we exceptional owners AND trainers. So they knew what they were doing. Little Boscoe was just born afraid. When I left the vet 5 years later, he was still a mess.
Cause #3: Triggers
In some cases, after a dog has experienced an event, whether it be abuse or just a certain situation that left a powerful impression, it can cause a trigger to develop. After that event, anything remotely similar can cause a feeling of anxiety, fear, aggression or a combination of those.
The Story of Lailah
I brought home a Pit mix named Lialah that had been living at the vet but needed to go back to the pound. She loved other dogs, and she loved other people. Everything was going swimmingly until a drunk guy blew a stop sign and almost hit me. He began yelling out of the car at me. When I’d finally reached my limit, I yelled back at him to get out of the road and go home.
He swung his door open and got out of his car very quickly and aggressively, saying he’d kill me. That’s when I saw a completely different side of Lailah. It was on like Donkey Kong. I’m not kidding, I thought she was going to rip my arm out of its socket. If had let go, she would have killed that guy. All to protect me, of course. But after that, whenever an older man came anywhere near me, I had to wrestle with her on the leash. She’d had her dog freak out trigger moment.
Cause #4: Abuse
If you have a rescue dog, the dog freak out is a very real possibility. Abuse can lead to different varieties of the dog freak out. You might have a dog that cowers in the corner. Or you might have a dog like Liailah that goes full on into the fight portion of fight or flight. In either case, you need to be careful when adopting a dog that might have been abused. You want to help reduce any dog freak outs as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The Dog Freak Out and You
Unfortunately, the dog freak out can be a fact of life for many owners. If your dog is experienced a lot of anxiety, try to figure out the triggers and what you can do to eliminate or reduce them. Talk with a dog trainer, as well. In some cases, dogs suffering from major dog freak out syndrome might need medication. Your vet can help you with that. In any case, the dog freak out issues doesn’t have to ruin your life, but you will have to work around it.