How do you ease dog fears, especially when they seem so…illogical? Picture this: the minute your doorbell rings, your guard dog comes to life, barking and carrying on to protect her territory and her people. She’s really into it – the hair on the back of her neck is raised, her teeth are bared, and she’s ready to tear into anyone who is ringing the doorbell with plans to bring harm to her family.
Thirty minutes later, she is happily sleeping in her bed when you make the decision to vacuum your rugs. Suddenly, your ferocious guard dog is cowering in the corner until you put away the big, bad vacuum. What gives? There are several common phobias among many dogs, and dealing with them can be challenging. Here are some suggestions for handling dogs’ most common fears.
How Do You Ease Dog Fears?
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- Fear of thunder. Thunder, and other loud noises, such as fireworks, cause fear in some dogs because the noise seemingly comes out of nowhere and your dog doesn’t understand what it is. If your dog tries to hide when he hears thunder or fireworks, note where he goes. If you’re comfortable with his choice of hiding places, you can reinforce that as a safe spot for him to go to feel less fear. You also may want to try a ThunderShirt for your dog – it’s a compression shirt which may help keep him calmer with loud noises.
- Separation anxiety. Some dogs are more anxious than others, but if you have a pup with severe separation anxiety, you know it is a big problem! Your attempts to reassure your dog may be making it worse. By giving your dog attention when she starts exhibiting signs of anxiety as you’re getting ready to go, you’re reinforcing her behaviors by giving her attention. Instead, ignore her altogether. At a time you’re not actually leaving, do some practice runs. Grab your purse and start toward the door, then put it down. Open the garage door, go outside, and then come back inside quickly. The goal is to desensitize your dog to you leaving the house.
- Fear of the vacuum. Vacuums are really loud, and that is probably why your dog is scared of them. Try leaving your vacuum in the middle of the living room for a few hours so your dog gets used to seeing it, and give him treats while he is in the same room as the vacuum. Next, get a CD of a vacuum sound (available as a baby soothing CD), and start playing it quietly. Slowly increase the volume, watching for signs of anxiety. If your dog gets anxious, decrease the volume. Play with him and give him treats while the CD is playing. Take a break, and the next day, repeat the exercise. Keep repeating it until the volume of the CD is close to the volume your real vacuum makes. Hopefully, by helping him see that good things can happen in the midst of the noise, he’ll be calm when it’s time to vacuum.
- Fear of the vet or groomer. Practice is a big help with trips to the vet or groomer. Many other dogs visit these places, and there are unfamiliar smells everywhere. Show your dog that every interaction doesn’t have to be one where he gets shots or gets his nails trimmed. Make a visit when you don’t have an appointment, and give your dog a treat while in the waiting room. Work on desensitizing your dog if he seems anxious about having certain parts of his body touched.
- Stranger danger. If your dog is a rescue who was mistreated, she probably has a fear of people. When you have a guest in your house, start with your dog in a separate room. Slowly introduce her to the guest, and let her lead the way. Ask the guest to ignore her until she seems ready, and if she is behaving well (not growling or exhibiting other aggressive behaviors), ask the guest to pet her. If she is acting aggressively, calmly remove her to another room so she can calm down before trying again.
- Fear of the car. While some dogs love going in the car with you, others are terrified! What we’ve found to work with our dog who is scared of the car is to create a safe space for her. We have a large SUV and are able to put a crate in the back so she can ride in it; it seems to make a difference. In those instances that a crate just isn’t an option, we make her a “bed” of blankets used inside her crate at home so she has familiar and comfortable smells to reassure her.
- Fear of children. Kids are quick and unpredictable, and for skittish dogs, that can be scary. If you’re worried about how your dog will react to kids, it is best to keep them apart – you certainly don’t want your dog nipping at a child out of fear.
Dealing with a fearful dog is not easy, but helping her become more comfortable in anxious situations will make both of you happier in the long run.