Causes of Fearful Dog Behavior
Fearful dog behavior is common, as the world can be a very scary
place for many dogs. Some dogs are more fearful than others, due
to genetic predisposition or improper socialization. Some dogs
develop very specific fears in aftermath of fearful experiences.
Here are some of the causes of fearful dog behavior, and what
you can do about it.
Causes of Fearful Behavior in Dogs
Often, dogs display
fearful behavior due to an underlying medical condition.
Disease, injury, vision or hearing impairment can all cause your
dog to behave fearfully. That's because many medical conditions
can distort your dog's ability to understand what's going on
around him. If your dog is displaying fearful behavior, you
should see your vet to determine that it isn't caused by an
underlying medical condition.
Some dogs are fearful simply because they have a genetic
predisposition toward anxiety. Such a predisposition might be
treatable with anxiety drugs like Xanax, but it's important to
get a prescription from your vet, as human dosages might be
harmful for your dog.
Other dogs may develop specific fears due to traumatic
experiences in their pasts. Examine your dog's behavior to see
if you can identify which conditions frighten him. He may be
afraid of loud noises, bicycles, traffic, thunderstorms or being
left alone. You can combat these fears using desensitization and
Gaining Your Dog's Trust
Don't give in to the temptation to
force your dog to face his fears. If your dog isn't ready to
face what scares him, then forcing him to do so could make the
The first step towards calming your dog's fears is to develop
a strong bond of trust with your dog. Spend time showing your
dog that you are safe in his company, that the two of you always
have fun together and that you are friends. Don't try to
dominate your dog; don't frighten or bully him. Though it could
take days, weeks or months, once you have gained your dog's
trust, you'll become a source of courage for him.
Desensitizing and Counter-Conditioning Your Dog
your dog to his fears is easy, but can take some time. Begin by
exposing your dog to a small amount of what's causing his fear.
Reward your dog for calm, rather than fearful, behavior during
this minimal exposure. Gradually increase the level of exposure
to the feared object or circumstances, and reward your dog for
remaining calm; if at any point he resumes his fearful behavior,
reduce the level of exposure immediately and resume at a slower
The process of desensitization can take weeks or months. You
need to move slowly enough that your dog never becomes fearful
during the process. If not, you could worsen his fears.
Counter-conditioning can be used in conjunction with
desensitization. In counter-conditioning, you'll combine the
fearful circumstances with dog behavior that is incompatible
with fear, such as the use of the "sit" command.
Perform desensitization as described above, while at the same
time asking your dog to perform obedience commands. Reward your
dog for obeying commands. However, don't punish your dog during
counter-conditioning, as the point is to get him to associate
the fearful stimulus with something pleasant in his mind.
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