Dealing With Fear In Dogs

Some humans are great at facing their fears: afraid of heights, climb the Shard; afraid of clowns, visit the Circus. However, does it always work? Think; say you hated the dentist, would you start enjoying it if you were forced to go every day? Would you start feeling more relaxed as the visits go by? I think probably not.  

We too often assume that dogs can think and feel as we do, but they don’t. Dogs don’t think Right vs. Wrong, they think Safe vs. Dangerous, and so if something feels unsafe to them (scary), they will defend themselves, try to get that scary thing to move away, or at least move away from the situation.  

Remember the 5 Fs? Well here they are again: Flight, Freeze, Flirt, Flock and Fight.

Most dogs will start with the first four, and if scared will politely try to get away. However if this doesn’t succeed, then the dog will have to adopt his last strategy on the list: Fight.  Even then (and that’s lucky for us really), most dogs will start by showing only signs of aggression to begin with (growling, snarling, barking, lunging, jumping up at us, etc.) and will only attack as a last resort.

At this moment, instead of seeing these signs for what they are (signs of fear) humans generally feel embarrassed and tell their dogs off, asking them to be quiet and to “behave”, sometimes using punishment.  So what do you think the dog has learnt?  Not only that he was right to be scared, this situation was dangerous and scary; but worst of all in these situations my human becomes dangerous too.           

The dog still remains fearful, and will probably show similar signs next time.

Interestingly if you’ve managed to stop these signs of aggression from taking place (maybe using punishment), all you’ve actually really achieved is to stop your dog from giving you (and others) any signs of warning, and therefore potentially creating an unpredictable dog.

It is vital to remember that all dogs are different, and that a professional should do a thorough assessment to make sure the problem is understood, before starting any behavioural modification programme. There is no 'one-size-fits-all' remedy with this matter.

If you would like to book an assessment session with me, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.

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