Fear is a powerful emotion that can save dogs from dangerous situations, but sometimes, this fear can turn into a hurdle that is large enough to stand in the way of their happiness and daily activities. A fearful dog will either shy away from meeting new people and become withdrawn, or turn into an hostile pooch who will bark and snarl at the person or entity that is causing this unwarranted fear. Some dogs are even afraid of other dogs and this can turn a relaxing walk in the park to an anxiety filled nightmare. If your pooch is suffering from the same problem, then knowing the underlying reasons behind this fear will help you find the right solutions to deal with it before it gets worse.
Puppies who did not get the chance to grow up and interact with their siblings during this crucial developmental stage will turn into anxious adults. Therefore, socialization must take place when the puppies are around three weeks old because this is the age where they can easily bond with people and other animals. The window for this socialization stays open until the age of three months where they can still learn that their surrounding environment is a safe space for them to play and thrive. This is the age where puppies learn about different body cues and where they can build a positive relationship with other puppies as well. If this phase is cut short or if the puppy grows up without any siblings to interact with, then he will develop a fear of the new and unfamiliar.
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Negative Early Experiences
Dogs who have suffered through a terrible ordeal as puppies are capable of carrying this scary experience with them all the way to adulthood. This fear can manifest itself in different ways depending on the situation. For example, if your dog was a victim of an attack by another canine during puppyhood, then this memory will become deeply rooted within his brain and the fear will return with a vengeance the next time he runs into a dog. The problem with this kind of trauma is that it can follow your pooch like a dark shadow throughout his adult life. If your dog is afraid of other dogs, then taking him to the vet or to a pet grooming place can become an agonizing experience for the both of you.
Puppies can inherit a number of features from their parents and this includes more than just their physical attributes. Timid dogs can pass their fear gene onto their offspring, resulting in a shy puppy who is scared of more than just other dogs. If your pooch happens to be carrying this fear gene, then chances are that he will be skittish and nervous every time he encounters a stranger or unfamiliar environment or animal. This kind of gene-based fear can be hard to overcome, so working closely with a trainer or a specialist with experience in dealing with fearful dogs can help alleviate this problem.
Dogs seek validation from us and that is why positive reinforcement is based on reward. For example, if you want to teach your pooch how to fetch, you will have to reward him every time he behaves a certain way. This type of training will allow your dog to establish a connection between playing fetch and receiving delicious treats and affection as a reward. Repetition will also teach him that good things will happen whenever he fetches his favorite toy.
If you use the same positive reinforcement approach when it comes to your fearful dog, then you risk reinforcing this behavior. So, if your dog receives affection from you every time he is scared, he will think that being afraid is a positive behavior, so his fear will continue to rule over his life. Timid dogs who are constantly coddled whenever fear kicks in will become terrified animals over time.
Fearful dogs need leadership rather than comfort and this is exactly what you need to give your dog in order to help him overcome his fear. The special bond between you and your pooch can come in handy in this particular situation because dogs learn to do things by imitating their owners. Therefore, if you show your dog that you can be both calm and assertive in the presence of other dogs, he might soak up a dose of confidence from you and become less scared and more self-assured as time goes by.
How to Conquer Fear
Timid dogs cannot fight this battle on their own and they will require an abundant amount of time and patience from you. They will also need certain techniques that will help them slowly conquer their fear, and one of the best techniques out there is desensitization. This method can help your pooch kick his fear to the curb, especially if he is afraid of other animals or inanimate objects. Desensitization involves exposing your dog to the thing that scares him in a gradual and methodical way. So if your dog is scared of other dogs, you need to take him somewhere where he can observe dogs from a distance. Once he becomes more comfortable with the idea of being in the presence of other dogs, then you can gradually reduce this distance during walks. Another solution is to find a mellow pooch with a gentle temperament and gradually introduce him to your dog. By following this desensitization method, your dog will learn at his own pace that this scary animal is not so bad.
Experts advise against flooding since it can have an adverse effect on your dog. Flooding involves forcing a dog to deal with something that scares it, and this can cause your pooch to shut down emotionally and lose his trust in you as well.
Classical conditioning is another technique that can be used to fight this battle and it involve using high value treats and rewards. These treats are paired with the thing that scares your pooch, so you can use it to help him with his dog phobia. The first thing you need to do is bring your dog to a place that is frequented by other dogs and have him stand at a comfortable distance from these passing dogs. This distance can be anywhere from ten to sixty feet. Begin feeding your pooch his scrumptious treats whenever a dog appears. You can add words of encouragement while you feed him one treat after the other. This constant flood of treats and chatting must end immediately once the dogs disappear from view. This method will teach your dog that yummy treats will make an appearance every time a dog shows up and they will stop once they are gone. His emotional response will eventually change as a result and he will no longer panic at the mere sight of another dog.
Scared dogs should never be forced out of their comfort zone, especially when it comes to desensitization and conditioning, so learning to read your dog’s body language can make a world of difference during this lengthy process. Nervous dogs show their fear by flattening their ears and tucking their tail, but there are other signs that are worth mentioning as well. For example, if you notice your pooch exhibiting subtle signs of fear such as sniffing the ground or becoming tense, then you need to withdraw to a distance that does not trigger his reaction. If his fear takes over and he starts to panic, then leaving the area as calmly as possible and taking your pooch home is the best thing you can do.
Habituation is a third tool that you can use in order to help your pooch, but it is better suited for mildly stressed dogs. This method involves taking your dog with you to different places where he can get exposed to other dogs. Once your pooch gets used to these outings, he will become less wary of other canines.
All of the above techniques can be used to help alleviate this problem but they will require both time and patience. Sometimes, overcoming this hurdle needs a professional who can evaluate the situation and bring his expertise and knowledge to the table. Fear can lead to destructive behavior that can get out of hand and damage more than just your furniture. It can also morph into chronic stress that is far from healthy for your dog. Moreover, fear of other dogs can turn into aggression if no one gives it the attention it deserves. That is why an expert on canine behavior is needed in order to give you the feedback and support you need during this difficult phase. Throwing your dog a lifeline while he is drowning in fear and anxiety will save him in more ways than one. Using the right tools to help him get over his fear will allow him to have fun and let loose around other dogs and become more relaxed over time.