By Dawn Aerts
We know that fear is a complex emotion shared by animals and people alike. For us people it might be a walk in the dark, a scary film, or an occasional plane trip.
With dogs, in particular, it’s important to get them to face their darkest fears be it thunder and lightning, vacuum cleaners, or some other particular issue early on. In fact, if you get them to face a fear, you can avoid unwanted or extreme behaviors into the future.
Professional dog trainers will tell you that a dog’s response often mirrors an owner’s reaction – that is, if you’re calm, cool, and confident, your pooch will likely follow your lead. If you’re wondering how to help them overcome fear, an animal behaviorist can evaluate the source, but you can also apply positive support to most any situation.
One suggestion is to give your dog slight and occasional exposure to their fear issue in a safe and controlled environment. For instance, if a vacuum cleaner causes them to run for cover, it’s helpful to run the vacuum cleaner more often, and to desensitize their issue using gradual exposure over time.
If a puppy reacts with fear around other dogs, it’s helpful to expose them to other canines in stages: first placing them somewhere where they can hear or smell another dog, but without actual contact. As your pet starts to react with more confidence, try bringing the other dog into view (but kept at a safe distance).
The process may be long, but consistent exposure is likely to improve situations.
In short, the more a dog interacts with his/her fear, (and cause), the better his chances of overcoming negative reactions into the future. In contrast, there are also plenty of examples where dogs react in a fearful way for good reason. Most dogs do not like loud, unpredictable sounds (like fireworks) or machinery spinning around them.
Dogs are also known to demonstrate a genuine fear of other animals, and that may be both instinct, and reasonable behavior. Like people, dogs have unique personalities – and while the sounds of rolling thunder and the crack of lightening will send one of my dogs scampering into the closet, the other will simply opt for a nice nap.
Your dog can reflect your response too.
That said, animal experts suggest that owners set the example (reaction) for dogs in particular. If you adjust your behavior to show confidence, assurance, and enthusiasm, they’ll follow your lead. If you act stressed out or upset – they can mirror that response too.
And, it’s important to remember that dogs re-adopted through shelters or purchased from breeders, may have some unique fears due to the effects of neglect, or faulty training by previous owners. So a dog’s history should always be considered as reactions emerge that cannot be easily understood.
In short, if you notice your pooch running from the dust mop, take their feelings seriously.