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Living with a fearful dog can be challenging for us, but imagine what it’s like for our dogs. Fearful dogs are often misunderstood because they may present with undesirable behaviors, often dubbed “bad behaviors,” such as being stubborn, running and hiding, barking, snarling, growling, lunging and even outright aggression. These misunderstood behavioral displays do not make a dog bad. These behaviors are most often a manifestation of fear or anxiety.
Left untreated, these behavioral displays can become habit or a way of being, leaving dogs unable to cope with the things they fear. Dogs are captive animals living in our human-dominated world. Although they have adapted quite well, they are not free from the stresses caused by living in a human environment.
What does fear look like?
Treating fearful dogs is a welfare issue, as well. Behavioral problems are the No. 1 reason that people relinquish their dogs to shelters. They don’t realize that fear is an emotion, not a behavior. Understanding the emotional state of dogs goes a long way to mitigating the massive numbers of dogs in shelters today.
Look for specific signs and body language in your dog. Photography by: ©dageldog | Getty Images
The expression of fear ranges from obvious to extremely subtle. Look at these signs:
body and facial tension
If your dog is showing these signs of fear, it’s time to begin a treatment plan to help alleviate that fear. These dogs are not “bad,” they are merely expressing some level of stress. Becoming fluent in dog talk is key to understanding and helping a fearful dog become less fearful.
Use this helpful chart when looking for signs of fear in your dog. Photography by : ©Denise O’Moore | Mighty Dog Graphics
What causes fear?
Some dogs are afraid of other dogs or people, some lacked proper socialization as a puppy during the critical fear period the first 14 weeks of life, while others inherit fearful behaviors from their fearful mother or are genetically predisposed. Other dogs are afraid of different types of surfaces or doorways, noises, and yet others can become fearful because they were punished during training.
Another often overlooked cause of fear is unrecognized pain. Always get veterinary clearance before any kind of behavior modification is offered for a fear-related behavior.
A foundation of trust
We can help dogs feel safe by recognizing the signs of fear or anxiety and then becoming someone they trust. Trust happens when we create an environment that makes them feel safe. As dogs’ advocates and guardians, it’s our duty to be trustworthy.