Your dog has suddenly started to display fear for things around him or her. Fear is one of the most frustrating issues dog trainers and breeders face. This frustration is also passed on to dog parents when our dogs start displaying this attribute.
This fear of things around your dog can run really deep in them. That is why many dog trainers and breeders suggest that dog parents begin the socialization of their puppies at an early stage. But even this advice has its shortcoming, in that socializing your puppies at this stage exposes them to diseases which they have not been vaccinated against.
It is very stressful living with a fearful dog talk less of training him or her, but what makes a dog suddenly fearful of things and people around him.
In summary, these are the possible reasons why your dog is fearful:
- Puppy fear and adolescent fear period.
- Pain or Illness.
- Improper or lack of socialization.
- Separation Anxiety
Let’s address each of these reasons and see which one your dog fits into.
1.Puppy fear and adolescent fear period.
From the time of birth to their eighteenth month of life, puppies and dogs undergo two fear periods. You have the puppy fear period (usually between the eighth and twelfth week of life) and the adolescent fear period (usually between the sixth to the fourteenth month of their life).
During these periods, it is likely that your dog or your puppy may start to exhibit some fear of things or people around him. The good thing about this fear period is that if it is handled properly, it is only temporary.
Now let’s address each fear stage.
a. The Puppy fear period.
Puppies between the ages of eight to the twelfth week are in what is called “the fear impact period”. At this stage of their life, they are learning how to distinguish what is safe and what is dangerous to them. Basically, your puppy is trying to make sense of the world he or she finds themselves.
That is why at this stage you will see some strange acts like your puppy barking at the wall or our puppy trying to get closer to a particular member of the family (even though this person cannot take care of her literally).
In ancient times, the puppies’ mother would have been taking them out for hunting where they would be learning by imitation how to hunt and survive.
This process is not available for our dogs today, so they are forced to learn how to survive based on how we act around them in the house.
There are a few basic things you can do to help your puppy to overcome fear during this period.
- Always act calm around your puppy, remember they are trying to imitate you so, many things you do will be taken literally by them e.g pricking your hand on the nail of a doorknob and screaming in front of him might be the beginning of him thinking that that door is a dangerous place.
- Avoid new and chaotic environments.
- Use lots of positive reinforcement and praise at this stage
- Supervised socialization at this stage can be very helpful
b. The adolescent fear period.
This period is between the sixth and fourteenth month of our dog’s life. This second stage can be compared to a child entering their teenage years. Hormonal changes and different expectation from their dog parents leads to changes and a relearning of already existing behaviors.
Some of the fear exhibited at this stage will look strange to you. He or she might start acting scared around someone he has been playing with all along as a puppy or might start barking at a bowl he used to eat with.
During this stage, it is advisable not to instigate or agitate your dog. Follow the basic steps below to manage the period well.
- Always provide positive reinforcement when doing things with your dog
- Always exhibit calm behavior when your dog acts agitated.
- Talk to your dog in a cheerful manner always (They feed off the energy you give out).
- Don’t force your dog to do things he or she seems afraid of.
- Do not introduce abrupt changes to their environment.
So that is a summary of the fear period for our dogs, it is very important to note that fear exhibited at this stage should be temporary, the whole idea is to manage and make sure it doesn’t become a permanent thing in their life.
2. Pain or Illness.
There are certain pain or illness a dog may have that will make him or her to act scared of things and people around them. Unlike human beings, dogs do not understand the sign and symptoms of illness. They cannot read meaning into what is happening to them and in most cases fear sets in.
Neck pain, Back pain, and abdominal pain can make our dogs scared (especially when one pushes hard on the pain points unknowingly). There are also joint and muscle pains. The pain caused by these alignments makes them lash out at people around them and their surroundings.
There are viruses and neurological conditions that can lead to our dogs being afraid of things around them. These viruses and neurological conditions can cause involuntary shaking of the dog’s body. Our dogs don’t understand why this is happening to them and so it makes them hypersensitive. They become scared of people around them even when they are trying to help.
Another big culprit of inducing fear in our dogs is toxic poisoning, this usually happens when our dogs consume things they are not supposed to. Things like xylitol, chocolate, and coffee bean can lead to poisoning in our dogs. Their system shutting down slowly and painfully on them is something they can’t express or explain.
Lashing out becomes the only way they can express themselves.
There is no trick to handling dogs that are scared due to pain or illness. The only thing you can do is to contact your vet doctor or go to the animal hospital for a full checkup.
In fact, contacting your vet doctor is the first thing you should do whenever your dog starts acting scared. Removing pain and illness from your list of possible reasons makes way for you to be able to manage your scared dog effectively.
3. Improper or lack of socialization
Socialization is very important for our dogs, doing it the proper way helps our dogs to adjust to people and their environments easily.
For those that have not heard of socialization, it is simply the systematic introduction of your dog to different types of people, animals, and environment in a healthy manner.
Dogs that are not properly socialized usually develop long term trust issues which lead to them being scared of things around them. They simply do not understand how people interact, talk, and act around each other and especially around them.
This makes most of their action’s crude and strange.
Dogs that are properly socialized are less likely to start being scared of things around them for the simple reason that they have learned how to interact with things around them and have adjusted themselves properly.
Even some elderly dogs that have gone through proper socialization show high intelligence in dealing with people and other animals around them.
The good news is that you can start the socialization process at any stage in your dog’s life, but it is always advisable to start earlier.
So how do you socialize an adult dog that is acting scared of things around him or her?
- Start taking your dog to public areas, start slowly so as not to jolt his or her sensitivity, slowly increase the length of the walks and the areas being covered. Your dog would gradually get to meet different people and pets and get an understanding of how they behave. (Make sure to start with a leash and collar so that you can easily control the situations and circumstances around you)
- Encourage your dog to be curious during these walks, make sure that it is always under strict supervision.
- Always use praises and treats to reward any action which you approve of. Positive reinforcement of acceptable behaviors even when unexpected has a way of dispelling fear in our dogs.
This is a very common problem in dogs, but most dog parents usually don’t link it to their dog’s change in behavior. Separation anxiety is in simple terms a state of panic created in a dog due to him or her feeling isolated or separated from their guardian or dog parent.
Separation anxiety reveals itself in many forms but the main form we are looking at here is fear.
If your dog starts acting scared mainly when you or a particular member of your family is about to leave the house, there is a high probability that it is being caused by separation anxiety.
There are many ways of handling fear caused by separation anxiety in our dogs, but the basic process of handling this problem is:
- Change up your routine when you leave the house. There are normal things we do when we are about to leave the house, when we shower, how we eat our food, how we pick up our car keys etc., our dogs notice these routine and if they are suffering from separation anxiety, the routine helps feed into the fear that you are about to leave the house. Changing up this routine will help keep your dog calm when you are about to leave e.g. sacrificing breakfast at home for a while, changing the normal position you keep your key, etc.
- Avoid making much fuss whenever you are going out. Most dog parents feel making grant gestures of goodbyes when they are leaving the house is good for their dogs. This is far from true. These grand gestures only feed into your dog’s fear that you are about to leave him and gets him excited negatively in this regard. Keep the goodbyes short and brief, the same thing when you get back.
- Make time to crate train your dog. When crate training is done properly, your dog can easily adjust to periods you will not be around because they would be well engaged during these periods. Basically, proper crate training makes your dog know that no matter what happens, you will always come back for him or her.
- Offer other forms of engagement when you are gone. You can easily engage your dog by leaving your radio or television on when you leave. This creates an illusion that there are people in the house when you are not there. This goes a long way to ease your dog’s fears.
Yes, you can be the reason why your dog acts scared whenever he is around you. This is surprising to most dog parents. They don’t know that some of their acts (even mistakenly) can trigger fear in their dogs.
How you carry yourself around him or her, the tone of your voice when you talk to them, even tripping over them mistakenly can trigger fear for you. When this happens, it might look as if it is sudden, but this is something that would have built up over a period.
There is also the possibility of bad experiences in the past (especially for dogs that have lived in shelter homes) which you may intensify unknowingly by your actions.
A perfect example is unknowingly imitating a manner of talking which his or her former guardian talks before abusing them.
The good thing about this situation is that your dog can be retrained to become comfortable around you.
You can start dealing with his fear issue by first ignoring his fearful activities around you. This may look counterproductive but acknowledging your dog’s fear directly only reinforces his or her actions.
Also, act cheerful around your dog and talk to them in a nice and calm manner.
Always reward good behaviors and if possible, schedule some activities between and your dog. Some routine training and exercise activities are good ways to build a strong bond with your dog and dispel their fear of you.
As you can see, managing a fearful dog is not rocket science. What most dogs want is an assurance of their position in your life and your household. This basic assurance through your love and communication with them is more than fifty percent of dealing with any issues that may arise.
Hi, I am Charles Nwankwo Editor-in-Chief, Mydoggything.com. Gleaning from Professional Dog Trainers, behaviorist, Registered Veterinarians, and Breeders. We are passionate about making dog care easy for you. My job is to make sure that you get the best-updated dog care information to understand and take care of your dog or dogs.