As with humans dogs can suffer from fear and phobias. Indeed sears and phobias are relatively common and can affect dogs of all ages and all breeds. But there is a difference between fear and phobia. Fear is a normal response to an actual or perceived threat or situation, while a phobia is an exaggerated fear response that can completely overwhelm a dog.
Phobias can have a variety of causes, including a lack of early socialisation or a negative past experience. Signs of fear in dogs include cowering, trembling, drooling, barking, destructive behaviour, and, in some cases, aggression.
Reaction to phobias may vary. Tread gently as it is possible to make matters worse. It is important to go only as quickly as your pet will allow as fear may turn to aggression if your pet is pushed into a situation with no avenue for escape.
Commonly Found Fears in Dogs:
- Fear of cars
- Fear of going to the vet or groomer
- Fear of children
Commonly Found Phobias in Dogs:
- Fireworks Phobia
- Thunderstorm phobia
- Baby Crying phobia
Fear of Fireworks:
As celebrations for bonfire night now seem to go on for longer than a single night, we urge everyone to follow the animal-friendly firework code.
Loud firework bangs and dazzling displays of flashes in the sky can be particularly terrifying to animals. They get frightened and confused, run away and are often lost or injured. Bonfire heaps are also a danger. They attract small hibernating animals like hedgehogs that perish when the fire is lit.
We can help animals avoid suffering firework and bonfire injuries by attending well-planned, organised events and firework displays as far away from farm animals and residential areas as possible.
In order to keep your pet safe during this time, we advise owners to follow the tips below.
- Give your dog a good long walk to ensure fear is not increased due to an overabundance of energy. It also provides an opportunity for your dog to relieve himself as he may not be comfortable going outside later in the evening.
- If your pet is particularly sensitive to loud noises, ask your veterinary surgeon for advice on medication. There are some homeopathic remedies available to relieve stress but please consult your vet before supplying your pet with any of these remedies.
- Remember to secure doors and windows.
- Build bonfires as late as possible and make a final check for animals before they are lit.
- If you are having a firework display or bonfire, warn neighbours and local farmers in advance so they can take precautions. Ideally, why not go to your local community display?
- Ensure your pets’ identification is current so if they do get away local authorities are better able to help return them to you.
- Your pet may find toys and treats comforting and distracting so ensure you have a supply of their favourites.
During the evening:
- Dogs and other pets living outside, such as rabbits, should be moved from the garden and taken into a garage or outbuilding or within the home, before it becomes dark. Curtains or blinds should be drawn before fireworks celebrations begin.
- Turn on the television or radio to drown out the noise and for reassurance.
- Monitor your pets’ behaviour but don’t fuss over them or crowd or your pets will pick up on your anxieties. You should keep to their normal routine as much as possible.
- Never let off fireworks near any animal. Horses and livestock in nearby fields will be terrified.
The day after:
- Always clear up after a bonfire party with fireworks – litter is hazardous to domestic and wild animals.
- Anxiety may continue for one or more days after the event so please watch your pet for signs of stress and continue to make them feel safe and secure.
- You can purchase tapes of fireworks sounds to accustom your dog to them during training. These basic training skills can be used under normal circumstances i.e. when there are no fireworks in the neighbourhood:
- When your dog is under control and relaxed, play a tape at a very low volume so it is barely audible and encourage your dog to perform tasks in an area where it feels safe. Give generous praise and reassurance.
- Gradually increase the volume at a rate with which your dog is comfortable.
- Training sessions should be short and frequent.
This training procedure can also be used for other sounds such as thunderstorms.
Fear of Cars:
- May be related to confinement, movement or the destination. Gradually expose your dog to the car in an unthreatening way and take your dog to places that are fun for you and your dog!
- Spend time with your dog in a parked car with doors open and ignition off. You can feed meals in the car, give tasty titbits and reassure. If your dog is too scared to eat in the car feed it a distance away and gradually get closer.
- When your dog is comfortable eating in the car you can try it with the ignition on.
- Close the doors, but keep the windows open.
- Make a very short journey to somewhere nice like the park.
- Gradually increase the length of the journey.
- Your dog should be kept on a lead while doing this, but do not use the lead to restrain your dog if it is frightened. If your dog panics and pulls then you have moved too quickly and need to take a step back.
Fear of Fear of vets:
Fear of going to see the vet is common anxiety in dogs. Even the most happy-go-lucky canine may cower and tuck its tail as you try to coax it through the door of your local vet.
For most dogs, they are frightened because they fear that the experience will be traumatic. This isn’t helped by the fact that most vet appointments will involve some form of physical examinations and maybe blood tests, which can be confusing and uncomfortable for dogs.
- Create a Calm journey
Your dog may be quite happy to jump into the car – probably because they live in the optimism of a long a walk further afield – but getting him in through the vet’s door may well be another story altogether.
- Limit your time in the waiting room
‘Vets’ waiting rooms can be a very distressing place for some dogs. It is possible for your dog to sense other pets’ fear, which can increase their own fears and anxiety. Why not talk to reception and book an early appointment to avoid waiting too long, and limit the time you spend in the waiting room by keeping your dog outside with you until you’re about to be called in.
- Take treats with you
Try giving treats that your dog loves and can only have when at the vets. Unpleasant interventions, like having his temperature taken, definitely deserve praise and a special treat. ‘If your dog likes squeaky toys, take one in your pocket. Squeaking it at exactly the same time he’s having a potentially painful procedure may help to divert his attention away from the shock
- Don’t just visit the vet when they are ill
Do not just make journeys to the vet when your dog is ill as this creates negative associations. Most practices will indulge visits for nervous animals just to come in and be handled by a nurse and to be fussed over and given treat
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