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Symptoms of fear in dogs and how to help our pets overcome them

Updated on April 13, 2013

By Michelle Liew

Misty afraid of jumping down from he chair.
Misty afraid of jumping down from he chair. | Source

Targeting exercise for scared dogs

Fear. A dreaded part of our lives.

As it is with ours, it is also a dreaded part of the lives of our fur kids. We have vertigo, agoraphobia, hydrophobia and claustrophobia; our canine friends have their own set of issues that worry them.

Fear in dogs can be a rather disturbing issue that can have an impact the well being of our pets and ultimately, ourselves. What are some canine phobias, their symptoms and most importantly, how to help our furry friends get over them?

Cloudy afraid of jumping down the slide in the playground.
Cloudy afraid of jumping down the slide in the playground. | Source

The little fears I have noticed in my dogs

Before he passed away, I noticed that my Jack Russell Terrier, Rosco, had a paralyzing fear of loud sounds like thunder and fireworks that would lead to him hiding under the sofa for hours, trembling. It would take a lot of coaxing, and of course, the disappearance of the sounds concerned to make him leave the safety of his hiding place.

Misty, my 12-year-old schnauzer freezes when going down steps because of the cataracts plaguing her at the moment. She is patiently waiting for a specialist eye surgeon to be flown into Singapore because the veterinarians here, as yet, do not have the expertise to remove them.

Cloudy has her set of fears too. Affected by a little separation anxiety,her whining can be heard from across the park when I leave the home, even if it is only for a little while.

Every dog has something that will make them tremble a little. Helping them to get over their fears requires the understanding of how they show them.

Joe, my neighbors, dog, which is afraid of climbing down stairs.
Joe, my neighbors, dog, which is afraid of climbing down stairs. | Source

How do I know that my dog is afraid?

While some signs of fears in dogs may be fairly obvious, subtler ones might just escape our eyes if we fail to notice the signs. Even if your dog tends to be a quieter one, he can still have fears that plague him.

Physical behavior

Dogs can show some obvious signs of fear through some of the things that they do when something triggers a fearful response. These include:

  • Trembling
  • Withdrawal
  • Hiding
  • Reduced activity
  • Attempts to escape
  • Whining
  • Submissive urination

Cloudy has a fear of having her teeth brushed, and runs away the minute I have a toothbrush in my hand. It took me a few months to assure her that having her teeth brushed is not such a bad thing-with flavored dog dental toothpaste, of course.

Body Language

Some dogs do not exhibit their fears so explicitly, so it takes a little bit of time to spot the signs. Dogs communicate with their bodies to let us know that something is making them frightened or bothering them.

  • Flattened ears
  • Tail tucked between the hind legs
  • Cowering
  • Lip licking
  • Yawning
  • Raised hair on the back of the neck

Contrary to what some may believe, yawning may not necessarily mean that a dog is sleepy or that your dog is hungry.It can also mean that s or something in the environment is causing them a little discomfort.

A mixed breed at the vet's.
A mixed breed at the vet's. | Source

What makes a dog afraid?

Dogs have phobias that stem from a number of factors. Some of the more common causes are listed below.

Illness

Illness or any painful physical condition will increase the anxiety or stress levels in dogs, just as it does for us. It can contribute to the development of phobias and anxieties.

Misty developed her phobia of stairs after being diagnosed with cataracts, which of course hamper her sight. I now have to take her down ramps when on walks.

Trauma

We all know of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yes, it affects dogs too. Negative experiences naturally trigger fears and insecurity.

A Yorkshire Terrier that had been abused previously was so traumatized that it refused to be touched by anyone.

Aging

Aging causes chemical changes in a dog’s nervous system and might cause it to develop fears and phobias.

As your dog grows older, it might develop fears of being alone or of loud sounds and find it difficult to handle stress or change. Problems of submissive incontinence easily occur.

Inability to escape

A dog might develop phobias from the inability to escape the stimulus of that phobia. For instance, Cloudy needs to be in a crate to get to the vet and struggled hard to avoid it. We finally managed to crate her for her own safety on the taxi journey but she now hates crates.

Lack of socialization

A lack of socialization might prompt a fear of other people,dogs or for that matter, anything at all. This is especially so for puppies that have not been exposed to other dogs past 14 weeks of age.

A lab with a slight fear of going to the vet.
A lab with a slight fear of going to the vet. | Source

Different fears in dogs and overcoming them

There are a few things that can cause your dog to develop a fear or even a phobia. What are these disturbances that our pets find extremely annoying?

Astraphobia

Astraphobia, or the fear of thunder, is a fairly common one among dogs. It is hardly surprising, considering that their hearing is three times that of a human’s. Some, like most of us, have a mild fear of thunder, in which case you may observe subtle indicators of phobia like flattened ears or a tail tuck. It is a phobia if the behavior becomes excessive.

To help a dog get over astraphobia, an owner can establish a safe place for him to go to when it strikes.

Fireworks

The fear of fireworks is yet another common phobia in dogs and in humans too. The loud sounds and flashes of light can be overwhelming for some dogs and cause them to tremble in fear. For dogs with mild fears, getting them used to loud and sudden noises usually helps. However, some might need a little assistance that can be provided with the use of a thunder shirt.

Please read writer Mary Hyatt’s article on how a thunder shirt helps her dog, Baby, cope with the sudden noise of fireworks.

Separation Anxiety

Many dogs fear being left alone, and this is commonly known as separation anxiety. Dogs with this fear tend to exhibit destructive behavior when their owners leave the house. A dog with mild separation anxiety might chew on slippers. When my dog, Cloudy was a little puppy she used to have such fears and as you would expect, my shoes became sacrificial objects.

Changing the dog’s routine might help him ease his fears. A change of habits and not raising too much excitement when owners leave or return home might help the dog. It is also good for owners to remain in a calm state when greeting a dog to send the idea of the mood you would like him to be in.

Fear of the veterinarian

I have had dramatic experiences bringing my West Highland Terrier to the vet. It includes being afraid of being put into a carrier and the ride in a taxi. Strange smells,vaccinations and sometimes a little rough handling might prompt these fears.

Another writer, Mary Christiana Craig who writes under the pen name of Tillsontitan gave a great suggestion for conquering the fear of vets and it was to bring the dog to the vet social visits without examinations. That helps them to slowly adapt to the environment at the vet’s. If a carrier is necessary for bringing the dog to the vet, then it would be good to include it as part of the furniture. Read more on making trips to the vet a little easier for yourself and your dog.

Fear of car rides

Some dogs may be afraid of taking trips in cars because of lack of exposure to car trips or negative experiences on long car rides, like throwing up. More exposure and a few treats would help a dog overcome this fear.

A secure little maltese in a carrier.
A secure little maltese in a carrier. | Source

Fear of going up and down stairs

A lack of early socialization and exposure might contribute to a dog jamming the brakes as his owner tries to lead him down a flight of steps. A dog might be afraid of approaching stairs because of problems with his eyesight, as it is with my schnauzer Misty.

Try playing games to get the dog to be less afraid of steps. The game approach can be used to help dogs overcome some of their other fears too. Cloudy, my Westie, was initially afraid of jumping down the slide in the agility playground. Turning it into a fun game with praise helps the dog to adjust.

Fear of strangers.

Dogs can be a little afraid of men, women and children they are unfamiliar with because of negative experiences or the mistaken notion that their approach represents a threat. Constant exposure helps to desensitize them to the presence of strangers.

Fear of objects

Dogs may have a fear of particular objects because they have not been exposed to them before or because they emit loud noises eg. a vacuum cleaner. The fear of objects can be easily dealt with if they can be removed, but some are fixed parts of the environment. The situation then poses a problem. In this case, try to expose the dog to it slowly and positively, without chastisement.

Fear of other dogs

Dogs may have fears related to same sex dogs, big dogs or multiple dogs. It is not impossible to bring your dog to the dog park in spite of its fears. Start by making sure he stays a reasonable distance away from the dog and close the distance slowly, until such time he is able to step in without fear.

Cloudy jumping off the slide in the playground
Cloudy jumping off the slide in the playground | Source

Other ways to help a dog overcome its fears

There are several things owners can do to help it conquer its fears. They are seldom able to do it alone, but it requires just a bit of assistance from its owners.

Repetition

Whether it is astraphobia, an object or an odor, desensitizing a dog to them can be done with a little repetition. Try recreating the situation if you have to. If your dog is afraid of the vacuum cleaner, move it gradually closer to him and praise him as he attempts to get to know it or smell it. If it is a noise, praise him as he slowly gets used to it.

Behavior modification

This involves introducing new thought patterns to your dog in the presence of its fears or the feared object. Introduce a pleasant activity in front of the feared object and it may help allay the dogs fears. It gradually gets the dog to associate with pleasant feelings rather than fright.

Obedience or agility training

Introducing your dog to some basic obedience skills and putting him through obedience sessions before he is exposed to stressful situations can help your dog. Agility exercises and exposure to obstacle courses can help a dog to gain more self confidence.

Conclusion

Conquering fears or phobias is not impossible - your dog just needs a little assistance from you. Moving through fears together leads to satisfied dogs and owners!

I would like to thank the writers who answered the question “What are some fears that affect our pets and how do we help our furry friends overcome them?” Do pay these great writers a visit!

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    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      On the different things that make our dogs afraid and overcoming them.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      What a wonderful article Michelle. When I was a kid we had two dogs and one of our dogs was so very afraid of loud fireworks. My parents didn't realize the first 4th of July and had gone out. When they came back they found the dog had ripped up the metal tack room divider and had cut up his paws. Thankfully the actual cuts were just superficial, but the house was a mess and very bloody. From then on they had to make sure to have the dog with them on the 4th of July. Your article really was a great help for that issue and so much more. Have voted up and shared all over!!

    • James-wolve profile image

      Tijani Achamlal 4 years ago from Morocco

      Very informative and well-written. Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger.All creatures have this in common .It s part of instinct to survive .Humans can express it more clearly than animals.For instance we can talk and complain, and we can bring court cases,we can report things to the police,we can do so much, but animals can’t ..they can do nothing.I think symptoms you stated here are very useful.Thanks for this hub.

      Many Blessings to you.

      James

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 4 years ago from Dubai

      Great hub, useful and informative. This hub will definitely help all dog lovers to take care of their dogs in the best possible way. Voted up.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      Great article here on dogs and their fears. Thanks for the mention of my Hub on how I overcame my dog's fear of thunder and fireworks by using a Thundershirt. I swear by those things!

      Baby is also afraid of the vacuum cleaner, and will run and ride when she hears it turn on! As soon as I pull up in the Vet's office, she begins to tremble and I feel SO sorry for her. She would not win any medals for bravery!

      My Hubby used to remove cataracts from dog's eyes routinely. You will be amazed at the improvement in Misty's eyesight once hers are removed.

      I voted UP, etc. and will share all around.

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 4 years ago from United States

      One of our pets was abused in another home and another is fearful of storms. I have found that giving unconditional love and keeping them happy as possible seems to be the best answer in dealing with their fears. Thanks .whonu

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Michelle you continually write hubs that are useful, interesting, and very educational! You've made such excellent points and I am humbled that you mentioned my hub.

      We all love our dogs but just like humans they come with the good and the bad. The more we know about them the better we'll feel and the more comfortable they will feel. Great hub.

      Voted up, useful, interesting and shared.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Wish I'd read this two weeks ago:) I took my dog to the vet and the next day to the groomer and he was shaking like a leaf! I suppose he thought the groomer was his vets office again:) poor baby!

      Great hub Michelle,

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      This is an attractive and informative Hub! I have one dog terrified of guns, thunder and fireworks. ( I live in the country and there are gun shots during hunting season). The other dog could care less. Dogs have differing personalities. Voted useful, interesting and shared.

    • pinto2011 profile image

      Subhas 4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Very nice hub. I think this is going to help all pet lovers.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 4 years ago from California

      My dog tears up paper when we leave her alone too long--separation anxiety I suppose---great hub Michelle!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      We are going through this now with the two-year old we got from animal rescue. We are working with a trainer to help the dog work through his fears. Interesting hub with some great points.

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Excellent hub Michelle! My feeling is that dogs can get over fears of the vet more easily because they go out more often than cats for example. I find that dogs seem to enjoy more social contacts than cats so may be they are less traumatised by visiting the vet or even just take a car ride. I am sure my cats are afraid to go to the vet.; I tried to prepare the carrier several days before to be part of the furniture but it doesn't seems to get the mood up for that excursion :-(

      My parents had a cat who was not afraid of the vacuum cleaner... he was fighting it :-)

      I suppose that cats and dogs come with their uniqueness that makes them special and it is to us to guess what is the best for each of them in particular.

      Thank you for covering so many things in your hub Michelle! Great work as usually!

      Voted up, useful and interesting!

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Michelle, a great hub!....you've given us oodles of useful information to keep our little friends happy and contented. Up and sharing.

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Great hub full of information for our companions - I guess most dogs are afraid of thunder/fireworks. Sadly, after new year's eve or other similar celebrations with fireworks there are always posters for missing dogs.

      My little Bob - (bordercollie/x) very bravely used to growl and fetch that thunder - but only from safely inside the house. Heee.

      My dog Nell is very calm but does not like the wind - she keeps on looking for it - I've written a story for children about it. Best to you and the dogs Michelle - Up and awesome and interesting.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Very good write. It is amazing what can be done for animals today. Happy about your dogs surgery, hope it is very successful and she can feel whole again.

    • My Cook Book profile image

      Dil Vil 4 years ago from India

      First time am reading such a hub. Excellent work! Thanks for sharing the above hub.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for sharing! Yes, their hearing is 3 times ours...It makes it difficult for them to bear with the sound of fireworks. Thanks for sharing here, Janine!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, one of the things, James, that animals cannot do is to voice their discomfort or dissatisfaction the way we can, and you've put that aptly. Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Nithya!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Sounds traumatize them, Mary...their hearing is so much better than ours so if it seems loud for us, imagine what it is like for a creature which can hear 3x as well. Hi to Baby!!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Ow. That is really sad...but I'm thankful for pet lovers like you who have given these wonderful furry friends of ours a home. Hugs to them for me, Who.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      That's true. Animals will come with their share of good and bad, and as owners we have to be prepared for that...so that is why before owning a pet, one has to make sure that he or she is fully prepared for that! Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Ack! Grooming. Another dog phobia! Hope this helps him, Kelly!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Rebecca! I can imagine how the sound affects them, because they have hearing that is 3x our own. Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks Pinto 2011!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, it is separation anxiety. Mine does that too. That's why I'm slowly weaning her off me! She's responding more healthily now. Thanks for sharing, Audrey!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Bill. Animal rescue dogs need a little time, but are wonderful! Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Wow, thanks for sharing, Kidscrafts! Yes, dogs are a little bolder, but have many fears too. Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Jo!!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      I think the gust can be quite frightening for a little dog. Throws them off balance! Thanks, Travmaj, and say hi to Nell and Bob for me!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Jackie! Yes, we can do a lot for our animals and it's always heartening to see it happening! Thanks for sharing and Misty says hi to you!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, My Cook Book!

    • lilmissmontana profile image

      Erin Nichols 4 years ago from Montana

      Wonderful Hub! I am such an animal lover, and I have two of my own that have dealt with fear. My smallest dog, Bozeman, is still struggling but doing better with separation anxiety, and my larger one used to be afraid of new people because someone came into our house in the middle of the night a couple years back. There is great advice here and I learned a lot of fears that I didn't know dogs could have. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Ow. That break in could have triggered those receptors! I am glad Bozeman is doing better. Thanks for sharing, lillmissmontana!

    • Dancing Water profile image

      Dancing Water 4 years ago

      Thank you for a quite comprehensive and clear hub as to how we may address our fur babies' anxieties. Rescue Remedy by Bach Flower Remedies can sometimes help them with their fears as well. My canine fur baby gets a can of salmon kitty food when I leave for work. She hardly notices when I'm out the door.

      Thank you for a well researched, beautifully presented, and very useful hub!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Dancing Water, thank you. I will try this out with my west highland terrier! Thanks for sharing!

    • Jenn-Anne profile image

      Jenn-Anne 4 years ago

      Nice hub Michelle! I have two dogs - an 18 month old shepherd mix and an 8 month old hound mix. The hound mix can be quite timid at times and definitely needs more socialization. He often yawns when he's excited or nervous. I will definitely try some of your suggestions! Voted up!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Well, separation anxiety is my dogs biggest issue. Funny enough he really does not have any other fears. This is a really useful hub for dog owners Michelle. Shared.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Jenn-Anne, I hope they work for him! Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Glim!

    • SoManyPaths profile image

      SoManyPaths 4 years ago from West Coast USA

      Since their hearing is 3x that of a human it is no wonder they hide from fireworks, gun shots, or thunder. I would too if I were an "animal". We cannot make them human. I find their differences acceptable and not a problem after all, they have 4 legs and don't speak.

      I love dogs and have had 6 of them but I think accepting it is fine for the sound issues. For the ears maybe use some earmuffs and you try them on at the same time. The moving car issue I agree can be overcome.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, there's always a way to get around these difficulties! Thanks for sharing, So Many Paths!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      Wonderful and a must for all dog lovers. Have a great weekend Michelle.

      Eddy.,

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Eddy!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Socializing is one of the major points for dogs not overcoming their fears, what an interesting hub on this topic, I once had two dogs and didn't see any fear in them

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      That's great, DDE! Means they were secure too.

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