Sometimes, dogs, just like people, develop a fearful nature due to the things they have experienced in their lifetime.
Be it because of the lack of interaction with people while they were puppies or because of more traumatic circumstances, we recommend you to show the utmost care and attention when interacting with a fearful dog for the first time. In the next few lines, we’ll take you through the do’s and don’ts when it comes to dogs that have a fearful nature.
The first steps
A dog that is afraid will usually have its tail between its legs and will try to get as far away from people as possible, often choosing a corner because it will help Fido feel safe, limiting the space that the animal needs to survey.
The first thing you should understand is that helping a fearful dog feel safe takes time and patience. It’s not something that can be changed just like that.
It is a lot of work, but the rewards are heartwarming. When interacting for the first time with a frightened dog, it is very important to give him enough space and time. When experiencing intense fear, all mammals enter a state that we call fight or flight, which may result in aggressive behavior, especially if there isn’t a way out in sight. That is why sometimes dogs that are afraid react aggressively.
One of the first things you could do is to extend your hand and wait for the dog to approach you and sniff it. While people’s main sense for experiencing the world is sight, in the case of dogs it is the sense of smell that takes precedence before all other senses. The percentage of a dog’s brain that analyzes smell is 40% larger than that of humans.
These first interactions shouldn’t be forced or hurried — be patient and wait for him to approach you. It is also a good thing not to make sudden movements or loud noises.
A safe environment
Another thing to consider is the room in which you will interact with the fearful dog. The main things that need to be taken into consideration are the size of the room, the level of noise and available hiding spots.
Try and find a room that feels safe, that is isolated from loud noises and that is big enough so that it would allow the dog to distance himself from you if so he chooses. This is very important. Forcing the interaction will often result in only increasing the dog’s discomfort. Let the dog get close to you at his or her own pace.
Having a room in your house in which your dog feels completely safe is vital, especially if there are other people in the house or other pets. A place for the dog to retreat when experiencing fear is very important. There are a few things you will need in the room for your four-legged friend.
The first things you should take into consideration are the bowls for food and water, and if your dog is particularly frightened you could opt for an automatic dog feeder. Of equal importance is a place where the dog can lay and sleep that is not disturbed by people passing by or by noises from the outside.
Taking a fearful dog for a walk
Taking your four-legged friend for a walk is a very important activity for your dog as it allows him or her to get his daily dose of exercise and to interact with new and exciting smells and sights. It’s important that you have a suitable leash if your dog might come in contact with things that he’s scared of during the walk, and consider choosing a 4ft leash in order to have more control of his movements. Choosing a dog harness instead of a collar is also recommended for improved comfort and control.
If during your walk your dog exhibits signs of fear you mustn’t try to comfort him with petting and soothing talk. While talking in a soothing voice works for calming someone that is scared, for dogs petting works as a reinforcement of their behavior, so petting your dog when your Fido is scared will have the exact opposite effect, it will tell your pet that fear is the correct reaction in that type of situation.
Keep in mind that, when confronted with something that scares him, your dog will look to you to see how you react. The right thing to do when you notice your dog is showing signs of fear is to stop and be calm. Always take into consideration that while taking your dog for a walk he’ll be unable to run away when faced with a frightening situation. It is your responsibility to make him feel safe by staying calm and lead him away from unpleasant situations.
A special type of fear your dog might experience is separation anxiety. It is the fear that dogs have of being left alone. We must bear in mind that dogs are pack animals, and for your four-legged friend, you are his pack. So it’s natural for him to feel fear or discomfort at the thought of being left alone.
Dogs are excellent at recognizing patterns so it’s no surprise that they usually pick up on the fact that you are about to leave the house much sooner than when you actually leave. This will trigger feelings of anxiety and fear that come from the thought of being abandoned. Dog pee pads might come in handy in the case of urination caused by such anxiety.
One proven way to counteract this is to desensitize the dog to your particular routine. Some examples include putting on your shoes or coat and heading for the door or checking that all the windows are closed.
Repeating these actions without them being followed by you leaving the house will, in time, diminish your dog’s reaction to you getting ready to head out. Another thing that might help is placing a piece of clothing that you have worn in the dog’s bed. Smell is very important for dogs and giving your pet a piece of clothing that carries your scent will make him or her feel closer to you even when you’re not present.
Bringing it all together
Making a fearful dog feel safe is a journey that has to be taken one step at a time. It requires patience and determination but at the end of it, you’ll get yourself a friend for life.