We humans are afraid of any number of things, and dogs are no different. Between loud noises, new surroundings, and bad weather, it is a miracle that they don’t hide from us all the time. And since our dogs can’t talk, it’s our job as dog owners to look for signals that tell us when our dog is uncomfortable.
What makes dogs fearful
Just like humans, dogs often associate fear with a particular event or situation. Loud noises such as fireworks are one of the most common sources of fear for dogs. In this case, the most effective remedy is to try to remove your dog from the stressful situation as quickly as possible.
Dogs are also typically afraid of noisy household appliances like phones or vacuum cleaners. Since it is obviously harder to remove these items from your dog’s daily life, you might consider trying to ease their fears by associating these appliances with good things. For example, if your dog is afraid of the vacuum cleaner, start giving him a treat right before you start vacuuming.
You might even consider playing with your dog while you are vacuuming. My mom used to play fetch with our hypersensitive Brittany while she was vacuuming. Over time, he reached a point where he did not really even notice the vacuum.
When helping your dog to overcome his fears, it’s important to remember that this is not something that happens overnight. It requires a lot of time and patience on your part.
Helping dogs relax
One of the best things you can do for your dog when they are showing signs of fear is to distract them. If your dog is romping with you or your children, he is much less likely to notice the source of his fear. This will be even easier to do if you start this practice when your dog is a puppy.
Additionally, taking them out into the world and exposing them to new things and new sounds will help them adjust and be less fearful. If you tackle things head-on together, your dog will be more confident.
Things to remember
Remember, your dog is going to look to you for the confidence he needs to overcome his fears. If you keep these desensitization times fun and playful, he will be more likely to overcome his fears. Remember that short, frequent exposures are best.
When you are helping your dog, make sure you are rewarding him specifically for facing his fears. You do not want to reward your dog for being afraid. For example, if your dog is shivering in the corner, because he is terrified by Fourth of July fireworks, it is not a good idea to go over and pet your dog.
I know that it is an overwhelming temptation to comfort your dog in that situation, but that won’t help him in the long run. If possible, take him to a room in your home where it is not so loud. Then try to get him interested in one of his favorite games. This is often very effective. If all else fails, let him lean on you (literally). Most dogs will see that you are not frightened and will, to some extent, follow your lead and calm down.
For dogs that are afraid of bad weather, there are CDs that you can buy that mimic the sounds of storms. You can sit with your dog at your side and listen to the CD together. As I have already indicated, I do not think that it is a good idea to pet your dog if he is afraid. Instead, just let him be close to you. He will sense that the noise does not bother you and gradually become calmer during actual thunderstorms. In short spurts, this technique will help your dog overcome the fear of thunderstorms.
Dogs that are afraid of people can be coaxed into spending time outside. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep them outside around people regularly. This will allow your dog to become more sociable and will help him to associate large groups of people with good experiences.
By following these tips and by adjusting these techniques to fit your dog’s specific personality, he will be able to overcome his fears and be happier and more relaxed in new situations.