Fear and phobias in dogs can lead to behavioral changes, causing aggression, withdrawal, excessive barking, or destructive behavior. They can also cause physical symptoms like shaking, excessive panting, or loss of appetite. Moreover, chronic fear can harm a dog’s mental health, contributing to anxiety and depression.
The most common and instant problem fear or phobia causes in dogs is the onset of excessive barking. This article explains everything about fear-induced barking and how to calm a scared dog.
Signs that Show a Dog’s Barking is Fear/Phobia Based
Dogs often bark more than usual when they’re scared or anxious. The barking is typically high-pitched and can seem almost desperate. For example, a dog might bark excessively during a thunderstorm due to astraphobia, a fear of thunder and lightning.
Ears Pinned Back
When a dog is afraid, they often pin their ears against their head. It’s a defensive posture, indicating that they’re uncomfortable or scared. For instance, a dog may do this when exposed to large crowds if they have anthropophobia (fear of people).
A tucked tail is another defensive posture signaling fear. The dog is trying to make themselves smaller and less noticeable. For example, a dog might tuck their tail during a firework display, suggesting phonophobia (fear of loud noises).
Pacing or Restlessness
This is a physical manifestation of anxiety. A dog might pace or seem restless if they’re afraid or anxious. For instance, a dog might start pacing around the house during a visit to the vet, indicative of iatrophobia (fear of vets).
If a dog is afraid, they might try to escape or hide from the source of their fear. They could also seem unresponsive or try to appear as small as possible. For example, a dog might hide under furniture when a stranger visits the house, indicating xenophobia (fear of strangers).
Fear can cause a dog to become aggressive as a defense mechanism. They might snarl, growl, or even bite to protect themselves. For instance, a dog might start growling or snapping when approached by a larger dog, showing signs of fear-induced aggression.
Dogs can exhibit physical signs of fear or phobia, such as an increased heart rate, panting, or shaking. For instance, a dog might start panting and shaking during a car ride.
Fear and anxiety can drive a dog to engage in destructive behavior to cope. They might chew on furniture, shoes, or other items. For instance, a dog might start chewing on shoes or furniture when left alone, which could signify monophobia (fear of being alone).
How to Treat Fear-Induced Barking in Dogs?
Step-by-Step Approach to Deal with Fear-Induced Barking
Identify the Cause: The first step is identifying what triggers your dog’s fear or phobia. Is it a specific situation, object, or person? Pay attention to when excessive barking occurs to establish a pattern.
Create a Safe Space: Dogs need a secure place where they can retreat when they’re scared. This could be a specific room, crate, or even a designated corner with their favorite toys and blankets.
Gradual Desensitization: Slowly expose your dog to the source of their fear in a controlled environment. Begin with mild exposure and gradually increase it over time, ensuring you maintain your dog’s comfort level.
Counter-Conditioning: Pair the fear-inducing stimulus with something positive. For example, if your dog is afraid of thunder, treat or play with them during a storm. This can help change their association with the fear triggers.
Training Commands: Teach your dog calming commands such as “sit” or “stay.” Using these during fearful situations can help distract them and give them a sense of control.
Consult a Professional: If your dog’s fear-induced barking continues despite your efforts, consider consulting a professional dog trainer or a veterinary behaviorist. They can provide tailored strategies and might suggest medication if necessary.
Patience and Consistency: Changes won’t occur overnight. Be patient and consistent in your approach. Remember to always use positive reinforcement and never punish your dog for their fear response.
Other Ways to Stop Fear-Induced Barking in Dogs
Behavioral Adjustment Training (BAT): This involves setting up a scenario that would trigger your dog’s fear but maintaining enough distance to keep them calm. Gradually decrease the distance as your dog learns to stay calm.
Use of Calming Aids: Tools like anxiety wraps, white noise machines, or pheromone diffusers can comfort your dog. For instance, a “thunder shirt” can help a dog who fears loud noises feel more secure.
Sound Therapy: Playing soothing sounds or music can help calm a frightened dog. There are even specialized soundtracks designed specifically to reduce anxiety in dogs.
Physical Exercise: Regular physical activity can help manage anxiety by burning off excess energy and releasing endorphins. It also provides mental stimulation, distracting your dog from its fears.
Aromatherapy: Certain scents, like lavender, can have a calming effect on dogs. Use pet-friendly essential oils or diffusers to create a relaxing environment.
Massage and Touch: Gentle massage can help soothe a scared dog. Techniques like the TTouch method are designed to calm pets and build confidence.
Nutritional Supplements: Some supplements, such as those containing L-Theanine or casein, can help reduce anxiety in dogs. Always consult with a vet before starting any new supplement regimen.
Medication: In severe cases, your vet might recommend anxiety medication. This should be considered a last resort and always under the guidance of a professional.
Common Things That Scare a Dog
- Loud Noises (thunder, fireworks, loud music)
- Other Dogs
- Veterinary Visits
- Car Rides
- Being Alone (Separation Anxiety)
- Vacuums or Loud Appliances
- Changes in Environment
- Certain Objects (Umbrellas, Hats)
- Specific Locations (Stairs, Elevators)
- Being Handled or Touched in Certain Areas
- Flashing Lights
- Sudden Movements
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between fear and phobia in dogs?
Fear in dogs is a normal and instinctive response to a specific perceived threat, while a phobia is an excessive, persistent, and irrational fear response, often towards an object, situation, or event that poses little or no real danger. For example, a dog may fear a stranger (an immediate potential threat) but have a phobia of thunderstorms (a situation posing no direct harm).
How can I desensitize my dog against a particular fear?
Desensitization involves gradually exposing your dog to what they fear in a controlled and safe way, starting with a very mild version of it. Over time, as your dog becomes accustomed to it, the intensity can be slowly increased. This process should be paired with positive reinforcement to build new, positive associations.
Can I use bark collars or anti-bark devices to counter fear-induced barking?
While these devices may suppress the barking, they don’t address the underlying fear or anxiety causing the behavior. They can increase stress levels and worsen the fear response. It’s recommended to use training and behavior modification techniques instead.
What should I not do when my dog barks out of fear?
Don’t punish your dog for barking out of fear; this could escalate their anxiety. You also shouldn’t force your dog to confront their fears without proper training and guidance, as it can potentially backfire and intensify the fear.
Can a scared dog attack children?
Yes, a scared dog can potentially attack anyone, including children. Fear can trigger a fight-or-flight response, and if the dog feels cornered or threatened, it may choose to defend itself by biting or snapping.