Fearful behaviors in dogs

So you have a scaredy cat, but it’s a dog. Lots of dogs have fearful issues; in fact Elsa had a good startle just yesterday morning. I’m not quite sure what happened; even though she was right next to me on her leash. We were walking in one of our favorite places, very early in the morning. She was sniffing hard as she’d already indulged need for speed in some great chuck it time. Suddenly she lunged forward with a huge startle and let our an even larger snort. Snorting is Elsa’s way of communicating stress.

I’m think what might have happened was while she was in the thick of sniffing she accidentally brushed up against a tree with her raincoat. This made an unusual sound that frightened her. Ever since Elsa was attacked nearly 5 years ago; she is a little on edge when we are out for walks. She has PTSD which is common in dogs as well as humans when something traumatic happens. Elsa was attacked out of the blue by an English Bulldog on leash. She was also chased by a huge Bouvier when she was young that really scared her.

So even though she ADORES her walks and is mostly at ease; things that happen unexpectedly can give her a good scare. After the tree incident she very quickly and literally shook it off and we continued. Dogs will shake after a stressful event and if she was not a poodle I would have seen her hair go up more than likely as well.

All I can do to help Elsa with her startle fears is to clean up the mess afterwards. This is extremely important and the more times that she startles and then sees me chatting happily the more she puts her trust in me and learns. Life is a learning curve for everyone…us and our dogs.

When you have a dog with known fears or is just learning about life as in puppies; there is so much that you can do to help the fears to disappear. Linking a positive association to a fearful situation can get rid of the fear. Of course it depends on how long the fear has been going on and how deeply rooted the fear is.

If it has been an ongoing fear, then you have some long term work to do. You must work at the furthest distance to the trigger and make it good.

Lets use the good old hair dryer as an example. For many dogs, hair dryers are a way of life. But many puppies are really afraid of them. So how do you warm and dry and soggy puppy after a bath in the winter months? The blow dryer, but it takes time. First you have to link the sound to something great and if you have a food motivated puppy then you are in luck.

You start slow and grow as you see success. Turn the dryer on a toss treats to your puppy who is very far away because he’s not coming anywhere near the dryer. Soon the sound is not so scary and he starts to relax. Then you need him closer so you toss the treats closer and closer. Next you point the cold running hair dryer at the ground and up the value of the treats. Puppy must come into the flow of air to get the yummy treats.

Next move the dryer around his body while feeding treats the entire time. Wow, he’s not so afraid anymore. ;) Next is to rub while blow drying and treating intermittently. You’re almost there. Now he needs to come running when he hears the dryer…now you are there, bath time. Have fun.