How Can We Prevent Fear? | Language of Dog Fear Part 3

How Can We Prevent Fear? | Language of Dog Fear Part 3

In this three part series, I am discussing something that every dog owner struggles to understand: The Language of Dog Fear. Dogs can't decide what they're afraid of, fear is an inherent response, and sometimes things that we're totally cool with surprises us with how afraid it can make our beloved furry family members. You can read part 1 and part 2 here. What's more is that fear can have detrimental effects on our dogs' health if left unmanaged long-term. We're going to get a little science-y, but in laymen's terms, dig? Great, let's go!

You can't. Not 100%.

Oh man, Tasha, you're such a downer. Well, wait a sec, this isn't as bad as it sounds. There are plenty of things we can do to greatly reduce fear in our dogs, which I am going to go into in a sec. But I want to explain something. In the same way that we can be startled or develop a fear over something we don't like, so can dogs. Fear is inherent, based off experiences we have or haven't had. That's why we can't prevent 100%. See, not a downer, just factual.

Also, dogs tell US what they're afraid of. Fear is not based on what WE think is scary to them. That's why I keep saying "The power of observation is so important!" and when you pair it with true empathy, puzzle pieces start falling into place. It can be the difference between thinking your dog is afraid of a door when they're actually afraid of PEOPLE STANDING TOO CLOSE to the door. 

Knowing the truth behind the fear allows you to manage and change it correctly. You want results, right? Right. So observe and practice empathy with your dog. Here are some other things you can do to curb, manage, or change fear, based on what stage your dog might be.

If you have a puppy:

  • Get them into a puppy class for socialization. 
  • Flood them with new experiences from the moment they are born.
    • Handling by every type of person imaginable.
    • Noises.
    • Have them meet new animals.
    • Do all this during their socialization period up to 16 weeks.
  • Build up experience in your dog of a positive nature over time for a well rounded dog.
Dogs tell US what they’re afraid of. Fear is not based on what WE think is scary to them.

If you have a sensitive dog:

  • Don't throw them into new situations.
  • Slowly work with them using force-free methods to introduce them to new things.
    • Create a positive association with the new thing.
    • Remove your dog from the situation if you see signs of discomfort, to a distance where they are comfortable. Create that positive association again.
  • Don't flood them with experiences the way you would a puppy. You will only cause more fear and anxiety for your sensitive dog.
  • Practice "Peaceful. Patient. Present."
    • Your peaceful mind will set an example for your dog, and lead the way to your patience.
    • Being patient with your dog is key to using force-free methods, as everything needs to be your dog's choice, not yours. This can take a long time.
    • When you are peaceful and patient, you aren't thinking about anything but the moment. In the present, you will be more observant of behaviors, the environment, and what is really happening in the situation.

What if your dog is already scared?

  • MANAGE!
    • Watch your dog to see what they do for self-comfort if the fear is something they will encounter again, like thunder.
    • Next time, be proactive and lead them into self-comforting.
      • For example, if they always head to your bedroom closet to avoid the thunder, make the closet super comfy for them when you know a storm is coming. Add their dog bed, something with your scent, light music to help tune out the thunder, something really delicious to chew on (Kongs frozen with peanut butter stuffed inside are my favorite to give dogs), etc.
        • This starts to create a positive association with the thing they are afraid of.
  • To change the fear, consult a Certified Canine Behavior Consultant about desensitization and counter conditioning.

And finally, if your dog comes to you for comfort, comfort them! While cortisol won't decrease during petting and comforting, oxytocin (the love hormone), increases. Your dog will associate you with a safety, trust, and love. Isn't that what we are all working towards with our pets?

On A Personal Note:

I got to welcome a new client to the Pawsitive Pet Care family, Cheeto. He's a California dog who moved to Nashville, and has been experiencing some anxiety and overwhelm when his world turned upside down. I am going to be helping him on our daily walks with positive associations with the neighborhood, and eventually other dogs! I am happy that I get this opportunity!

I am about to do a "reset" on my kitchen. It is not a source of peace for me. Every time I walk in it, I get angry that we have very little organization, not everything has a place, and what little counter space we have for cooking is being taken up with those things lacking a place.

I have been saving Pinterest pins for organizing hacks, and starting to think we need to adopt a more minimalist lifestyle. We love living in smaller apartments, but they can get cluttered quickly if you don't have systems in place. Oh man, can our place get cluttered! Until later...

Cheers + Wags!
Tasha

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Biology of Fear: What It Does To A Dog | Language of Dog Fear Part 2

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