How Does A Dog Become Afraid? | Language of Dog Fear Part 1
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 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!
The Reward Center
For this post, I am going to use the term aversive a lot, and I am using it by it's very broad and simple definition of "very unpleasant thing." Now that we're on the same page:
If we're going to talk about dog fear, we gotta start with the reward center. It's a very specific part of the brain that tells us what to repeat or stop doing. When something is good, it lights up telling us to repeat that thing we just did for the good thing we got. When something is bad or disgusting or painful, it tells us to stop that immediately and never do it again.
Two Ways Fear Develops
Aversive things over time can turn into a fear of that thing, or things that a dog associates with it. This is very important to remember when understanding how a dog becomes afraid. An example would be a war dog. All the loud booms from bombs going off, despite conditioning, can turn into fear of loud booms (like fireworks, thunder, etc) and even can turn into a fear of the dog's handler, leash or other equipment, etc because the dog associates them with the loud noise that is aversive to it.
Depending on the dog's personality, sudden one time aversive things can instill an immediate fear of the thing or something the dog associates with it. For example, a loud noise when the dog is sleeping can startle the dog, causing him to bark at the cat sitting next to his head.
Fear and Dog Personalities
Since dogs have different personality types, they develop fear differently. Dogs are individuals, let's not forget that, and what is aversive to them is not always what we as humans would think of as aversive. Dogs that are sensitive types can develop fears more quickly, but ALL dogs can develop fears.
"My dog is afraid of [insert reason here] for no reason," is one of the most common statements I hear from dog owners who are dealing with a fearful dog. What's my answer to them? There is always a reason, you just don't know it yet. Context matters, people, and to figure out how it matters requires putting our thinking caps on.
On A Personal Note:
I have been pet sitting a new breed of dog to me -- Farrah the saluki, and her ocecat cat-sister Topaz. Topaz is a fairly recent edition to the family, and watching the two of them get more comfortable around each other has really been another good lesson in canine and feline body language. Farrah playbows, but tries to get Topaz to swipe at her...because that's the game. Farrah wants Topaz's attention, and Topaz ignores Farrah except to swipe. But the swiping is less and less now, and Topaz is exploring more and more.
I am also making great headway on the phases of my marketing strategy; heading into phase 3 of 4, where I will be writing my blog posts and editing videos for YouTube...cranking out the content. It's an exciting development time here at Pawsitive Pet Care!
Cheers + Wags!