Posts Tagged ‘fear response in dogs’

Did you know? One of the leading causes of pet abandonment is poor behavior. Few dogs are always perfect, but strongly negative behavior should be addressed right away.

Destructive or aggressive behavior by dogs has been linked to:

  • health problems (pain, disease or disorder), especially in older dogs
  • a traumatic event (abuse, house burglary, dog fight)
  • lack of proper social training
  • a lack of proper obedience training
  • fear
  • neglect

After medical reasons have been ruled out by your pet’s doctor, the next step is to consult with a professional dog trainer.

To determine whether a problem exists and the severity of it, compare your pet’s behavior to this list of behavior standards. Is there room for improvement?

  1. Friendly toward people, including well-behaved children.
  2. Friendly toward other friendly dogs.
  3. Does not become anxious if left alone for a reasonable period.
  4. Eliminates appropriately.
  5. Readily gives up control of food, toys, and other objects to owner.
  6. Relaxed during normal handling and touching.
  7. Calms down quickly after being startled or getting excited.
  8. Not overly fearful of normal events.
  9. Barks when appropriate, but not excessively.
  10. Plays well with people, without becoming too rough.
  11. Plays well with other dogs.
  12. Plays with its own toys and doesn’t damage owner’s possessions often.
  13. Affectionate without being needy.
  14. Adapts to change with minimal problems.
  15. Usually responds to owner’s requests and commands, such as sit, stay, come.

(From JAVMA 2004; 255(4): 506-513 and Veterinary Forum, June 2008, P. 28)

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Repost from June 14, 2011.

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In Part II of “Why do dogs bite?” we discussed the importance of empathy when dealing with fear response in a dog. Since dogs tend to bite due to fear, the pet owner must become aware of the pet’s triggers and work with that information to promote confidence and trust, in order to lessen the likelihood of a biting incident.

Why do dogs bite? Part III
Look for signals that your dog is afraid. Speak to your pet in a calm, lowered voice. If possible, remove him from the area where the fear object is located. In some instances, especially at the veterinary office, this may not be possible. A certified professional dog trainer can work with you on techniques designed to prepare your pet for car trips, grooming appointments, and doctor visits.

What does a dog look like when it is afraid and anxious?
The signs may start out as subtle actions, which can be considered normal behaviors in another context. The subtle behaviors include:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Lip licking
  • Yawning
  • Panting

If the source of fear or anxiety is not removed, the pet may progress to more noticeable signs of fear. These include:

  • Tail tucking
  • Flattening ears against the head
  • Salivating
  • Pacing
  • Staring
  • Eyes wide
  • Stiff posture
  • Fur standing up
  • Lunging
  • Barking
  • Growling

How can you prevent dog bites?
*At mealtime: do not approach a dog, or attempt to take away its food. Feed dogs in separate rooms or at separate times, if they do not get along.

*If a pet “steals” items (socks, toys, etc.), it may try to protect the item. Behaviorists recommend trading a treat for the stolen item.

*A pet that growls aggressively from beside its owner is often thought to be protecting the owner; behaviorists see the pet responding to a fear object and hoping the owner will protect it. Respect the dog’s fear and avoid sensitizing it further.

*Don’t believe the tail. A dog may wag its tail right up until the moment it bites you. Behaviorists recommend worrying more about the biting end than the wagging end of the dog.

Behaviorists’ tricks of the trade
In conjunction with training techniques, a behaviorist or trainer may recommend the use of synthetic pheromones or aromatherapy sprays to help calm an anxious pet. Other options include:

*Supplements designed to enhance a pet’s learning ability during training

*Positive reinforcements to reward desired behavior

*Clicker training

Training aids should be used as part of an overall training program designed to enhance a pet’s confidence and ability to respond to commands. Commands can be used to provide a distraction, pulling a pet’s attention away from the fear object in order to relax the pet and prevent a biting incident.

In the case of a fearful pet, training may be best accomplished in a private setting, rather than in a group. The trainer can tailor a program to meet the needs of the dog and its owner.

Est. 1973

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Some information for this article was gleaned from “Clue in on canine anxiety cues” by Dr. Valarie Tynes, DACVB and Heather Mohan-Gibbons, RVT, CPDT, ACAAB. Firstline magazine, February 2011.

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In Part I of “Why do dogs bite?” we learned that animal behaviorists treat aggression in dogs as a fear response. With that understanding, the owner and behaviorist can begin to approach the situation in such a way that allows the fearful pet to feel more confident and protected, and thus less apt to bite.

Why do dogs bite? Part II

Empathize with your dog. What are you afraid of? Is it snakes, spiders, bees? Imagine running into your greatest source of fear every time the front door opened, or you went to the doctor or a park.

What can you do, to help your pet?

*If someone comes to the door, bring your pet into another room before answering the knock. Do this early, if you are expecting a visitor.

*Bring your dog to the veterinarian’s office for “happy visits” in which your dog receives treats, is allowed to check things out a bit, and can decide whether to approach staff on her own.

*Do not force a fearful dog to socialize with other dogs. If your pet is clearly afraid and would rather not be there, do him a favor and take him home. Do not force him into an enclosed dog park. Imagine someone picking you up and dropping you into a pit of snakes. Would that force you to learn to socialize with snakes or make you more afraid than before?

Socializing and sensitizing a pet are two separate things; it is important to know the difference. Socializing a pet involves positive experiences only, when the pet is comfortable and ready to explore and meet others. Sensitizing a pet involves the negative experience of deliberately exposing a pet to the thing it is afraid of, which leads to more fear, anxiety, and lack of trust between the pet and its owner. Your dog is counting on you to protect her.

Now imagine if the source of fear lived in the house with you, and you were expected to just “get along with it.” Get along with a swarm of bees? That probably wouldn’t happen. And your fear response would be triggered every time the swarm approached. If the bees are hovering over your bed at naptime, will you ignore them and sleep? Probably not. If the bees are buzzing around your dishes, can you eat? No.

That is what fear looks like to a dog. If the fear object is around every corner, there is little opportunity for your pet to relax and let its guard down. This is never more true than when the fear object is another dog that lives in the house.

Because relationships between pets can be complex, behaviorists will make home visits to study the situation, noting the interactions among the pets and people in the house. Since every case is unique unto itself, it is necessary to work with a behaviorist or training professional to untangle relationships and restore order to the household. In some cases, no amount of remediation is possible, and some pets are then re-homed.

Est. 1973

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Part 3 will appear on Thursday, December 17, 2015.

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I recently attended a lecture by animal behaviorist and veterinarian, Dr. Marsha Reich. I took notes to share with you, because what Dr. Reich had to say is something that all dog owners need to hear.

(Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on Dogs and Fear)

Why dog dogs bite?

Dogs commonly bite due to fear, rather than dominance. Behaviorists today are challenging popularly-held notions about dominance aggression and alpha-male status in dogs. The behaviorists see dogs as belonging to a family, rather than a pack. Using this approach, biting is addressed as a fear response. Rooting out the source of the pet’s fear or anxiety is crucial to eliminating the potential for biting incidents, including among pets in a household and in outdoor settings (such as dog parks.)

Fear response in dogs is a reflex-like involuntary response, which manifests in one of four ways: fight, flight, freeze, fidget. For this series, I will focus on the Fight response.

Fear, anxiety, and excitement are closely related, and dogs can switch from one to another in a second.
Think of the dog that excitedly greets another dog or a person, then switches suddenly to barking, snapping, and snarling, with fur raised.

Fear response in dogs is often triggered by “cornering.” A dog feels cornered when its movements are restricted in some way – such as being held in arms or tethered to a leash, or when another animal or a person approaches.

Dogs can feels cornered by obstacles in the household. If a person or animal approaches a dog while the dog’s flight path is blocked by a chair, ottoman, or other piece of furniture, the dog may feel cornered and bite to protect itself.

Interestingly, the fear response is engaged if the fear object approaches the dog, but not if the dog approaches the object. However, just because a dog sniffs your hand or gets close to you, that does not mean he wants to be petted.

Est. 1973

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Part 2 will appear on Tuesday, December 15, 2015.

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