Scaredy Pups: Helping Your Dog Make Friends Monday 26 March 2018 @ 08:38
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about how you might go about helping your dog deal with some of their fears. Our last post talked about one of the stranger fears you might encounter when you live with a dog: The Fear of Stairs. This issue can really get in the way of living a normal home life with your dog, but thankfully in most cases, it can be dealt with through some training. Other examples of common doggy fears include:
We hope to discuss all of these fears in time, but this week we’re going to focus on The Fear of Other Dogs.
It’s not unusual for a dog to feel nervous around other dogs every now and then. There are probably some humans out there that make you feel nervous yourself. This only becomes a real problem if it becomes an everyday occurrence for your dog, in which case you’ll need to become proactive in helping with your pup’s fear. Understanding the source of your dog’s fear will help you deal with it, and can be vital in allowing your dog to be happy and healthy.
Your dog’s fear of other dogs will affect both of you. It can turn a simple activity like walking the dog into a stressful event. Some owners find themselves timing their walks or altering their routes to avoid other walkers, but there will always be a sense of dread just in case someone else has had the same idea. These actions can also prevent your dog from having any opportunity to socialize, which can make their fear even worse.
Fear as a Result of Trauma
If your dog is easily spooked, a series of these negative and scary experiences can easily cause the development of a phobia. For example, this could happen to a small-breed dog or young pup if they encounter larger dogs who want to play in a manner that could be harmful to a dog of smaller stature. Over time, your dog could come to associate larger dogs with danger and may bark, snarl or behave aggressively towards any they come across.
It should be noted that while small dogs are used as an example above, it’s very much possible for similar things to happen to larger dogs. Similarly, while the other dogs in the example are just playing rough, trauma can also occur as a result of genuine, aggressive attacks from other dogs.
For some dogs, this fear might be because they’ve experienced something traumatic in their past which is having an impact on their behaviour. In some cases, it might occur because of insufficient socialization, making meeting unfamiliar dogs a new and terrifying experience. In certain situations, it might be simply that your dog is submissive by nature, and this display of fear is their way of accepting the other dog’s dominance.
Small Dogs: Know Your Safe Breeds
While there are loads of great ways to improve your dog’s ability to interact with other dogs safely, dogs of smaller breeds may always have a fear of some breeds. There’s nothing wrong with accepting that your dog has certain limitations, and understanding that their fear, at least to them, is fully justifiable. For example, a small or toy breed dog may begin to feel comfortable around other small and toy breeds, and even medium breeds, but large breeds may simply be too large.
Similarly, your dog may learn how to read signals and become comfortable interacting with dogs who are being openly friendly but may not develop the confidence to approach dogs who aren’t sending these signals. This is fine, and may just prevent further traumatic experiences.
How Do I Tell if My Dog is Experiencing Anxiety?
In almost every case, anxiety is rooted in fear. As with humans, anxiety in dogs can exist anywhere between mild fear and utter panic. Generally, this will result in your dog taking on either a defensive or offensive position.
Signs that your dog is panicking include:
- Excessive barking;
- Active effort to escape;
Ongoing anxiety can also lead to nervous symptoms such as biting and licking themselves or diarrhoea. Dogs who are only experiencing mild fear may show some of the following signs:
- Cowering or shrinking away;
- Vague attempts at escaping;
- Lower activity;
In all cases, your chances of success will be highest if you get to start young. If you have a new puppy, ensure that they’re fully vaccinated and then start socializing with as many dogs as you can (making sure this is in a controlled, secure environment). If you’re still in the planning stages of getting a puppy, be sure to talk to the shelter, store or breeder about how the pup has been socialized with littermates and other dogs.
If your dog is older and has missed this key socialization stage, you’re going to need to begin rehabilitation in gradual, gentle steps. Whatever you do, don’t force them to face their fear before they’re ready. This can be a traumatic experience and will only make your dog’s fear even worse. One of the strongest items in your toolbox is a technique known as desensitization. This involves introducing your dog to their trigger - in this case, other dogs - in a slow, systematic way. The idea is to allow them to learn over time that other dogs aren’t actually that scary.
Dogs are a common and much-loved pet, and as a result, they’re pretty much everywhere. This means there’s a very high chance you and your dog will bump into a strange dog without having time to prepare first. Try to ready yourself by training your dog to respond to a “let’s go” command or something similar, so you can both remove yourselves from the situation with minimal anxiety.
For many dogs, picking them up will only stress them out further, so it’s best for your dog to be able to follow you on foot. One way is to start with your dog on a leash somewhere you won’t bump into strange dogs, such as your own house. Begin walking, but suddenly change direction and encourage them to follow you using a happy voice and/or gestures.
Each time your dog follows you successfully, reward them enthusiastically with toys, food or whatever else they love the most. Once this is going smoothly at home, you can start doing it when you’re out and about.
Scaredy Pups: Helping Your Dog Get Up The Stairs Monday 12 March 2018 @ 08:26
Last month, we helped to reunite border collie Maiden with her family. Maiden had a fear of thunder, so we decided to give you all some tips on helping your pup’s fear of thunder to celebrate the reunion. Astraphobia, the fear of thunder, is one of the most common fears experienced by dogs, along with fear of other loud noises such as fireworks. Other examples of common doggy fears include:
We’ll discuss all of these fears in the future, but first we’re going to explore one of the strangest and most inconvenient of the common dog fears: The Fear of Stairs.
Many of us have encountered a dog who is afraid of staircases and other steps, or at least seen videos of them online. Watching your pup cry, give up, tuck their tail between their legs or tremble hopelessly at the sight of stairs can be understandably stressful or upsetting for any caring owner.
A common way of dealing with this fear is to force the dog up and down the steps in an attempt to show them there’s nothing to be afraid of. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t always help an animal to overcome the fear. To truly help your dog’s fear, you really need an understanding of the underlying causes.
There are any number of different reasons that this fear has developed. In some cases, the dog might have experienced something in the past that has caused them to associate stairs with things that are scary, hurtful or otherwise unpleasant. Maybe the dog was once scolded for ascending, descending or going near a set of steps, or was pushed down them.
Perhaps the dog fell down steps as a puppy and was frightened by the experience, or has simply never come across stairs before.
Maybe the dog was abused by previous owners, and was led up steps to the place where the abuse occurred. Older dogs may develop a fear of stairs if they’re used to living in single-storey homes and are suddenly moved into a house with more than one floor. If your dog never had to climb stairs in their formative years and received no training, it’s likely you’ll see a certain amount of fear at first.
In these cases, it’s very possible that even the most well-behaved and gentle dog will bite or nip their owner in a bid to communicate their fear. Rather than forcing your dog to live through their biggest fear with no effect, it’s often a better idea to help them through use of counter-conditioning and positive reinforcement (positive motivators like treats and praise).
However, before you attempt to train them out of this fear, you should consult with your vet first to make sure this step-phobia isn’t the result of an injury or other physical condition.
Overcoming the Fear
The good news is that it’s generally fairly simple to help your dog recover from their fear of the stairs. These are just a few tips to help you on your way:
- Make Way! Before trying to get your dog up the stairs, make sure the steps are clear and safe. Remove anything that your dog could knock over or stumble on. Getting spooked right at the start of training will only make matters worse!
- Counter-Condition! As the Animal Humane Society explain, “Counter conditioning means training an animal to display a behaviour that is different than his current reaction to a stimulus.” In other words, you want to replace your dog’s reaction of fear with one of excitement or joy. You may begin by standing near the staircase and encouraging your dog to approach. Tools that may come in handy here include a high value treat or a cherished toy.
- When your dog comes to you by the stairs, shower them with praise and reward them appropriately. Try to remove their negative association to the stairs by replacing it with the feeling that they are the best dog on the planet.
- Start at the Beginning! Don’t try to force your dog to run before they’ve learned to walk. If the stairs in your house are very steep, make things simpler by taking Rover somewhere with low, wide steps. Get your dog to practice climbing here with all of the encouragement, treats and rewards they need. If possible, someone should stay behind them on the stairs to provide extra support. Each time they reach the top or bottom of the steps, give them an extra special reward.
- Ups and Downs! Keep in mind that going up and down the stairs can be two completely different experiences for dogs, and require different skill sets. Once your dog has mastered going up the stairs, be prepared to start the entire process again from the top!
- Choose Your Timing Wisely. Dogs are more receptive to training when they are happy and alert. If your dog is overly tired, needs to eat or is eagerly waiting for a walk, it’s best to save your training for later. It’s also a good idea to keep Rover’s interest by splitting training sessions into numerous shorter (around 10 minutes) sessions rather than one long lesson.
- It can be a good idea to plan your training sessions for directly before playtime or a walk outside. This will mean your dog is happier about training as they’ll know that something fun will happen afterwards.
If you believe your dog’s fear of stairs may be as a result of abuse in the past, there may be some other things you can do to help them. Start by reading some of our other posts on the subject!
- Rehabilitating Your Previously Abused Dog
- Rehabilitating Your Previously Abused Dog: A Few More Tips
- How can I tell if my rescue dog was abused?
- What is the RSPCA?