Can Dogs Feel Scared?

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Introduction

Let’s face it, the world can be a scary place, with politicians daring nation leaders to make their day. You could wake up thinking you were in a Clint Eastwood movie or a parallel universe. Imagine a frightened dog trying to navigate a human’s domain, where cars are whizzing by and moms race to drop the kids off at school. 

It could make a pooch dizzy, and if they are the timid type, every noise would be scary A car backfiring could send their heart rate into overdrive while being left alone could be a frightening experience. So, what makes a dog so afraid? After all, their wolf-ancestor is bold and fearless! Let's find out.

Signs a Dog is Fearful

All doggy emotions lead back to a grey wolf that no longer lives on the planet plus bad breeding, guardianship and lack of socialization. Your Husky, Boston Terrier, or Corgi has seen a lot of life in the past 15000 or so years, with their genetics squeezed to create dogs with a unique design.

Their voice is heard, but still, it’s a bum rap for the puppy mill breeder that is expected to churn out newborns in conditions not fit for a prisoner. This dishonored dog cowers in their pen, with her tail tucked between her legs, waiting on the owner who sees dollar signs in the doggy's eyes. Puppy mill dogs deserve a home where there is love and a pet-parent who honors their worth.

Their babies are born into a stressful environment and reach their happy home with little knowledge of the world. They look cute, but may not know what a cat, child or washing machine represents. When the kids start playing with the pup, it shakes in fear and scurries to its pet bed, whimpering in fright. They could also nip a child out of fear.

If this puppy has not been introduced to everyday noises, they’ll be constantly on high alert. Their body language will reflect their fear as they yawn, whine, and pant.

Ethical breeders know the right socialization means a puppy enters their new life with a relaxed posture, tail wagging, and perky ears. They may be a little nervous at new human faces, but if the good work was done,  they will adapt well to a caring environment. This junior woofer will be up for the challenge and open to all experiences.

Over at the shelter, scared dogs of all breeds are beginning a transition of hope with volunteer angels, whose hearts are invested in helping these forgotten pups. Sad sights greet the visitor, who is overwhelmed with compassion as abandoned pups share their story by averting the visitor’s eyes. If they get too close, the pup may shut down or react with fear, snapping and snarling at their potential owner.

Dogs can jump at the sound of a vacuum cleaner, fireworks, or storm approaching. Without early socialization, they are scared of unknown sounds. Noise phobia can see a pup go into meltdown when the thunder claps or mom yells at one of the kids.

If you leave them alone, they could wreak havoc on your home. Separation anxiety is common in pups that have not been socialized. They'll urinate on the floor and chew up your favorite slippers. These pups were not prepared for life in the human zone. The neighbors will hear them bark and howl.

Body Language

Signs a dog is scared include:
  • Whining
  • Shaking
  • Panting
  • Chewing
  • Yawning
  • Whimpering
  • Snapping
  • Averting eyes

Other Signs

Things that can make a dog fearful are:
  • Being left alone
  • Not getting proper socialization
  • Loud noises
  • Mistreatment
  • Irresponsible dog breeders
  • Genetics

The History of Dogs Being Scared

The big, bad wolf image enhanced by Hollywood is fantastical, as our woofers are linked to these guys by DNA. Wolves are carnivores and live in social packs, while our dogs cohabitate with humans. They have a lot in common, so when wolf-pups were raised in captivity and bonded to their caregivers, it was seen as a window to the past and what might have happened when wolves hunted with early man.

The Daily Mail reported the study run by researchers at the Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary, showing how the pups displayed fear toward strangers with plenty of tail tucking and cowering behavior. Their relationship with their guardians was similar to dogs, proving wolves reared in captivity are able to form close ties with humans.

In the 1950’s, a study culminating in a book “Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog” paved the way for socialization in puppies. This was a long-term study that referred to “critical periods” in a dog's life where introductions to the world at large will determine the behavior of an adult dog.

According to Doggie Manners, in the swinging 60’s, the US army was attempting to breed super-dogs, ideal for military purposes. Dr Michael W. Fox, a veterinarian and former vice president of The Humane Society of the United States, was part of the army project. He was aware how the behavior of an adult dog is heavily influenced by the experiences gained in puppy-hood. The advent of early socialization became the mantra for those trying to achieve a confident, well-adjusted pooch.

The Science of Scared Dogs

It’s often assumed that a dog's fear of men, or something a person is wearing, has its base in a past abuse. The truth could be they are not accustomed to these things and thus, react negatively. Dogs don’t get high on being scared, while we humans can’t wait for Halloween or a chance to watch the latest scary movie.

When selective breeding began, there were no MRI machines telling us our mutts have emotions, so dogs were not seen to have fear and held their pain in a dignified way. They knew their place and gave folks an extended family member that was loyal and eager to please.

A study that appeared on Daily Dog Discoveries shed a little light on how dogs might perceive men. It’s noted that when women walk, their body movements give the impression of moving away, while men are more forward as they walk and could be perceived as a threat. This theory highlights the possibility of unknown factors causing dogs to be afraid.

With 3D vision and an off-the-charts sense of smell, our woofers see and smell things in a different light. When a storm is brewing, a frightened pup can bark the sky down acting like a gremlin at midnight. Their heightened senses can tune into nature's warnings and go crazy with fear. Socialization is the key to dogs being less scared.

Helping Dogs be Less Scared

Some pups are scared of everything while others have selective fears, like people wearing hats or going to the vet. Some develop noise phobias and can’t cope during a bout of thunder or lightning.

Many backstreet breeders don't bother to socialize their expensive designer dogs. The unsuspecting public thinks they are getting an adorable pooch called a Multichon (Bichon Frise/Maltese) or Yorkipoo (Yorkshire terrier/Poodle). A designer pup's new owners will see their Labradoodle is constantly scared. The vacuum cleaner is a monster while the kids are creatures from the deep. This cute, little puppy is terrified of their new life.

Reverse the tape to the breeder who kept the puppies out of sight. Once they were old enough, they were shipped to the local pet store, then onto new homes. Their only socialization may have been their mom and litter-mates, plus whoever came to feed them and clean their cage. That's not a great start for a puppy that's never seen the outside world. At this point, some folks may want to exchange them for a less freaked-out dog.

Nicole Wilde, author of “Help for your Fearful Dogs”, tells us the main things dogs are afraid of are being left alone, an aversion to certain people, and loud, scary noises. Fear has its functionality in the wild and urban landscape as an indication of danger, but it can destroy a dogs quality of life.

Your dog may never be a social butterfly, but there is help at hand. Dog trainer, Victoria Stilwell says training is not likely to change a dog that thinks "I'm scared." The best way is to desensitize a pup to the thing they fear the most. If its thunder, getting them to face the fear can be done gently, as you place your pup in a quiet place during a storm.

Playing soothing music helps, or you could play games to take their mind off the scary noise. On a sunny day, you can work with an audio tape that plays the sound of thunder at low levels. Over time, you can raise the volume, but this depends on your dog's threshold of fear. If pooches are properly socialized, they will not be thinking, "I'm scared!"

How to React When Your Dog is Fearful:

  • Find what triggers the fear.
  • Don't get angry or punish your pup.
  • Contact a dog trainer who works with positive reinforcement methods.
  • Learn how to desensitize their fear.
  • Accept it might take time.
  • Read articles about dogs that are fearful.