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What is Acting Fearful?

Fear in certain situations is a normal and healthy response. It is the mind’s way of protecting the body in potentially dangerous situations. Some dogs, however, can exhibit extreme cases of fear or anxiety, which can point to a behavioral or physical problem. Left unchecked, fear can burden your dog and stop him from enjoying life, and can sometimes even lead to aggression.

If your dog is showing fear, you may see him pace, hide, pant, whimper, tremble, or run away. The hair might stand up on the back of his neck, and he may cower, slink along the ground, avoid eye contact, flatten his ears, and tuck his tail between his legs. A fearful dog may urinate or become immobilized, or engage in obsessive behaviors, such as grooming excessively or clinging to you. A dog who is so scared that he becomes aggressive may growl, bark, or even snap at the thing he fears.

Reasons why your dog may be excessively fearful include:

  • Genetics 
  • Poor socialization 
  • Anxiety 
  • Phobias 
  • Traumatic event
  • Illness 
  • Age

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Why Acting Fearful Occurs in Dogs

The reasons a dog becomes fearful can vary, and usually relate to an anxiety that has developed.

Genetics

There may be a hereditary predisposition to fearfulness due to the temperament or breed of your dog. Regardless of socialization and training, your dog may still be genetically inclined to be more fearful in certain situations.

Poor Socialization

Socialization, especially during those critical first weeks and months of life, can make all the difference between a confident dog and a fearful one. During the first 8 to 14 weeks of life, puppies can begin to be wary of strangers, while between 5 and 8 months, puppies can develop aggression and fear of those strangers. Exposing your puppy to many different people and situations can help your dog to feel comfortable and can prevent the development of irrational fears. A dog who receives poor socialization early in life is more likely to develop anxiety and phobias.

Anxiety 

Anxiety can come in many forms. Separation anxiety can occur when your dog is left alone. Loud noises, such as fireworks or thunder, car rides, or being confined in a crate or small space can also trigger anxious behavior, and can cause your dog to exhibit fear. 

Phobias 

These are excessively anxious reactions that occur in response to specific triggers. These can include a fear of children, strangers, or inanimate objects, such as a toaster. 

Traumatic Event

Stressful and traumatic incidents can cause a dog to be fearful of a particular situation or thing, or can create an overall anxiety or fearfulness. Often, these occur early in life, and can contribute to phobias. Abusive events and situations can also make a dog fearful, even if the source of the abuse is removed.

Illness

A medical condition or illness can cause pain and stress in your dog, and can change his behavior in many ways, including a state of anxiousness.

Age 

Cognitive decline can occur as your dog ages, and he may experience symptoms of dementia, anxiety, and disorientation. He may become fearful if he gets lost in the house, forgets where he is, or is just confused.

What to do if your Dog is Acting Fearful

If your dog is exhibiting overly fearful behavior, you may wish to address the cause. First, consult your veterinarian in case there is a medical reason your dog is behaving this way. Your veterinarian will ask questions about your dog’s behavior, when it occurs, and any other symptoms that may be present. Tests may be run if your veterinarian suspects a physical problem, and can diagnose an illness or age-related issue. Treatment will be appropriate to what is ailing your dog.

More often, fearful behavior is something that your dog has learned in response to certain stimuli. Behavior modification can help reduce or eliminate your dog’s fearful behaviors. Your veterinarian may give you techniques to use at home, or you may wish to consult with a professional trainer and behaviorist. Identify your dog’s particular triggers. Use these triggers in desensitization, counter conditioning, and distraction techniques to gradually reduce your dog’s fear of those triggers. Be sure to create a safe place for your dog where he will always feel safe.

There are many medications that can help reduce anxiety in your dog, and these can be prescribed by your veterinarian. Other products can help to ease your dog’s fear, such as DAP, a synthetic dog hormone available as a spray or collar. Thundershirts are shirts or wraps that hug your dog, putting him at ease in any situation.

Prevention of Acting Fearful

Preventing anxiety or fear from taking hold may be as simple as properly socializing your dog as a young puppy. This means exposing him to new people, places, and situations often. This is best done in the first weeks and months of his life to ensure that his first impressions of these things are positive.

Cost of Acting Fearful

Treatments for fearful and overly anxious dogs can vary, and will depend on what your dog requires in terms of medication and behavior modification. For a dog who is fearful due to separation anxiety, treatment may average around $350, while a phobia like fear of thunder may cost $450 or more depending on the response of your pet to therapy. Costs can range from $200.00 to $1500.00.