What scares your dog?

Everybody’s afraid of something. It may not be the level of a phobia, but we’ve all got them. So do most dogs. What scares your dog?

Stairs scare Hope's dog Torque

Torque, Hope’s French Bulldog, is afraid of stairs. He’s also afraid of being upside-down. No tummy rubs for Torque – ever! She freely admits most of it’s her own fault. She didn’t carry Torque around much when he was a puppy, because she carried her older Frenchie around too much. Teddy always wanted to be “uppy!” 

Torque was more than six months old before he’d even attempt stairs. He also didn’t jump up on furniture for at least that long. And then his Auntie Pam and her very-attractive Frenchie girl Lily came over. And sat on the couch. Torque got the hang of it quickly that day. And he’s been a regular couch-potato ever since.

Dealing with dog fears

If there’s something that frightens your dog, how should you deal with it? Most people’s natural inclination is to make soothing sounds and pet their dogs. Unfortunately, it’s probably not the best thing to do.

To dogs, being sympathetic and rewarding them (petting is a reward) reinforces that the thing is, in fact, something to be scared of. It validates their feelings as accurate, and cements it as something to be wary of. 

Instead, it’s a better idea to encourage your dog to try it, check it out, sniff it, and become familiar with the object. “Let’s go see!” is a better response than “Oh, poor baby!” If your dog is reluctant to approach the object, don’t force them. Instead, go over to it yourself and look at it, showing interest. You can even give your dog a treat for taking a step closer, and each closer approach.

Intangible fears

If your dog is startled or afraid of something that’s heard and not seen, like thunder, you can still help them overcome the fear. The next time there’s a thunderstorm, have a bowl of your dog’s favorite snacks handy. Whenever you hear a peal of thunder, calmly hand your dog a treat. You don’t even have to say anything. Just associating the sound with the “cookie” will do the job. 

Most dogs are pretty quick at “transferring the value.” If thunder means “I get a treat” instead of “the world is ending,” pretty soon thunderstorms won’t be a problem. It may take a few storms to figure it out, but you may be able to speed the process. If you can find a video or audio recording of thunder on your phone, you can “schedule” a storm to happen whenever you have a few minutes to train your dog.

Promises made

Rewarding your dog for overcoming fear is a promise made. Hope has little bowls of treats at both ends of the stairs. Torque still isn’t crazy about them, but he’ll trundle up the stairs for that guaranteed treat that’s waiting for him. 

He’s still afraid of rolling over on his back. We haven’t really tried to train him differently.

Torque had to learn to climb stairs by himself. At 28 pounds, there was no way we were going to carry him up and down forever. But aside from “roll over” being a cute trick, it’s not really a necessity. 

Whatever scares your dog, your best option is to treat it casually. If it’s something to overcome, find a way to familiarize your dog with the frightening thing. We’ve all heard the old saw “familiarity breeds contempt.” And that’s just fine. We’d rather our dogs ignored stuff than were scared by them. 

2 thoughts on “What scares your dog?

  1. Mary Ellen Watson

    My chi, Eva, is afraid of thunder and me moving furniture. I understand the thunder, it scares me too! She shakes so bad that Ii found the only thing i can do is get in bed with her under the covers. Moving the furniture makes me think someone has tried to get to her to punish her for something (she was adopted and I have limited history of her life before me). There is a 1 foot space between my office desk and a wall of book shelves. I made a blanketed, safe place for her where she can hide and, she can face the only way in or out. I try not to move the furniture unless I really have to. When I do, she hides in her little space in the office. Next time, I will try the “treat” method to see if it helps. Thanks for understanding how important our pets are to us. I live alone but, I am not ALONE with Eva!!!

    1. Golly Gear Post author

      Our dogs can never tell us “why” they’re afraid, we wish they could. It sounds like you’re doing a fantastic job of making sure your Eva feels secure, even when scary things happen. We would suggest that you try to move furniture around fairly regularly, so it becomes more normal to Eva. Just move something (a chair?) a little bit, while you’re talking to her and giving her treats. A little every day and she may understand that when it’s you doing the moving, it’s okay.
      Dogs are important members of the family – we’re never alone when they’re with us!


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