Tag Archives: dog fears

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. 

A different Independence Day tradition

Our Ceilidh was always dancing

Our Ceilidh was always dancing

The Fourth of July holiday is an interesting blend for dog people – happy celebrations with friends, family, food, etc. And dread of nightfall and the noise it brings. Fireworks are terrifying to many dogs and we’ve read numerous tips in the last week about keeping dogs safe/happy/calm during the fireworks. We’ve also seen mentioned that this holiday is the worst for dogs escaping and getting lost.

We’re lucky in that our current pack doesn’t really care about the noise. We had a few inconsiderate, law-breaking neighbors who set off some disturbingly loud fireworks close to us and the dogs did all jump up and start barking. We jumped, too. And every car alarm in the neighborhood went off – so the dogs were justified in their alarm.

We did have a dog, our Boston Terrier girl Ceilidh, who was frightened by fireworks. She was kind of a special-needs girl – everything was new for her every single day. And most everything was frightening. She was also incredibly brave and, even though she was scared, she trusted us enough to always try to do what we asked, even training in obedience and agility. Ceilidh had two speeds – full and off. She was a sweet little girl, but it was no surprise when we lost her at only nine years old – our veterinarian commented that a spark as bright as our Ceilidh burned too fiercely to last.

In the years we were lucky enough to have Ceilidh, we developed a routine for the Fourth of July. We would be sure all the dogs were tired from play and training. (Making dogs use their brains for training is just as, if not more, exhausting than a long run or good fetch session.) Then we would hold a movie marathon – the loudest, most raucous movies we could think of. If it was a particularly noisy year, we would hold our marathon in the basement to muffle the noise even more. We made sure to take the dogs out to potty before sunset – and not again until we were sure all the local, scheduled fireworks shows were over.

We’re keeping the tradition – this year our stand-out movie selection was Independence Day. Fitting, don’t you think?