DOGS AND PHOBIAS
A phobia is an intense and persistent fear felt when a dog is confronted with something threatening in a layman's language. Phobias, human's or dog's, are triggers for the irrational mind, which is to say that dogs can even anticipate a phobia. There are many beginnings of phobia in a dog; it could be a traumatic experience, genetic predisposition, medical condition, or lack of socialisation. But, the good news is, unlike the common misconception, phobias can be cured. Before seeking a solution, we need to understand these for our pooches.
Phobias are nothing but an escalated form of fear; one moment of intense fear can give birth to a phobia. Although phobias and fear have the same beginning, to determine the severity, it is important to know the distinction between them. Fear is the defence mechanism of a system that cannot be eliminated. It traces back to the ancestral characteristics of dogs, as wolves rely on fear to keep them alive. This part of fear is acceptable, but when fear poses a threat to family members themselves, it takes the shape of Phobias. That's where a Vet is needed.
Many signs can be followed to suggest fear in a dog; their body sometimes shakes, paces, whines, trembles, drool, or bark, cower, hide, indulge in destruction, or showcase fear reactivity; i.e., they are confused with aggression. These kinds of behaviour are irritating and beyond control. Thus, phobias take on the life of our little pooches and affect the pet parent too.
SOUND PHOBIA - H3
Loud noises like fireworks, thunderstorms, gunshots or firecrackers, tend to irritate the dog and instil fear in them. Almost all the dogs out there have general noise phobia, owing to their supersonic sensory system. The degree of this fear determines if it is a phobia or general dog reaction towards loud noises.
ASTRAPHOBIA, also known as the phobia of thunderstorms, creates bodily dysfunction in the dog. Some may lose control of their bowels and bladder. The body trembles, ears are flattened, eyes widened, tail tucked on hearing these noises.
Dog behaviourists believe that noise phobias tend to be inherited too; dogs could be born with it.
While many dogs recover from this phobia with the help of organic sedatives like White music, some severe cases can only be controlled through anti-anxiety sedatives.
FEAR OF VETS
Fear of Vets and fear of needles, go along! Some dogs tend to get sick just by seeing the Vet. From the strange smells, getting handled in new ways, and getting vaccinations, dogs abhor those visits. Although vets only mean good, they recognise that all their injuries, physical and mental, are opened in front of them when they go to the Vet. This is not a pleasurable moment, so they associate a traumatic memory with Vets.
It is important to desensitise the dog from the beginning by taking them to the Vet for social visits. After the visit, reward them with treats and then praises. This is a very important phobia to be curbed because dogs, if already unwell, tend to associate even going out randomly with visiting the Vet. This generates a phobia of travelling in a car as well.
This is a controversial topic for phobias because it is observed that while some dogs love, some dogs can not stand the car rides. Some pet parents tend to treat their pooches too carefully from the beginning. This carefulness later contributes to the lack of socialisation in the dog. Dogs that are not exposed to car rides in the early stages of their life dislike it till the end. Along with this, an association of car rides with a negative experience acts as a major setback to turning to cars. If a dog has endured car sickness once or has only been driven to be left at dog shelters or Vets, the dog is bound to show aversion to the car.
If you wish to eliminate this fear, go gradually toward redirecting the association of good things with the car. But, first, drive them to happier places, like a park or a dog cafe. Treats and praises should be your go-to enticers for dogs; the best are available at pet store online.
Situational phobias refer to those that are bound to the circumstances. Some dogs, those that are left all alone, generally deal with Separation Anxiety. Separation anxiety is the human equivalent of fear of missing out(FOMO), just of the heightened form. Dogs having this phobia believe that the parent will never come back if they go away. Hence, their irrational triggers take the guns, and destruction & aggression become their armours to let their anxiety out.
The birth of this phobia is a two-way street; it is equally the doing of the pet parent. Dogs are sensitive creatures; dog-parents have to keep this fact in mind always. If you over dramatise the Goodbyes, they will sense it and perceive your drama to be true.
Always, always keep your going outs to be low-key.
FEAR OF STRANGERS
Again a phobia that is breed-specific, some breeds are known to be out there every time, while some dog breeds are mellow introverts. Respect this fact and then judge if your dog doesn't like it around strangers; try to understand where they are coming from.
Some dogs have past traumas with strangers; some could have been beaten by strangers or been abused, so they maintain a distance from them. However, it is a very uncanny fact within strangers, too; dogs are more generally afraid of stranger men. This fear owes to the physical build; their aggressive nature, deeper voices, and facial hair intimidate a dog. On top of it, if a man abuses dogs, they do not prefer to be in the periphery of men at all.
They are even intimidated by people wearing baggy clothes, large hats and weird clothing. This is very commonly seen in street dogs, where they run after and bark at people wearing weird clothing.
With men, it is extremely important to desensitise, as more than half the population is men. As the buzz word has it, 'not all men', all pooches need to learn it too, avoiding eye contact with dogs from men is essential, for it would not instil the fear further.
Not many pet parents realise this until very late that dogs have a deep seated fear of stairs from the beginning owing to their build. Their habit of always insisting on the elevators is seen as a marker for laziness. But, while many dogs easily learn as they have enough exposure to stairs, some never do because they lack socialisation and exposure. They tend to stop in front of stairs, as they have never known to walk on them.
Imagine if you have just now shifted to a house with stairs; the only way to make them learn now is to make it a game for them. Give them reinforcements to learn to navigate these stairs.
If, for some reason, they still do not learn, respect it. Many dogs have internal or external problems that make going down and up the pairs almost impossible for them; do not force them.
Kids can go on to become a dog's best friend or can be a reason for fear within them for a long time. Unfortunately, most pet parents never really expose their dogs to kids, then when they expect kids and kids to enter their lives, it becomes difficult for the dog to cope with the new member. A sudden diversion in the attention, love and care, not only makes the dog jealous but instils fear for these alien creatures.
Secondly, some expecting parents tend to give away their pets to their relatives and friends, under the misconception that the upcoming baby might catch some allergies because of the pet. It also teaches a negative feeling towards kids in dogs.
Thirdly, some parents put all the restrictions on the dog, but none on the toddler. The mobile toddler takes liberty with doing anything with the dog, say putting fingers in their eyes, pulling their tails. The dog finds itself in a helpless situation, for it is instructed not to do anything to the baby, but the baby is irritating them.
Thus, it is important to teach the feelings of mutual respect between the two. Try to socialise your dog from the beginning, with everything and everyone, so they do not develop an aversion regarding anything.
A CHANGE OF HEART
Sadly, after evaluating every source of phobias, it would not be unfair to say that a pet parent's contribution to these phobias is equally in parts to the pets themselves. Of course, nothing would have been done deliberately, but unknowingly we, as pet parents sow the seeds of these phobias in our pets.
One of the many issues with pet parenting is, as Dr Klein remarks, "one of the things I see people do all the time is say things like 'good boy' during stressful situations, This can actually reinforce the fearful behaviour as the owner is rewarding the dog for acting fearful."
Dogs are highly impressionable creatures; they can decode their pet parent's feelings too. These are not the only things that can be associated with the phobia. Anything that is made to associate negatively can become a phobia. So, set clear instructions and clear markers & expressions of good and bad for them. Do not waiver your commands, so they follow the same.
Dealing with it is not easy; a lot of patience, time and consistency is needed to work with a fearful dog. Sometimes, it might seem impossible too, but keep it going for your fur baby.
Try to look at things positively; take the phobias as a training ground for you and your pooches. Relearn and then retrain your pooches.
Make effective use of the techniques of desensitisation and obedience training. Desensitisation helps in the process of relearning for a dog, and obedience training builds confidence in them. Try to redirect the undesirable behaviour.
Learn and try to examine the basis of severity of the phobia. Consider the phobia-fear relationship in a pyramid structure.
Try to get the dog to the stage of fear first, and then expect the phobia to be eliminated properly from the system.
After all your efforts, if nothing seems to work, rush to a Vet with your pooch. Any delay can cost your pooch and yourself majorly; Dr Klein claims that phobias tend to aggravate with each passing day. Thus it is important to take immediate action.