Fear in dogs

Fear in dogs – How to overcome it!

Behind every behavior lies an emotion

Today we are talking about fear in dogs and I thought I would first share what Chester’s 2 biggest fears are – old men with canes and sewer grates. The fear of old men with canes we have almost beat with lots of yummy treats every time we pass people with canes.

It was easier to conquer then the sewer crates where we have only managed to reduce the fear. We have now reached a point where it is okay to walk past them without throwing a complete panic attack, but walking on them is a no go.

So what can we do to help our pets cope with their fear?


Fear is not rational – not in humans and not in dogs.

Fear can be divided into 2. The innate fears which are often the good fears such as pain and certain smells that will help the dog to survive.

Then there are the learned fears, which are often the ones that are causing problems. Those could be “I am afraid of the car because the car takes me to the vet and there I experience pain” as an example. In fact 78% of dogs are afraid of going to the vet.

Fear often shows its face in either flight or fight responses. Some dogs freeze up and shows a hunched up bag, tail between the leg, white eyes body language, while others go right into fight mode.

So the first lesson today is learn how to read your dog’s body language. Understand that there lies an emotion underneath, that they are asking you to understand. By understanding the underlying emotional state we can prevent a potential behavioral problem. By creating a better understanding we improve the bond between our dog and ourselves.

Now that we have learned to “read dog” we need to help them through their fears in the best way possible. We start by removing the triggers in the environment.

That is a very hard thing to do with sewer grates or any other none removable thing your dog might be afraid of. We therefor create more distance. In Chester’s situation I simply let him have as much distance as he needs, if that means crossing the street and walking on the other side then that would be what we did.

Secondly we use lots of yummy treats, so every time he sees a sewer grate he gets a treat. Here you can also use praises or a toy.

In this step it is soooo important to be able to see when your dog is showing his “I am afraid” body language. Respect his communication and don’t push any further. Reward for the steps he/she has made so far. By doing that you are giving your dog some control of the situation and he becomes more calm.

Yummy treats and praise is not all you can use. It has been shown that play inhibit fear and that dogs actually prefer places where they have played. Why not use play to turn a fearful spot into something with a positive association.

The last thing you should do in order to prevent fear in your dog is to make as many good positive experiences you can in different scenarios and places. (Read more about how to create positive associations here)

Do this when your dog is young. If your dog has had a positive experience (association) with a certain environment first, they are faster a bouncing back to that happy association should they get afraid. That is not to say that an older dogs fear cannot be changed. It might just take a little longer for your dog to turn it around.

Remember that it is always best to contact a professional behaviorist when dealing with problem behaviors in dogs. You can contact me here.

Happy positive associations to you all!

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New year

New year – The best 9 tips to help your dog!

Is your dog afraid of fireworks? Do you struggle to get your dog through the new year? In this blog you will get the tips and tricks that I have found helpful during New year.

Every year is the same. Despite bans and regulated dates, people seem to go into a frenzy and store up on anything they can find that goes BANG. Preferably they like the BANG to happen all the time, and all bans are literally shot to the ground.

I would wish that a complete ban would come on fireworks in general, but until that day hopefully comes, we as dog owners must take our own precautions and prepare our dogs in the best way possible.

I know I am not alone with this issue as I have heard from many dog owners how their dogs feel around New year, very few are positive!

It is not only for our pets sake. Firework is a massive polluter. If we have paid attention to everything every scientist has said for the last 10 years it is that we have to change our ways in order to save our planet. Furthermore, it scares our wildlife, not to mention the massive rise in human injuries and accidents you see in the ER on New Years Eve.

Tips on how to get your dog through New Year’s eve

new year dog

1. Treats

Have treats around the house. Every time there is a bang outside your dog gets a treat. This is to turn the negative association with fireworks into a positive association (read more about positive associations here). Use high value treats if your dog is very scared.

2. Safe spot/hide out

Create a safe spot your dog can go to. This can be their basket, or anywhere they feel safe. My husband tried to build a cave for our dogs. We let them chose when they want to use it. If your dog likes to hide under things this might be an idea, and hey you get to build a cave, which is always fun!

3. The wrap

In previous years I have tried using the wrapping method (see below), which has seemed to have some effect. I have also heard positive reviews of the Thundershirts you can get at your local pet shop or online.

Dog Wrap

4. Music

We have found that music really makes a huge difference and it really calms our dogs down. You can find calming music for dogs online (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51LrVgWKTQE).

We use it both for when they are home alone and of course during New Years and the weeks up to it. It’s calming for both us and them. Start using it when there is no fireworks so your dog associates it with something positive. If you will use it for when your dog is home alone, also first play it while you are still home.

5. Train with firework sounds

You can download or find firework music online (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AINzMizjDvw). Use this as practice during the year to acclimatize your dog to the firework sounds. Start with very low volume and give lots of treats and praise. As your dog stays calm, try to increase the volume more and more, still giving treats if your dog stays calm. If your dog starts to react, turn the volume down again and reward when he/she is calm again.

Remember to only do short sessions and always end with success. You are making a continuous positive association with fireworks, and this will help your dog stay more calm when the real deal goes off. Stay consistent with this training throughout the year as starting right before New Years will not help your dog.

6. Stay with me

Don’t leave your pet alone on New Years! They might be fine when you leave, but when you are not there you cannot control what happens. They might get scared and then have no one to comfort them. If you are going somewhere, bring your dog. Make sure to only bring your dog to places where he/she feels safe and where they have a chance to have their own personal spot that they can go to and relax.

7. Walk

Take your dog on a long walk in the morning of New Years Eve. Give them plenty of time to play and sniff so they get tired out.

8. Mental stimuli

Feed your dog in activity toys. A frozen Kong is gold here, as it lets them focus on something else than what is going on outside (Here is how to make it). It is also making another positive association – when the outside world is noisy, I get yummy things to eat – win win!

9. Medicine

If your dog suffers from severe anxiety and fear visit the vet and get some calming tablets for your dog. We have fortunately never had to do that as the other methods has been sufficient.

Let me know which method worked for you and your dog, or if you have any other ideas share it with the rest of us in the comments.

Happy New Year!

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