Is your dog scared of you or something in the house for no reason? Fear is a response that appears as the perception of a real or potential threat. It is a very common problem in our canine companions, which affects both their well-being and their daily lives, and also affects us.
Very related to fear (and although they are not the same), there are the concepts of phobia and anxiety. The phobia is an extreme fear, characterized by an exaggerated and disproportionate response by the animal; anxiety is a negative emotional and mental state that appears when our dog anticipates that something bad is going to happen (regardless of whether or not it happens in the end).
In this article, we will analyze the causes that can produce fear in our dog.
Why is my dog acting scared? It can have genetic causes
Fear is the character of behavior with the highest heritability. This means that if the father and mother have a fearful temperament, their puppies are highly likely to inherit it and have fear problems. Therefore, breeders should know this to avoid litters of puppies that can inherit this fearful temperament.
However, genetics is not everything; behavior is influenced, and a lot, by the environment. Therefore, with good socialization, good management, and positive education, it is possible to redirect this situation, although with certain limits in many cases.
Null or scarce socialization may cause fear in dogs
In previous articles, we have commented extensively on the important thing which is the period of socialization (from 3 to 12 weeks in the case of dogs). If during this time they do not have contact with a great variety of stimuli and situations, and if those first experiences are not positive, they will be much more likely to develop fear problems.
A very serious problem in the so-called sensory deprivation syndrome or kennellosis, in that the dog is afraid of practically everything around him. This occurs when the puppy is kept confined during his socialization stage, depriving him of getting used to his surroundings and everything around him.
Therefore, it is very important to properly socialize our puppies as a measure to avoid fear problems in the future.
Your dog can be avoiding you because of negative experiences
Any experience that is unpleasant for the dog can cause a fear problem. Sometimes, if the experience is very intense or if our dog is especially sensitive, a single exposure may be enough to develop a fear problem or a phobia (for example, throwing a firecracker too close to the dog may be enough for him to develop fear or panic not only towards firecrackers, but towards loud noises in general).
It is practically impossible to avoid all situations that may be negative or traumatic for the dog, but as far as possible, when they can be foreseen, we must try to ensure that our partners do not have this type of experience that can seriously mark them.
Does your dog not want to eat his dog food? Does he refuses to eat? He eats and vomits, and is sad or just drink water? In our video we explain why your dog does not want to eat food and is sad, and a way that will make him enjoy his meals, recover the appetite and regain his health.
The use of punishments can cause fear
There is no doubt that punishments generate stress, anxiety, and fear. An education based on the use of punishments, or a punishment applied very severely can cause a serious fear problem in our dogs.
Knowing this, we would have to base the education and the training of our canine companions on amiable methods that are based on the use of positive reinforcements. This will be the best way to get an educated dog, sure of himself, and without problems of fear or insecurity. When the dog is not able to respond to a situation, because he learns that whatever he does can make him suffer, and he chooses to do nothing, we call it learned helplessness. This happens when punishment is continually applied to the animal, and it is a very serious condition not only for his well-being, but also for his survival (since there are dogs that stop eating and drinking).
Castration is also a focus of fear
In recent years, studies are underway where there seems to be a correlation between castration and the worsening of existing fear problems. It is good to take it into account when deciding whether or not to castrate a fearful dog (especially due to genetic inheritance or poor socialization).
However, castration has advantages (and other disadvantages), and the set must always be assessed to make the decision.
Finally, and as with any behavioral problem, we should know that some diseases, causes of chronic pain, and sensory deficits (loss of vision, hearing, smell,...) can be causes of fear. When our dog begins to show fear suddenly or for no apparent reason, it is advisable to perform a first veterinary check-up to rule out pain or organic disorders.
In older dogs, also, we must keep in mind the cognitive dysfunction syndrome, which we already discussed extensively in an article.
As you can see, the causes that can make our dog be afraid are very variable, even several of them can occur in the same animal. Some, such as genetics, socialization and the use of punishments, can be prevented or avoided; others, such as negative experiences, are more complicated to control and avoid.
In any case, if you notice that your dog begins to show fear in a habitual or exaggerated way, it is most advisable to seek the help of an ethologist or specialist in behavioral medicine. In this way, you can determine the cause and most importantly, establish the most appropriate treatment to help your furry and improve his well-being.
Borja Ros Villanueva, veterinarian and ethologist in Adetcan.
Adetcan is a project formed by two veterinary ethologists and canine educators that provide advice, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of behavioral problems in dogs and cats. We provide our services at home. We are in Santiago de Compostela but we work throughout Galicia.