| Fear Or Phobia In Dogs
What is the difference between fear and phobia in dogs? Your dog may respond in a fearful manner in an unfamiliar situation, or because of strange smells or sounds. They have developed this response to protect them from harm.
Dogs may respond in a fearful manner when presented with unfamiliar situations, smells, sounds and sights. They have developed this normal and important response to protect them from harm.
Unfortunately, some animals will respond excessively when they are faced with certain situations, smells, sounds and sights. These phobic reactions are maladaptive and will not protect the animal from potential danger. Ironically, some animals even injure themselves when they try to escape a situation that induces a phobic response. Phobic dogs might hide, tremble, salivate, try to escape, show destructive behaviour, bark excessively, or show aggression if someone tries to calm them.
Most dogs that are affected by noise phobias respond to thunderstorms, or fireworks. The reaction might be induced by the sound itself or by other factors that precede the sound. This occurs because the dog has generalized the entire experience. Some dogs will respond fearfully long before a thunderstorm arrives because they have learned that a drop in barometric pressure heralds the arrival of a storm.
It is not uncommon that phobic dogs have offspring with a higher incidence of fear-related behaviour problems. Genetic factors as well as the mother's stress hormones influence a dog's behaviour even before birth. Dogs that do not receive early socialization and habituation are more likely to develop a noise phobia, especially if a traumatic event occurs.
The owner's response to the dog (trying to calm, reassure or punish) can make the behaviour problem worse.
Affected dogs are commonly found to suffer from other fear related problems such as
separation anxiety and fear of strangers or other animals. Certain breeds seem to be predisposed to having noise phobias, including herding dog breeds.
Over time, phobias tend to get worse. The dog will not 'grow out of it'. Typically, dogs generalize and learn to associate certain persons, places or items with the stimulus that triggered the problem initially.
- Avoid any reinforcement of the undesired behaviour: reassuring the dog, reprimanding the dog, etc.
- Contain the dog safely to prevent that he or she runs away in a panic.
- Contact your veterinarian to discuss drug treatment that will allow your dog to get safely and calmly through the season. Most dogs can be treated with medication that reduces anxiety and causes mild sedation shortly after application of the medication. Ideally this should be given 30-60 minutes before a storm or exposure. Other dogs might require additional drug treatment that is given daily throughout the season.
- Make certain that your veterinarian is aware of any supplements or additional treatment your dog is receiving as they may interfere with drug treatment (e.g. antidepressants) and cause serious harm. Treatment with natural remedies, homeopathy, food supplements (such as melatonin, tryptophan or rescue remedy) and acupuncture may support your veterinarian's treatment plan but will most likely fail to show the desired effect if used alone.
- Ask your veterinarian for a behaviour modification program that will help to decrease the dog's response and reduce his or her reactions during the following season. If necessary, your veterinarian will refer you to a veterinary behaviourist for a behavioural assessment and additional treatment options.
The treatment protocol for phobias involves techniques like systematic desensitization and counter conditioning. To do this, behaviourists use recordings of storms or fireworks that have been specifically designed for this type of training. The treatment protocol will allow your dog to remain calm during a storm. At the end of a successful training period, which may take several weeks or months, the dog will have learned that the noise does not represent a danger. Instead of the phobic response, he or she will associate the sound with a pleasant experience such as food.
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