Dogs are naturally packed animals and they form close bonds with their owners. If you’ve ever watched a well-trained service or therapy dog at work, you know that dogs understand the importance of being part of a team even when they’re not performing tricks or fetching treats.
This makes them excellent companions, but sometimes these strong social bonds cause conflicts between humans and our canine friends. For example, dogs may be so attached to us that they become anxious around other people. When you encounter this problem, it’s important to recognize what causes fear in dogs around people and how best to deal with it.
The first thing to keep in mind about fear in dogs is that it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with gender. While there are some breeds that are more prone to fearing people than others (such as German Shepherds), any breed can develop phobias, especially those who live alone rather than as members of a group.
The second thing to remember is that just because your pooch has an anxiety disorder doesn’t mean he’ll never get along with other people. There are things you can do to help him overcome his fears. And finally, don’t forget that your own attitude and behavior play a big role in whether your dog will feel comfortable around strangers. If you make yourself approachable, friendly, and patient, your dog will learn to trust you enough to interact without fear. So what causes fear in dogs around people? Read on to find out.
What Causes Fear in Dogs Around People
Fear in dogs can happen for many reasons, including separation anxieties, pain, stress, trauma, and aggression. It can also result from certain situations such as loud noises, bright lights, crowds, and tight spaces. In some cases, dogs are terrified by the mere sight of someone else’s hands, which isn’t surprising given all the infections and germs we spread around during normal daily activities (like eating). Other common triggers include:
? Anxiety disorders
? Separation anxiety
? Social phobia
? Exposure to violence
Now let’s take a look at each one of these potential causes individually.
Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive worrying and general unease. They often affect dogs in much the same way they affect people. A vet can diagnose this condition based on the symptoms and physical examination. Treatment options vary depending on the severity of the case, but most involve medications, counseling, or a combination of the two.
Separation anxieties occur when dogs worry excessively about being left behind while their owners go shopping, run errands or visit family. Usually, these worries come about after repeated experiences where the owner was unable to return home quickly enough to comfort or calm the animal.
These anxieties can manifest themselves in many ways, including pacing, whining, chewing on objects, barking, and licking. A vet can determine if your pet suffers from separation anxiety through observation and questioning. The main treatment involves training your dog to cope better with separation. You should teach him to relax, remain still until you return, and avoid making noise when you leave. Positive reinforcement works best instead of punishment whenever possible.
Social phobia occurs when dogs develop a persistent, irrational fear of open places like parks, malls, restaurants, and supermarkets. They usually exhibit signs of distress, such as trembling, panting, and avoidance. Although it affects only 1 percent of dogs, it’s very treatable. Medications, psychological counseling, and behavioral modification techniques can help relieve the symptoms and improve your dog’s overall state of mind.
Exposure to Violence
Some dogs suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of witnessing domestic violence or hearing about it happening to another person. Even though the animal wasn’t directly involved, it feels responsible for its safety and survival.
That’s why it develops extreme behaviors such as hiding in corners, becoming aggressive toward people or other pets, avoiding going outside, and exhibiting intense fear responses. PTSD can be managed using medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. Owners must gradually expose their pets to whatever triggered the initial response until they no longer show signs of fear or anxiety.
Animals subjected to abuse or neglect often experience severe emotional trauma. Many dogs end up getting adopted into shelters due to the conditions under which they were living. Traumatic events can trigger long-term reactions in dogs similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in humans. Symptoms include hypervigilance, increased sensitivity, exaggerated startle reflexes, and difficulty sleeping. If your dog shows any of these signs following a traumatic event, seek medical attention immediately. He needs supportive care until he recovers completely.
Pain can bring about changes in the brain chemistry that mimic those associated with drug addiction. As a result, animals suffering from chronic pain exhibit compulsive behavior. They may chew on inappropriate objects, pace back and forth, salivate and scratch themselves incessantly.
Dogs with acute pain due to surgery or injury may lick, bite and bark excessively. They also tend to sleep less since discomfort interferes with restful relaxation. Because it’s difficult to predict how much pain your dog will endure, ask your veterinarian about various pain management methods available today.
Aggression can arise as a protective mechanism against perceived threats. However, if your dog becomes overly aggressive or violent, it could indicate underlying issues such as jealousy, territorial disputes, insecurity, or frustration. Like anger, aggression requires immediate professional intervention.
Read on to find tips on dealing with your dog’s fear of people.
If you suspect your dog has developed a phobia, consult your veterinarian right away. Signs of phobic distress include constant sniffing, urination or defecation, salivating, yawning, trembling, shaking, and lip licking. Also pay attention to changes in appetite, bowel habits, drinking, and sleeping patterns. If you notice a gradual worsening of your pet’s health over time, contact your vet immediately.
Tips on Training Your Dog Not To Be Afraid Of Men
One of the best ways to help your dog overcome his fear of men is to encourage interaction with other people. Start slowly, however, and don’t force your pet to meet new acquaintances too soon. First, try introducing him to someone familiar, such as a friend, relative, or neighbor.
Once he gets used to the situation, introduce him to someone unfamiliar, such as a stranger at a grocery store or library. Don’t overwhelm him with too many interactions at once, especially if he hasn’t had exposure to many different types of people. Gradually increase the number of encounters, and always praise him whenever he approaches a new person calmly.
Another helpful strategy is to change locations frequently. Take your dog to the park, then walk down the street, then cross the intersection, and so on. Keep moving until your dog begins interacting with people willingly and confidently.
It’s also crucial to reinforce good behavior. Praise your dog every time he interacts positively with a man or woman. Reinforce positive behavior by giving him his favorite food treats, toys, or affection. On the contrary, ignore negative behavior and reinforce negative consequences, such as yelping or growling.
Finally, if your dog does display signs of fear or anxiety, talk to a veterinarian. Your pet is likely reacting emotionally to something stressful that happened in the past, and a trained specialist can assess his current mental status and recommend appropriate treatments.
There are several organizations dedicated to helping dogs overcome their fears of people. One of the largest is the National Association for the Blind (NAB). NAB offers assistance programs specifically designed to help guide visually impaired individuals’ service dogs.
Similarly, Guide Dogs for the Blind provides invaluable assistance to blind people and their dogs. Both groups offer training sessions, certification exams, and foster homes for homeless dogs throughout the country. Another organization, Assistance Dogs International Inc., helps veterans and other disabled people train specially-trained assistance dogs.
Finally, Therapy Dogs World trains dogs to work with those recovering from illnesses or injuries. Most services require annual vaccinations and licensing. All of these organizations provide extensive information about their respective missions on their websites.
According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, nearly 70 million Americans owned pets in 2007. More than half of those pets were dogs.