Can a Fearful Dog Be Cured?

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If you’ve ever been outside during a thunderstorm, then you know that dogs are not usually fans. They don’t like howling winds or loud noises, so if they’re in an enclosed space with their owners, they tend to get nervous. Dogs also have poor vision, which makes storms even worse for them.

The best way to keep your dog calm is to stay away from lightning and avoid large crowds. But if you live in an area where thunderstorms happen frequently, you may want to consider some other options such as training your dog or finding a shelter for him to go to when bad weather strikes.

Fear doesn’t always stem from external factors. Some people suffer from internalized anxiety disorders, brought about by previous experiences, such as abuse or neglect. In these cases, you should seek professional help instead of trying to treat the problem yourself.

However, many dogs experience fears due to specific events or situations, rather than general ones, and those types of phobias can sometimes be treated successfully at home. We’ll discuss several different kinds of phobias next.

One type of common phobia among pets is thunderstorm phobia. This happens when your dog becomes afraid of the noise made by thunderstorms. Most dogs will cower under furniture, hide behind bedding or try to escape through windows or doors. Sometimes, dogs react this way because they hear human voices yelling while the storm is happening.

Other times, dogs become frightened of thunderstorms simply because of the flashes of light, the rumbling sounds and wind gusts. When your dog gets scared, take him inside immediately. And don’t make any quick movements toward him either, since he might think you’re chasing after him. Once indoors, put him in a safe room preferably one without windows or doors and close the door until the storm has passed.

Another kind of phobia stems from something called separation anxiety disorder. Dogs suffering from this condition often feel abandoned or trapped when left alone. Because of this, they develop intense stress and fear whenever they’re separated from their humans.

Fortunately, there are medications and behavioral therapies available to help alleviate these symptoms. Not all phobias cause a physical reaction to frightful stimuli. On the next page, we’ll learn more about what causes phobias in the first place.

Causes of Fears

There are a variety of reasons why a person would suffer from a phobia, but generally speaking, phobias occur when someone feels anxious from the presence of certain objects, activities or situations. A phobia could also result from past trauma or experience.

For example, perhaps you were abused as a child and now find yourself avoiding any situation that reminds you of that time. Or maybe you had a traumatic car accident years ago and still have nightmares about being hit again. Phobias can also spring up out of nowhere, especially if they stem from a stressful event.

Phobias of all sorts can affect anyone, regardless of age or gender. Women are more likely than men to suffer from panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder and agoraphobia (the fear of open places). Men are more prone to specific phobias, including arachnophobia (a fear of spiders) and claustrophobia (anxiety over confined spaces).

It’s important to note that phobias aren’t necessarily learned behaviors. Many people who grow up around fearful family members end up developing phobias themselves later in life.

The Most Common Phobias Include:
agoraphobia – the fear of open places, such as parks or public squares
animal phobias – the fear of snakes, insects or spiders
anthropic phobias – the fear of heights, such as vertigo
claustropha­bia Рthe fear of closed areas, such as tunnels or caves
coprophenia – the fear of feces, vomit or urine
cynophobia – the fear of dogs
dyslexiea – the fear of writing
geotaxis – the fear of traveling
glossophobia – the fear of speechlessness
homophobia – the fear of homosexuals
metheusynopia – the fear of mirrors
monosensitization – the inability to perceive multiple senses
pathophobia – a fear of disease or illness
pediphobia – the fear of parents
paranoia – the fear of others’ intentions
pediaphobia – the fear of feet
porphyria – the fear of red colors
sektonophobia – the fear of earthquakes
torticophilia – the attraction to pain
zoophobia – the fear of animals

Coprophenia affects approximately 15 percent of the population. People with coprophenia see stool samples as having offensive odors. Since their brains process normal smells differently, they can’t smell feces. As a result, people with coprophenia must wear gloves to prevent contact with stool and urine. Coprophenia is similar to another phobia known as pyromania. Pyromaniacs crave fire and burn everything around them, including clothing and skin.

Curing Fear Phobias

No matter what type of phobia your dog suffers from, there is hope for recovery. Although you cannot control your dog’s behavior, you can modify his environment to lessen his distress. You can also use various treatments, such as therapy, medication or desensitizing techniques, which teach your dog to face his fears gradually. Depending on your dog’s temperament, you may want to work with a psychologist or veterinarian.

For example, if your dog shows signs of separation anxiety, you can create a happy household together. Make sure you provide plenty of affection and attention, and spend quality time with your pooch every day. Petting sessions should last for 30 minutes or longer, and you shouldn’t leave your pet alone for long periods of time.

Also, don’t punish him for his phobias doing so only reinforces negative behavior. Instead, reward good behavior or try desensitizing your dog to scary scenarios. Your goal is to weaken the association between the frightening stimulus and your dog’s anxiety. One method involves putting your dog in a crate when he displays anxiety and then slowly removing the barriers until he feels secure. Desensitizing exercises must be done regularly and patiently to ensure success.

You can also try using antihistamines, antidepressants and antianxiety drugs to reduce your dog’s tension levels. These medications can help curb barking, whining and pacing. If your dog is showing other symptoms associated with separation anxiety, such as urinating or defecating repeatedly, you should consult your vet. He or she may prescribe sedatives to relax your pet.

Other treatment methods include shock collars and thundershocks, both of which aim to relieve distress and teach your pet new coping skills. Shock collars produce painful electric pulses to deter unwanted behavior. Thundershocks send electrical charges into the nerves of your pet’s body via electrodes attached to a handheld device.

Both shock collars and thundershocks are controversial forms of punishment because they force your pet to undergo unpleasant sensations. Whether used as a form of discipline or selfless therapy, however, they can significantly improve your dog’s mood. Keep in mind that neither of these tools is appropriate for all breeds and circumstances.

Wrap Up

If your dog’s phobia is severe enough or lasts for extended periods of time, you should consult with a veterinary or psychological counselor. Phobias of all varieties can negatively impact a pet’s health, happiness and overall well-being. Remember to adopt a compassionate approach to comforting your canine friend. With the right mindset, you can transform your pet’s world and bring relief to his anxiety.

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