What is fear
The first unit provides an overview of fear and considers whether fear has a genetic component, learning and associations and potential underlying medical conditions.
Explore the body language of fear, interventions that can be used, and how to help a fearful dog. This unit includes a section on how to help dogs that are fearful of being handled by groomers or vets.
Living and Working with a Fearful Dog Course
This course is valuable training for vet nurses, hydrotherapists, massage therapists, physiotherapists, behaviourists, dog walkers, dog groomers and owners of fearful dogs.
Dealing with Fear in Dogs
How is a normal fear differentiated from a phobia?
Experiencing fear when lightning strikes outside is normal, and most people startle or jump in response. This type of reaction is normal in animals as well. However, if fear manifests every time a dark cloud appears in the sky, the leaves rustle, or even at a specific time of the day, these reactions are more indicative of a phobia.
Dogs who experience fear and or anxiety frequently, will suffer from chronic stress. Fear, by definition, is an emotion that induces an animal to avoid situations and activities that may be dangerous. The emotional response occurs when an animal perceives that something or someone is dangerous. The key word here is perceives. It is critical that anyone working or living with dogs understands that just because they do not think the person, event, or thing is to be feared does not mean that the fear is not real to the dog. A dog’s perception is his reality, and that is what the dog will act on.
Fearfulness is probably the most studied behavioural trait in animals. In dogs, there are several behavioural reactions that are commonly associated with fearfulness. Whether or not a particular dog responds with a fear reaction depends upon a variety of factors including
- Experiential factors
More about Nervous and Fearful Behaviour in Dogs
In most cases of fearful behaviours in dogs, the dog is showing a normal adaptive response in the circumstances. A fear response is considered abnormal when it is extreme in intensity or duration and is maladaptive for the dog.
What is fear?
Fear is an aversive emotional state consisting of psychological and psychophysiological responses to an external threat or danger that is perceived as real by the fearful individual. Fears are recognised across many species and are considered adaptive. Defending oneself against offensive or dangerous stimuli increases chance of survival! Anxiety may occur in the aftermath of a fear-producing event or result of unrelated environmental changes that are unpredictable. Popular diagnostic terminology uses the terms fear and anxiety interchangeably but does not necessarily strictly adhere to the scientific definitions above.
It is essential to take a moment to appreciate that some of the effects of developmental or sensitive periods may be mitigated. No breed or gender predilection has genuinely been identified for fear-related problems. Fears often develop in adolescence or at the onset of social maturity (typically between 1 and 2 years of age and social maturity reached at the age of 3-4 years). However, onset may be associated with a traumatic event at any age.
Although some dogs are born with a genetic predisposition toward fearfulness, most fears that we encounter in dogs are due to experiences that they’ve had during their lifetime or experiences that they’ve failed to have at certain times in their development. Probably the most important single factor in whether a dog develops into a confident or a fearful animal is his early socialisation. Much of what we know about the amygdala and its role in emotional learning and memory comes from fear conditioning. Pathways from the thalamus to the amygdala are particularly crucial in emotional learning.