Fearful Dog

When fear prevents the dog from living, we need to help urgently.


But when is a dog a fearful dog at all?

Are there differences between fear and insecurity?

And what can we do about it?


Definition of a fearful dog

For me, a fearful dog is a dog who lives in fear of certain things or in general.

As you can see, this is a very broad term.

For example, if a dog is only afraid of the noises on New Year’s Eve, he will probably not be called a “fearful dog” by his community.

Nevertheless, the quality of life for this dog on this day (and depending on the intensity also the days before and after) is massively limited.

If this dog lives in an area, where there are fireworks 2 months before New Year’s Eve and 1 month after New Year’s Eve as well, this impairment will have an effect on 3 months of the year.

That is no longer “only” New Year’s Eve.


But why is fear so limiting?

The original function of the fear response was to escape danger. It is therefore essential to life.

And because it has such an important function, the effect that the emotion has on the body is also all the more powerful. Just like really strong medications usually have the strongest side effects.

Fear inhibits all functions that the body does not absolutely need at the moment and makes it ready for peak performance.

A state of highest tension is created and thinking is paused (of course, who needs to think about the next purchase when the axe murderer is running after you).

The organism is only reacting.

You may realize at this point why training is not possible at this moment (and the dog cannot learn that nothing happens either).


Imagine living constantly with such massive tension.

This extreme stress is not sustainable for the body for a long time. We see chronic stress.

In humans, we know such a chronical stress level e.g. under the term “burnout”.

The body simply can’t take it anymore and breaks down more and more.


It doesn’t take complete panic to cause this reaction in the body.

Of course, the reaction is stronger, the greater the fear is, but even with slight fear the thinking is limited and the body is set to survival mode.


Fear or insecurity

That’s why it doesn’t matter if we call a weak form of fear “insecurity” (strictly speaking, we only do that to make ourselves feel better).

It is still fear.

Maybe you’ve been insecure in a situation before….

Remember how that felt.

And of how you felt afterwards.

Were you unexpectedly tired?


When stress subsides, the body signals that it desperately needs rest. We get tired.

This serves to create a balance between tension and relaxation and keep us healthy.


So, if the situation persists for too long, or even permanently, the body cannot regenerate and we are back in a situation of health concern.


So what can we do?

Depending on the severity of the anxiety and its frequency, different measures are useful.

I like to include a behavioral veterinarian early on to determine medication as needed.

Especially dogs that are stuck in a state of not being able to learn need to get out of there as soon as possible.

This is the only way to train sustainably.

In addition, fear can also have organic causes or cause problems and that is where a good doctor is super helpful.


If the dog is not in need of treatment (e.g. because the trigger can be dosed well and does not restrict the dog in daily life) or is already well treated, we can start with training.


At this point, it is important to dose the fear-trigger so that the dog can deal with it without falling back into the fear response.

In addition, he needs strategies to deal with certain situations.

Exactly what that looks like depends, of course, on the dog, the situation, and the triggers.


It is also just as important that the dog gets breaks from the trigger.

These breaks help regenerate and create our healthy balance.

So we don’t block the dog’s hiding places when he is afraid of people. We also do not touch him there or demand anything from him.

We let him leave a situation in which he is overwhelmed (e.g. a noise outside triggers panic, the dog wants to leave, we go wherever he feels safe again).


And we help him build confidence in completely independent situations. To do this, we need little problems that the dog can solve on his own.

And we can give him control over potentially scary situations (e.g. grooming).


All this can have success very quickly or take longer.

It always depends on the dog and how deeply the trauma is rooted… and of course on the motivation of the people to change something.

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