Anxiety, Fears, and Phobias...OH MY!
Behavioral issues seem to be on the rise lately in our four legged friends, and fear issues top the list. There are many reasons we are seeing these changes (bad genetics/breeding, lack of socialization as normal family lives become more busy, rise in rescue organizations and adoptions of adult dogs, etc.) but despite how your pup's fear came about, it's important to understand what your dog is feeling in order to help.
Anxiety, fear, and phobias are all levels of being "afraid". Anxiety tends to land on the low end of the spectrum, fears are in the middle, and full-blown phobias on the high end. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they aren't treated the same way. It's important to understand the differences between them. The better we understand how our dogs are feeling, the better we can treat the underlining issues and help lower stress levels to ensure a quality life.
Anxiety is defined as a feeling of apprehension, an anticipation of future danger. In other words, a feeling that something bad might happen. Anxiety differs from fear in that it is not dependent on the presence of a specific frightening thing or person. Unfortunately, anxiety is often the product of a past unpleasant experience. A dog who was attacked by another dog might feel anxious on walks, or a dog who has been yelled at harshly or punished might feel anxious when his owner moves quickly or talks harshly (regardless of the context). Anxiety stems from what could happen, not what is happening at that time. This can be bothersome when your dog is unable to function properly during everyday activities due to constantly being nervous or anxious.
Fear is also defined as a feeling of apprehension, but the emotion is associated with the actual presence of something or someone that frightens your dog. Dogs can be fearful of sounds, people, other dogs, environments, objects, or even motions. Fear can be both instinctive and learned behavior and can range from mild to moderate to intense.
Phobias are defined as an extreme or irrational fear of something. Dogs who suffer from a phobia will often panic and react without thinking clearly when exposed to the trigger. This can include fleeing blindly, crashing into things in their path, extreme destructive behavior, or even harming themself. The amount of fear that comes with a phobia is out of proportion to the actual threat and is sudden and intense from the start. Unlike fears that develop gradually, they require just one exposure to induce the full-blown reaction.
With behavior modification protocols and management we can ensure our dogs have a great life with us, regardless of their fear issues. Patience is key when treating behavioral issues such as anxiety, fear, and phobias. Altering our dog's emotional response to things that frighten them takes time. That being said, there are many helpful tools, natural remedies, and pharmaceutical options in order to help training along and make things go as smoothly as possible for both you and your dog. Although not all dogs will be able to conquer their fear completely, you will be able to make a difference and help your dog be much more relaxed.