Some dogs experience fear over things that are not truly dangerous and that do not put them at risk of injury. Fear is one of the hardest problems to solve and to diagnose. Dogs that are fearful have a difficult time adjusting to new situations and people. As the fear response worsens the dog may develop behaviors that could include aggression to cope with their fearful emotional state.
It’s hard not to pet your poodle when he is climbing in your lap, frightened and unsure, but doing so will reward his nervousness and make it worse.
When dogs are fearful they may:
- Hide or run away
- Keep a low posture
- Keep their ears back or flattened
- Lick their muzzle repeatedly
- Threaten and bark at a person while backing away
You Can’t Make Fear Go Away
Reducing fear requires gradual exposure to the situation they fear and rewarding any sign of relaxed behavior or voluntary approach of the feared object or person.
- Do not force your poodle to accept the people, objects or situations he fears. If he is afraid of bicycles, men in hats or whatever it may be, don’t drag him up to it. This will make him resist. Do not allow people to approach him, this will only spook him more.
- Fearful animals are more comfortable approaching at their own speed. Stand near the object or person and speak in a relaxed tone. If he comes up, don’t make a big deal out of it, just praise him as he moves toward it. If he chooses to withdraw, that’s okay, just stop praising him.
- Some dogs are afraid of various sounds (thunder, cars, fireworks, sirens, etc.) You can attempt to desensitize your dogs fear of these sounds by recording the feared sounds or you can purchase a sound effect CD. Play the sounds at a very low level while your poodle is relaxed and during a play session with you. Slowly increase the volume of the feared sounds until your dog can play and relax with the sounds at a normal level.
- Do not reinforce the fearful response. Give your poodle attention for courage and ignore fear. It is easy to give him attention when he is frightened, but he will interpret this as praise for the fear.
Dogs that have severe fearfulness may benefit from a natural herb that helps treat anxiety or anti-anxiety drugs. Consult your veterinarian.