Wednesday, August 4, 2010
By Linda Cole
We think of our dogs as being fearless in their protection of us if an intruder were to ever enter our homes. Most dogs will protect their property, but dogs are like us when it comes to things they're afraid of. Dog behavior can be hard to figure out, but we can understand when dogs get scared, even though we don't know why some things scare them.
Thunder is a sound a lot of dogs and cats are scared of. I know a big boom certainly gets my attention. A normally happy dog can show different levels of dog aggression when they become nervous because of loud, sudden sounds. Some dogs have issues with separation anxiety or they may be afraid of another dog in the home or even a neighbor's dog. And sometimes the big bad scary thing is a cat that intimidates the dog.
Dogs get scared by things that are unfamiliar or confusing to them. Wild animals that wander into their yard can make a dog nervous. I've always enjoyed sitting outside at night with my dogs in their dog pen. One night about ten years ago, we had an expected visitor who scared all of my dogs so much it gave me goose bumps, and still does to this day. We were sitting outside on a beautiful night with the moon shining down on the freshly fallen snow. The town clock had chimed midnight and all was quiet. The dogs were wandering around the pen when suddenly they all huddled around me. None of them uttered a sound. I didn't think anything of it until I saw what scared them – a coyote had quietly stolen up on the other side of the pen and was watching us. He was a beautiful animal, but I quickly decided it was time to go inside. I still sit outside at night with my dogs, but I always bring a good flashlight and pay attention if they huddle around me suddenly.
Dogs get scared by all kinds of things we take for granted. Last winter a dog was found wandering around the parking lot of a local restaurant. When the manager couldn't find her owner, he asked if we'd take her. She'd apparently been lost for quite awhile and was extremely skinny. She's doing fine weight wise, but this dog is scared of going up and down stairs and going outside at night. When we started turning on the ceiling fan in the living room and kitchen, she'd sit in a corner never taking her eyes off that spinning monster above her. She doesn't like thunderstorms, sudden movements, loud noises, flashlights or all the little noises cats and animals make outside as they roam around in the dark. A breaking stick can send her tearing back inside with her tail between her legs. We can only guess what she went through as a lost dog. She is making good progress though, one scary thing at a time.
It can be challenging when dogs get scared. Some can become aggressive or develop behavioral problems related to whatever it is that scares them. Most dogs are happy, carefree pets who eagerly wait for us to return home and take them out for a game of catch or a walk. But we all have things that scare us, even though we may not admit it. If something scares a dog, they do remember it. I know the dogs I had at the time of our brief encounter with the coyote remembered the smell that scared them enough to huddle beside me. I don't know if I was supposed to protect them or if they were trying to protect me.
Dogs get scared of the vacuum cleaner roaring across the living room carpet, snakes hidden in tall grass, a trip to the vet, and getting their toenails clipped. Some dogs get scared riding in a car, being yelled at, and being around unfamiliar dogs or people. Fear is a normal response to something that isn't understood and there's a difference between a fearful dog and one who is scared by something that confused him and caused his reaction. However, dog aggression can result from both. For most dogs who get scared, once whatever it was that scared them is gone, they will return to normal.
Most of the time when dogs get scared, their fear will pass, but it's up to us as responsible pet owners to recognize if it’s nothing to worry about or if it's something we need to help them understand.
Read more articles by Linda Cole