Dogs are capable of a wide range of emotions, perhaps more noticeably than any other animal. While they are often obviously happy, or sternly protective, they can also become very scared and distressed in a number of situations. These can be upsetting to watch, but owners can train their dogs not to be so afraid with a bit of patience.
One of the most common fears dogs have is that of the hoover. This noisy device typically causes panicked barking and obvious fear whenever it is turned on, which can be one of the largest annoyances for dog owners. You cannot stop hoovering, so this is one you are going to have to train out of your dog.
The key is to split the fear up into manageable chunks. Spend a bit of time each day getting your vacuum cleaner out, and taking your dog into the same room. Then, occupy their time with something they enjoy. For dogs on the BARF diet, a good idea is to give them a nice big bone to gnaw on.
Once they are used to the sight of the hoover, you can try recording the sound of the device. In a similar way, give your dog a bone or other treat, and play the sound on a low volume. Do this for around ten minutes a day, gradually increasing the volume each time. Be aware of your dog's emotional state, as if they become anxious then they are not ready for a louder volume.
Eventually, you should be able to play the sound of the hoover at full volume, and your dog will have come to associate this with a good time spent gnawing at a bone, eating delicious food or having a fun time playing with you. This will eliminate the fear of the hoover altogether.
Another common fear is separation anxiety. Dogs can often become distressed as you leave your home, and this can be quite upsetting to watch. They may even begin to self-mutilate, gnawing their tail or paws. This stems from uncertainty, as they may not understand that you will be coming back, so they worry they are being abandoned.
The main thing to remember is not to give your dog attention for this behaviour. Reassuring them that it will all be fine, and showing them affection, will not help your dog to get over this fear. Instead, it will teach them that if they act out and cause enough of a fuss, they will get reassurance.
Instead, pretend that your dog isn't there at all. Leave the house paying no attention to them whatsoever, even though this may be difficult. You should also regularly get ready to leave, for example putting your coat on and grabbing your bag, or going out of the door and starting the car, before coming straight back.
This will get your dog used to you coming and going, and teach them that it is not a big deal or a scary occurrence at all. It may also help to give them a treat just before you leave, but be careful not to be rewarding them for their distressed behaviour.
Each of these approaches can be used for a great number of other fears. If something that is understandably scary, such as a thunderstorm, makes your dog afraid then you can train your dog in the same way as with the hoover, gradually getting them used to the sights, sounds and smells of what scares them.
If, on the other hand, your dog exhibits noticeably distressed behaviour about something they maybe shouldn't, such as when you leave them, then you need to get them used to this without rewarding them for being distressed.
If your dog is acting more anxious than usual, especially about things they did not have a problem with before, then this can be a good sign that you need to take them to the vet. If dogs are ill, and in constant discomfort or pain, they will become more afraid than usual about day-to-day life.
If you can approach each issue with a good deal of patience, and gradually ease your dog into being around the things that scare them the most, you should be able to make your pet much happier and less anxious.
Written by: Hannah Dyball