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The Listen Dog Blog

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Why Is My Dog Fearful?

By listendogtraining, Jan 3 2017 09:00AM

Generally speaking, fear in a dog will manifest itself as a result of one of three influencing factors. These are: learning and experience, a lack of adequate socialisation or habituation, or a genetic origin.


The first 16 weeks of a puppy’s life are regarded as critical in terms of socialisation and habituation; owners are recommended to expose their puppies – in a positive way – to as many sights, sounds and experiences as possible during this period of time when their puppy is least likely to react with fear. As Fogle states in ‘The Dog’s Mind,’ “Pups that are deprived of this normal exposure to common stimuli during their critical periods of development quite simply become fearful dogs when they mature... virtually all dogs will show a fear response to new and unusual stimuli that they have not experienced before they were sixteen weeks old.” So for example, if the puppy spends its early months kept exclusively indoors, in a quiet environment away from busy streets, cyclists, noisy traffic, heavy rainfall, etc. then it will more than likely really struggle to cope with exposure to the big wide world without fear or anxiety, as it matures.


Alternatively, it could be that due to a negative experience, the dog has inadvertently been conditioned to be fearful at the presentation of a certain stimulus. For example, if the dog is involved in a painful collision with a cyclist, he could develop a fear of cyclists as a result, because he learned, via this experience, that cyclists cause him pain.


Of course, it is also possible that a dog’s fearfulness is in fact genetic in origin; it is indeed true that puppies inherit characteristics from their parents – it is thanks to this passing on of genes, in fact, that we are able to selectively breed dogs that vary quantitatively in terms of aggression, maternal instinct, and other key traits.


If you are struggling with a fearful dog, it is critical that you seek out professional assessment so that the right course of action can be determined – but have heart! There are plenty of ways and means that fearful dogs can be rehabilitated, and go on to become happy companions!





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