Adopting a rescue dog is a wonderful way to bring a new canine family member into the home. However, some rescue dogs are frightened by humans because of bad experiences with previous owners or homelessness which did not give them any bonding experience with humans. It takes patience and understanding to deal with a scared rescue dog and to help them acclimate to you and to their new home.
A skittish rescue dog may show his fear by being overly timid, withdrawn and untrusting or displaying signs of depression. Some may feel threatened by new people, situations and surroundings.
Warm Up to a New Home
When you first bring home a rescue dog, keep them confined to one area so they don’t feel so overwhelmed. Let them slowly get used to the new smells, sounds and sights around them. At first, your new rescue pet may seem jumpy, unsure and unable to relax. Keep the environment stress free for them. Use gentle commands, soft voices and quiet surroundings until they feel more at ease. They will eventually get used to the stimulation, but in the beginning, keep it a controlled non-threatening environment for them. As your dog begins to explore and perhaps timidly reach out, they will learn that your home is their home and it’s a safe place to be.
Many dogs suffer from noise phobia wherein they become anxious and act in an unusual manner not characteristic of their normal behavior when exposed to loud noises. It’s important to understand that your dog won’t just get over his noise phobia without help from you. The sounds can be terrifying to him and if not treated, the problem could escalate until your pet becomes fearful of other things.
A dog suffering from noise phobia will experience one or more of the following signs of anxiety:
• Shaking • Aggression • Whimpering • Digging and scratching • Excessive barking • Uncontrolled urinating or defecating
If you notice these symptoms immediately after hearing loud noises, then you’ll need to take steps to help your dog overcome noise phobia. Here are some things you can do.
Provide a Safe Haven
First, your dog needs to feel safe. When your pet begins to exhibit any of the signs above, talk to her gently and pet her. Let her know everything is okay and that you are there with her but don’t baby her. If you overreact, she may get the wrong message and think that you are worried, too. When your dog feels safe and secure, she will begin to calm down and relax. Stay with her until the noise subsides, and once she’s calm you can offer her a CANIDAE treat.
If for some reason you must leave your dog alone or for times when you are not around, have a special place in the home where he knows he can go and feel safe. Dogs like to be in small spaces when they are scared because it makes them feel more protected.
If you crate trained your dog, this will make the perfect place for her to go when she is scared. If not, make her a home in a corner, under a desk or even in a closet where she can go to calm down. Place a couple of her favorite toys in the area and depending on the dog’s age, you can put a blanket in the spot to help calm her.
Dogs can show a fear of storms, fireworks or loud voices. Their fear can be mild to severe and when a storm is on the horizon, your dog may disappear or hunker down until the storm has passed. Fear of storms or loud noise adds stress to their life and yours. Sometimes it’s hard to understand dog behavior, but once we do, we can set up a program to desensitize a scared dog and teach him there’s nothing to fear from thunder or loud noises.
Fear of loud noises is only one type of fear dogs can show. Some become anxious around strangers or other dogs. I had a dog who didn’t like to be around men. Some dogs are scared of objects like vacuum cleaners or grooming combs, and some dogs don’t want their paws touched for any reason. Since dogs can’t tell us why something scared them, the only thing we can do is pay attention to our dogs during stressful times to figure out what is scaring them. Desensitization is one way to help change a dog’s behavior and help him get rid of his fear.
The last thing you should do when your dog is scared is tell him everything is alright, because you’re telling him it’s okay to be fearful. By ignoring his reaction to thunder or loud noises, he sees you remaining calm and nothing bad happened to you, so it must be okay.
Fear can be paralyzing to any living thing. Most animals and people who have gone through a fearful situation will remember it and react accordingly the next time they encounter anything that reminds them of it. As much as you want to help your scared dog or cat, there is a right way and wrong way to go about it. The last thing you want to do is reinforce their fear. I’m not talking about a scared pet who has a severe reaction to thunderstorms, fireworks, a neighborhood dog or cat, other pets in the home, or other situations that cause them to overreact with fear. This article is concerning mild to moderate cases of fear with no aggression issues associated with it.
When a scared dog or cat can’t tell us what scared them, we have to try to figure out where their fear came from. Sometimes the reason is easy to determine, but we may not always know why a dog or cat is showing signs of fear. As a responsible pet owner, you want to help a scared dog or cat by comforting them and reassuring them everything is alright. Your first reaction is to pick them up or sit beside them and gently stroke their coat and tell them, “It’s alright,” but this only reinforces their fear. To your pet, you’re saying it’s OK for them to be fearful. The next time the fearful situation comes up, the cat or dog remembers how you reacted, and the positive feedback they received during the stressful situation can reinforce their fearful reaction to it.
When you attempt to comfort a scared dog or cat, you’re teaching the pet to be dependent on you, but pets need to be able to work through occasional periods of fear themselves. No pet owner wants their dog or cat to be upset or frightened, but they need to be given an opportunity to learn how to be confident and brave during scary situations, because you can’t always be around to reassure them.
The best thing to do when your dog or cat reacts to something they believe as threatening is to ignore their reaction completely, unless it was warranted and your pet reacted to a potentially dangerous situation. Dogs and cats look to us to help them understand things that happen in their world. When they see you reacting as if there’s nothing to worry about and the situation poses no threat, they will adopt your lead. Once a frightened pet learns nothing bad happens during their episodes of being scared, they begin to relax and calm down on their own. The next time they encounter the scary moment, they will remember how you reacted to it and their fear will gradually be forgotten.
Keep in mind, however, that not all pets can get over their fears this easily. Ignoring more severe cases can put other pets or people at risk. When a pet, especially a dog, reacts aggressively to a scary situation each time they’re scared, then it’s time to talk to a vet or animal behaviorist who can help your pet deal with their fear. Some scared dogs or cats have phobias that are a mystery to us, especially an adopted pet from a shelter or one you may have found wandering lost on the street. There are times when ignoring their fears could cause them more harm. Responsible pet owners need to be able to distinguish between a severe phobia that may require help from a professional animal behaviorist, over a scared reaction from a one-time event or even a mild case of fear that can be dealt with by ignoring the reaction and showing them there’s no reason to be scared.
Most owners think of their pets as members of their family. You want to protect them and help them be as confident as they can be. Watching a scared dog or cat can be heartbreaking and our first reaction is to coddle them. I know from experience how difficult it is to ignore them when all you want to do is comfort them by reassuring them it’s alright. But I know the best way to help is to ignore their fear, as long as it’s not a serious or aggressive overreaction that could escalate, harming others or themselves. Be patient and stay consistent and over time, their fear will subside once they learn nothing bad happened when they were scared. A self confident dog or cat is a happy and well balanced pet.
If you have a dog who has a fear of water, Ruthie Bently recently wrote an article on how to help them overcome their fear of water.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, firm, corporation or brand names, in this blog is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. All opinions in this blog are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company.