Why Is My Dog Suddenly Scared Of Me?
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Perhaps you have just welcomed a new dog to your home and they are afraid of you. Or maybe this behavior presented itself all out of a sudden. It's clear that having a scared and unhappy dog is not ideal for anyone in the household. This is why in this article from AnimalWised, we are going to help you understand why your dog is suddenly scared of you and what you can do to help.
Why is my dog afraid?
Being afraid is an emotional response that is triggered when the animal is exposed to a threatening stimuli. This is why there may be many reasons why your dog is scared. This emotion is not in itself negative, since it involves a survival mechanism that helps avoid elements that are hostile and allows one to safely adapt to the environment.
However, what is negative for the animal and our coexistence with them, is for them to be fearful of everyday elements that in fact, do not threaten their survival. When a dog becomes frightened of an everyday element, it is very difficult for them to function properly in their environment. This causes them to be stressed and anxious. When this element is their human companion, it is particularly problematic.
First, we will explore where fear comes from. Fear is an emotion caused by the interaction between two elements:
Apart from inheriting physical characteristics from their parents, temperament is also inheritable. In fact, fear is a feature with a high possibility of being transmitted from parents to children (there's about a 50% chance).
In addition, by nature dogs can be afraid of stimuli with which they aren't familiar. This instinct, which is called neophobia, has been inherited from their wolf ancestors (or another common evolutionary link). It is a defense mechanism that allows them to protect themselves from possible dangerous stimuli when encountering something new.
This will be determined by the different elements of the environment that have interacted with the dog since they have been a puppy. In other words, socialization. This is the education received when first introduced to new people, animals and environments. It's recommended to be very careful in this part of a puppy's life as any negative experiences they encounter can affect their temperament as an adult dog.
Poor socialization will affect the future of the dog and make them more fearful of certain elements, espeically those that are unknown. It's important to note that any traumatic experiences will leave a strong imprint on the personality of the puppy when they become an adult. Therefore, it's very important to socialize them progressively and never force situations on them.
In the same way, an education based on punishment and shouting will establish a poor relationship in trust between the dog and their owner. This is because it will be based on control through fear and intimidation. This promotes an insecure character in the animal, since they need a lifestyle that provides security.
Finally, if the dog has ever experienced a negative situation associated with a certain stimulus, it is very likely that in the future this stimulus will generate a fear response when exposed to the animal. For example, if your dog was bitten by another dog, they might begin to feel unsafe in the presence of new dogs.
How you can stop your dog being scared
Here we provide advice on what you need to do to if you have observed your dog is fearful. First, you must ask yourself what stimuli is he afraid of? Analyse the situations where you observed this emotional response from your dog as this will be the key to understanding and helping them overcome it.
1. Avoid what scares them
Once you have located the element that threatens your dog, you must now try to change their routine to avoid it to the best of your abilities. For example, if your dog is now scared of other dogs, you can take them out on a walk when there are less dogs in the neighborhood or perhaps take them out in a new, more peaceful, location.
If your dog is scared of you, you can help them by giving them space and time. Do not approach them, speak in an intimidating voice around them or make sudden movements. Instead, allow them to come to you, speak in a soft voice and be careful of your movements. This way, they will understand they you are not a threat and that they are safe around you. As for their walks, perhaps you can get someone else to take them out on a walk until they learn to trust you again. Be patient with this process.
2. Expose your dog to the element progressively
Once you have the situation under control, you can now begin to slowly and progressively introduce the fearful element little by little. This methodology consists of desensitization and counter conditioning. They will slowly challenge their fears and learn that it is in fact, not a threat to them. Slowly and gradually you will introduce it back into their lives.
Desensitization consists in the progressive exposure of the dog to the stimulus generated by fear. It must always be in an intensity and duration that does not provoke fear, so that your dog gradually becomes more tolerant of that element. If your dog is scared of you, you must first give it space and time and not approach them. Later you can begin to get a little closer, allowing them to see that you are not a threat. And finally, you will pet them, go on walks with them and eventually get back to your trustworthy relationship.
3. Give them a prize
As you get closer, you must always respect your dog and their wishes. That is, if you've come a bit closer but that is intimidating them and causing fear, then you must move away. We want them to associate us with pleasant stimulus. This is what is called counter-conditioning. A great way to reward them when they approaches you is by giving them a healthy treat. Later we can also pet them if they feel comfortable with that.
The learning process for the dog to lose their fear will take time. It can last for days or even months, depending on the individual and their circumstances, such as age, breed or if they were mistreated in the past.
In that case, you may be interested in the reading our article about how to help an abused dog.
Why is my dog suddenly afraid of me?
Perhaps you and your dog have been having a good relationship but then, all out of a sudden they starting acting scared of you. They could tremble in fear, flee, hide, tug their tail behind their legs, etc. If this is the case, your dog now doesn't trust you. You will need to gain their trust back. This may be for many reasons, here are the most common:
My dog is suddenly afraid of me scolding him
In most cases the explanation is that we have reacted disproportionately in response to what the animal has done. We must understand that as humans we have a different reasoning than dogs. Therefore, something that seems justifiable to us and, in some cases, is even for their sake, they can see it as completely incoherent.
For example, we could have scolded our dog for breaking a pot, thinking that they will understand why we are so angry. However in their eyes, we are behaving aggressively without an apparent reason. This negative experience may cause them to see you as a violent or threatening figure.
My dog is suddenly afraid of me because of a bad experience
It is also possible, although less usual, that your dog has taken fear because of a confusion. That is, that he had a bad experience and related it to you. An example of this would be that he felt pain at the time that you caressed him and thought that you are the cause of that discomfort.
If this is the exact case, it's important that you go to a veterinarian who will be able to identify your dog's pain. For more information, visit our article on how to identify that your dog is in pain.
It's best to go to the vet to also rule out any physical problems. Once you are certain that is not the case, then you can consider other options and begin to gain your dog's trust again.
My dog has been afraid of me since I hit them
Training a dog can be a slow process and sometimes a bit tiresome. However, we should not, under no circumstances, hit our dog when we're training or educating them. Not only is it a cruel act, but the dog doesn't understand why you're assaulting them. They only feel that you are intimidating them and they feel scared around your presence.
Even if punishment has worked for you in the past, using physical punishment will bring negative consequences to your relationship with your dog and to their over-all well being. Your dog will relate these violent actions with you and see you as a threatening stimulus. These actions will also influence their mental well-being and their physical well-being. Every animal should feel safe in their home. Although it may be difficult, try to be more understanding and educate them using positive reinforcements.
Positive reinforcement in dogs
For all the reasons mentioned above, animal abuse is completely unjustified. Especially if we can train them with better methods, such as positive reinforcement.
A key element to improving your relationship with your dog and your co-existence is being patient and understanding. A dog will behave like a dog, simply because they are dogs. We can help the coexistence by teaching them basic commands, but we must understand that we too need to make sacrifices for the relationship to work. Positive reinforcement in dogs is not only the most sustainable and efficient but also the best for our dog's health and happiness.
My dog is afraid of me and trembles
Tremors are a physical reaction due to a stimulus that generates a very strong emotional response. In this case it would be intense fear. This emotion is associated with high stress that triggers tension in their muscles, which causes tremors. In more serious situations the dog could become completely immobile.
In these situations, we recommend you consult an ethologist. They are professionals that can analyse the situation and correctly advise you on how to improve the psychological well-being of your dog. If you want to read more, please visit our article why is my dog trembling in fear.
My dog is afraid of me and urinates
If your dog urinates when you approach them or when you pet them, they are petrified of you and is likely submission urination. This behavior is common when a dog is in front of another individual that is threatening them. This urination for dogs means they are trying to communicate that they are harmless so please, do not harm them.
Submission urination is also present in highly stressful and scary situations. For example, if you are in a very stressful situation where you do not know what to do, you are likely to perform involuntary urination due to a lack of control of your sphincters. It is not strange in this context that a dog, apart from peeing, also defecates.
For more information, you can check out this AnimalWised article on why does my dog urinate when I pet him?
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