Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The fearful dog

I bet that 99 percent of you would say that, without a doubt, you could tell if a dog is fearful.
You’d pick the little Chihuahua or Yorkie who can’t stop shaking. The big dog with the tail tucked so far under it appears to be glued to his stomach.
And you’d coo at the dogs, “It’s OK, sweetie, you little pumpkin wumpkin. You’s so sweet, it’s OK.”
Even if you didn’t know them, you’d be cooing at them, trying your human best to let them know that you are a nice person and would never hurt them. Perhaps you’d reach out to pet them and knowingly scratch under their chin, remembering that it’s not good to pet a fearful dog on top of its head.
You think you’re pretty well versed in identifying and handling a fearful dog, don’t you?
You think all that dog needs is a lot of loving and someone to protect it from all the things that make it fearful, and then, the fear will just go away.
Well, you’re wrong. The fear will not just go away.
Worse, when it comes to handling a fearful dog, you have only fraction of the knowledge you need to be both successful and, most importantly, safe.
Like human emotions, fearfulness in dogs varies greatly depending on dog’s inherent personality, early socialization and lifelong experiences, and their current environment.
It is possible to have a very fearful dog who would never bite. It is also possible to have a dog who shows very little evidence of fearfulness, but then bites out of fear once in his life. And of course, there is the fear biter — the dog who bites regularly out of fear.
The telltale signs of fear also vary greatly. Generally, all dogs will use the same signals, but they will use them differently depending on the situation and depending on the dog.
Fear can be a hard one to figure out. Often, by the time a human realizes a dog is fearful, the signals emitted by the dog are so extreme they simply cannot be missed.
But, by the time the dog has taken his signals to such an extreme, the situation has become dangerous.
The biggest mistake humans make is thinking that a fearful dog is like a fearful person, that a little coddling and comforting can make it all better.
Most people never realize that in dogs, fear often drives aggression.
And just the opposite scenario is also often overlooked — most people never realize that much of an aggressive dog’s behaviors are driven by fear.
We just don’t usually make the link between fear and aggression.
This is unfortunate.
Being the owner of a fearful dog, I could ramble on forever about fear. I will try not to do that. Keep reading and I’ll try to shed some light on this subject, without overdoing it, I hope!

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