What Not to Do When You Have a Fearful Dog

By Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A portion of this post is sponsored, but opinions are my own and 110% “pawthentic”! 

Before I adopted my heart-dog, Buck, I didn’t give much thought to anxiety, stress or fear in dogs. Sure, I’d been around pups (including some of my own) who startled at sounds or seemed nervous about certain things. But from what I’d observed, these episodes quickly passed and were nothing to be overly concerned about.

Dog mood quote

Then Buck came into our lives and I learned firsthand how challenging, heartbreaking and even life-altering it can be to love a fearful or anxious dog. As a devoted pet parent, all you want to do is to ease your pet’s suffering, and you’ll try just about anything to make that happen.

And I do mean anything!

My husband and I tried so many things and made so many mistakes with Buck. And I know we’re not alone. I hope by sharing our experiences and what not to do, it might help someone out there who’s dealing with their own fearful, stressed or anxious pup.

Buck had severe separation anxiety. So if he thought we were getting ready to leave the house, he began stalking us everywhere, staying underfoot, watching every move we made like a hawk! Needless to say, this created anxiety for my husband and me as well!

We tried “acting” like we were staying home. We’d wait until he fell asleep, then sneak out of a back door–the only door in the house that didn’t make noise. Heck, one time, we even put my truck in neutral and pushed it out of the driveway to the street so we wouldn’t have to start it and wake Buck up!

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Buck’s anxiety was hazardous to our house!

And that’s not all. For three years, my husband and I never traveled together, so one of us could stay home with Buck.

In addition to separation anxiety, Buck also had storm anxiety. If I had a business call to make during a storm, I’d bring Buck to the truck with me, put him in the backseat and start the engine so we’d have air-conditioning. For up to an hour at a time, I’d conduct business while sitting in my driveway with my dog – because it was the only place he was calm during a storm.

These examples are just a few of the countless ways we altered our lives significantly to minimize Buck’s stress. Some people might think the lengths we went to are, well, a little crazy. And looking back, maybe it was. But he was a part of our family, our lives and our hearts. We couldn’t give up on him.

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Buck in a tranquil moment.

However, I know now that working around your pet’s bouts with anxiety, instead of getting to the bottom of the problem and finding a real solution, only creates more stress for everyone. Fear and anxiety aren’t behavioral issues. They’re actually brought about by a neuro-chemical reaction in your dog’s brain. Left untreated, things often get worse.

If you find yourself making adjustments to the way you live your life in order to accommodate your pet’s anxiety, it’s time to seek a professional veterinary opinion. They can help you get to the root of the problem and recommend a variety of treatment and training options to help your pet cope.

As you’re speaking with your vet, ask about traditional therapies as well as new breakthroughs like the Calmz Anxiety Relief System. Calmz is an all-natural therapy which uses a combination of music, tones, and vibration therapy on acupressure points to calm your dog. It’s non-invasive and several leading vet behaviorists have tested on their patients with positive results.

I personally use it with my dog Chilly, who has thunderstorm phobia and generalized anxiety, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. We use it during storms, at the vet and in other situations that might make Chilly anxious. Using it in combination with behavior modification training, both he and I feel a lot more confident in handling things that used to make both of us nervous!

Your turn: Have you ever had an anxious or fearful dog? What “crazy” things have you done to try to help them? Share in the comments below!

This is a sponsored post. However, all opinions and anecdotes are my own, and I never promote any products or brands I don’t believe in. ~Petfully yours, Kristen

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  • Thanks so much for this post, Kristen! My dog is very anxious in general and Prozac has been helpful, but Calmz sounds like a good solution for super-stressful moments like meeting other dogs on a walk. He’s a mess! 🙂

  • Nickie Austin

    This is Max and Timmy. They are our rescues and they are best friends. Timmy is a happy-go-lucky, obedient, smart, and submissive boy. He is often frightened by loud noises. Thunderstorms don’t bother him but if I get out the vacuum… he runs for cover. Max came to us a VERY frightened and skittish boy. He had spent over 6 months in the shelter and though he was well cared for, he had been treated for injuries and kennel stress over his long stay. We had no idea what his life had been before the shelter. He got along SO WELL with other dogs and, as you can see, he and Timmy even cuddle like they were litter mates.
    We had no idea what Max’s phobia was until one night while at Petco for one of our obedience class sessions. I was walking Max down an aisle practicing, when a family with 2 small boys (maybe 5 and 3) came up the other end of our aisle. The little boys squealed in delight at seeing a “puppy” and Max hit the floor desperately trying to squeeze his body under the shelf for protection.
    I held my had up to the two boys and they immediately stopped. I sat down on the floor with Max and he stuck his entire head under my leg. (if I can’t see them, they can’t see me mentality) Max was terrified of children! We don’t have kids so we never knew. It has been something we have worked on over the last 2 years. When we would have a family over with children we always have to caution them. Though Max is typically a flight not fight dog, If he is cornered by a child, he has nipped out in defense. (thankfully it was my niece and she was not harmed)
    We have worked gradually to introduce children into his life, Inviting teens from our youth group over, then my “tween” niece and nephew”, and then even some of our 6&7 year old nieces and nephews. Max is very standoffish at first but if I sit next to the child he will come up to them slowly and most times he will accept the child and allow them to pet him. He even formed an attachment with our 8 year old niece and would cuddle with her on the couch without me near.
    I am so glad that we found Max! He is the sweetest and most affectionate little boy. He needed a family that had no kids and that would have the patience to work with him. I would encourage any family that has a dog with a phobia to slowly and patiently work with them understanding that old fears will never fully go away. One thing we learned about Max is that he has NO FEAR of the water! He is our champion swimmer! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6a30d3728a3d66c38bae5aaa5b75694bd46a3a5d22312298aa912036e1562d18.jpg

    • Kristen Levine

      Nikkie, thank you so much for sharing your story about Max’s fear! People don’t realize that fear, stress and anxiety in pets is just as distressing to them as it is to us. Then, add that they can’t tell us what they are afraid of, and you have a real problem! I applaud you for taking the time to figure out his fear and working with him and children to over come the anxiety. Max is a lucky boy!!! And I love this photo:) I truly appreciate your comments. Canine anxiety is a big topic of passion for me. I want to help others understand how serious it can be, and to help them find help for their pets.

      • Nickie Austin

        I agree. It breaks my heart to see people adopt a shelter dog and expect them to be happy go luck pups right away. Shelter dogs can come with some serious baggage and most of it in the form of fear and anxiety. People need to understand that lots patience and understanding are needed. DON’T GIVE UP on them!! If you will take the time to stick it out, you will have one of the most affectionate, grateful, loyal, best friends you could ever dream of! I truly think that shelter dogs respond to their owners in a way that “purchased” dogs never do. (I’ve owned both) Shelter dogs have experienced true fear, neglect, loss, and abandonment. When they find a loving and patient home, THEY KNOW how lucky they are. It’s a powerful bond forged out of pure gratitude!

        • Kristen Levine

          So true. When you adopt, you need to establish a new routine for your shelter dog. Lots of love, understanding and patience will help make the best dog ever!