How to Manage Fearfulness in Puppies

Wednesday, October 31, 2012



Bringing a new puppy into your household is an amazing experience you will likely remember for the rest of your life. In order to share many years of pleasure and fun with your dog, it is imperative that you properly socialize your new puppy. If the newest addition to your family suffers from shyness or is easily frightened by everyday occurrences, learning how to manage fearfulness in puppies is an important step to take in raising a well-adjusted dog.

Causes and signs of fearfulness in puppies

Puppies can be fearful of loud noises, other animals, groups of people and new places. As a pet owner, it is your responsibility to get your new puppy accustomed to the presence of different people, noises and situations. Although a good breeder should start the process with your puppy at a very young age by introducing it to random objects and sounds, it is up to you to continue this socialization in order to ensure your puppy is well adjusted.

A puppy is most likely to be fearful of a noise or object he has never seen before or has had a negative experience with. Strange objects such as umbrellas can be frightening for young dogs as well as sounds, including thunder, slamming doors and honking horns. Figuring out exactly what your puppy is afraid of is the first step to determining how to manage fearfulness in puppies.

If your puppy is fearful of a person, place, object or situation, you will undoubtedly be able to tell by its body language. Fearful dogs tend to be very shy, withdrawn and hesitant when approaching things they are unfamiliar with. Signs of a fearful puppy include crouching low to the floor, hiding behind furniture, tucking its tail between its legs, laying its ears flat back on its head, or even growling or snarling.

How to manage fearfulness in puppies

Although helping your puppy to overcome this behavior can seem daunting, using careful and gentle training and socialization techniques can alter the response it has to fearful situations and help it become better adjusted.

If your new puppy is afraid of going to a particular location – such as the veterinarian or a pet store – it’s important to make him associate the trip with a positive experience. This can be achieved by providing treats along the way, during the time spent at the place he fears and after the visit is over. Over time, your dog will begin to realize that a ride in the car or a trip to a feared location results in treats he enjoys and a healthy dose of praise for good behavior.

If your pet has a fear of noises – such as thunder, firecrackers, loud music, sirens or construction sounds – a great method for how to manage fearfulness in puppies is to distract it from the fear and get its mind off the upsetting sound. Turn on soothing music or a television to provide just the right amount of noise to block out the sounds the puppy is afraid of. Playing fetch or tug-of-war can distract the dog temporarily and reassociate the sounds with a positive playtime experience.

If distracting your puppy during storms or other frightening experiences that last a long time doesn’t work, creating a safe place can help to reduce stress and fear-related issues. A dog crate with a soft bed and favorite toy can be a great escape for a fearful puppy that suffers from a phobia of noises. Encourage the pup to go to this safe place whenever frightening noises occur.

For most puppies, hearing sounds or encountering objects again and again that are initially frightening will desensitize them over time. If you have tried a variety of techniques to manage fearfulness in puppies and aren’t seeing any improvement, consult a professional dog trainer or ask your veterinarian about alternative therapies, such as medication to help your puppy cope with frightening situations.

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