Fretting pets – how to help fearful dogs

At the Modern Pet Dog seminar held on Sydney’s Northern Beaches recently, Louise Colombari, of Pitterwater Animal Hospital, spoke about the fear-free movement around dog wellbeing. She also calls it – “taking the pet out of petrified”.

Dogs feel fear the same way we do – of either a real or imagined impending danger – with faster breathing, racing heartbeat and sweating. Louise said they then do either of two things: Forget everything and run (flight) or face everything and rise (flight). She said there are a number of reasons for why dogs are fearful, including genetics or breed (passed down from the parents); lack of socialisation about life and access to new and experiences; while not common – abuse; traumatic experiences such as loud noises; learned or associative (learned from others) or pain and illness.

How to help them includes:

  • Adequate socialization – get them out doing things in the world and make the experiences positive.
  • Knowledge – about body language and know what the fear triggers for your dog are.
  • Do not punish fear. Comfort them when they are scared i.e. in storms.
  • Training – desensitize the fear but it takes time.
  • Learn to read their body language for signs of fear and unease.

Don’t fret at the vet

Speaking from lots of experience, Louise’s tips to make vet visits less scary include:

  • Plan – call ahead if you know your dog is going to have a problem, find out if the waiting room is busy or quiet
  • Play vet at home – practice handling, hopping on a table, restraining and give treats for calm!
  • Practice sit and stay – e.g. for scales.
  • Drop in and say hi and get treats, don’t just go in when the dog is sick.
  • Wait outside if they are really scared.
  • Stay calm – (the human!).
  • Bring a friend or toy if that helps them feel happy.
  • Use pheromones e.g. Adaptil collar. Spray on a scarf and put it around their neck.
  • Get the vet to recommend drugs to calm them before they visit.

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