Making Scary Things Less Scary
Our dogs—much like us—come from a variety of backgrounds, breeding, and genetics.
Because of that, they’ll have a range of likes and dislikes, anxieties and habits.
Some dogs hate thunder, others hardly notice it. And then the dogs who are OK with thunder might just about hate the vacuum cleaner. Some fears are worse than others and for more serious issues, you’ll want to consult a trainer or other behavior expert. But for those less intense anxieties, here are a few ways to make them less scary:
If you live in an area that gets a lot of stormy weather, you may have experienced your dog expressing some anxiety over thunder. If your dog responds well to music, try playing something soothing. You may also want to invest in a compression device like the ThunderShirt, which operates under the concept that applying gentle pressure on certain areas of your dog’s body will result in a calming effect. You’ll want to practice your dog wearing the shirt incrementally until he’s comfortable with it before the next thunderstorm.
While we really can’t control thunder, we can control how we vacuum. Instead of abruptly starting up the vacuum near your dog while he’s dozing off and startling him, try turning the vacuum into something fun and interesting. Introduce your dog to a noiseless, still vacuum with a happy tone in your voice and some treats on hand. If your dog looks at the vacuum, give him a treat. If he sniffs it, give him a treat. Keep giving your dog treats for being around the silent vacuum until he’s comfortable and relaxed. It may take a few days. When he’s ready, turn on the vacuum for a very brief moment and give him a treat and praise him. In this way, you can stretch out the time he’s comfortable with the vacuum. Just keep giving treats and praising. If he gets startled at any point, don’t push it. Give him a break and try again later.
Treats and enthusiasm can go a long way in making something new a positive experience rather than a negative one. Some dogs can react to new things in their environment with some trepidation (my dog has actually barked at garbage on the street and at graffiti). One technique that can work is “Look at That,” which can help your dog keep focus on you rather than the potentially anxiety-inducing object, person, or dog.
Whether it’s a loud noise or strange object, you want to make sure never to force your dog to whatever is causing the anxiety. You can only make the anxiety worse by doing this. The goal is to keep things calm and positive, which is why treats can be of great help. And keep your dog’s distance from whatever is causing the stress.
Pay Attention to Cues
There are several ways your dog can show stress, including excessive yawning, excessive sniffing, whining, and barking. Look out for these types of reactions to become more aware of any anxieties.
Calm Your Own Fears
Many times our reaction to something can set the tone for our dog’s reaction. So if you are feeling anxious in a particular situation, it may exacerbate your dog’s anxieties. Try and work through your own concerns in order to help your dog deal with his.
Remember, if your dog has deep or more intense anxieties, you’ll want to seek the advice of a professional.