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The Fear is Real to the Dog

When dogs exhibit fear, they can often seem silly to us. Why, for example, does my dog run out of the kitchen whenever I turn on the range fan? There are an unbelievable number of online videos depicting dogs and other animals exhibiting fear of strange things. In these videos, people intentionally frighten their dogs, one man even caused his dog to scream and urinate in fear. Most of the comments thought the gag was hilarious since the dog "wasn't hurt." Here's what most people don't understand. No matter how silly the fear may seem to us, it is very real to the dog. It doesn't matter that we know the mask we're wearing, the broom we're pushing, or the person petting our dog poses no threat. If the dog is behaving in a way that indicates fear, the dog is experiencing fear. The same fear a dog would feel if he were being attacked by a predator. When a dog perceives a threat, the sympathetic nervous system kicks into high gear, releasing out the hormones responsible for fight or flight: adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. Short term, these increase the chance of survival. Long-term or repeated releases of these hormones can lead to serious health problems. Fear CAN hurt. This process is the same for us when we hear someone break into our house in the middle of the night. Is it silly to be afraid when the burglar has no intention of causing us physical harm? No, it's not silly. We don't know their intent. All we know is that people who break into houses aren't there to serve us tea. And our brains prepare us for fight or flight. However, there is one distinct difference between us and dogs, as noted by Gavin de Becker in his book, "The Gift of Fear": “Only human beings can look directly at something, have all the information they need to make an accurate prediction....and then say that it isn't so.” Dogs can't do that. All they can do is react to what they perceive as a threat in that moment. As soon as we recognize that the fear is real to them, we can take necessary steps to help them overcome their fears, so we can give them the best quality of life possible.


Serenity Canine Behavior Ⓒ2022 Lisa Mullinax. All rights reserved.

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