Fear in Dogs
Fear is the instinctual feeling of apprehension caused by a situation, person or object that presents an external threat—whether it’s real or perceived.
The response of the autonomic nervous system prepares the body for the freeze, fight or flight syndrome. It is considered to be a normal behavior that is essential for adaptation and survival.
The context of the situation determines whether the fear response is normal or abnormal and inappropriate. Most abnormal reactions are learned and can be unlearned with gradual exposure (counter-conditioning).
Profound fear (also called idiopathic fear) has been noted in certain dog breeds, including the Siberian Husky, German Shorthaired Pointer, Greyhound, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Bernese Mountain Dog, and Standard Poodle, among others.
Phobias in Dogs
The persistent and excessive fear of a specific stimulus is called a phobia.
It has been suggested that once a phobic event has been experienced, any event associated with it—or even the memory of it—is sufficient enough to generate a response.
The most common phobias in dogs are associated with noises (such as thunderstorms or fireworks).
Anxiety in Dogs
Anxiety, meanwhile, is the anticipation of unknown or imagined future dangers. This results in bodily reactions (known as physiologic reactions) that are normally associated with fear.
The most common behaviors are elimination (i.e., urination and/or bowel movements), destruction and excessive vocalization (i.e., barking, crying). Pet owners may also observe excessive panting and/or pacing.
Separation anxiety is the most common specific anxiety in companion dogs. With separation anxiety, a dog that’s left alone for a period of time exhibits anxiety or excessive distress behaviors.
Clinical Signs of Dog Anxiety and Fear
The clinical signs will vary depending on the severity of the fear or anxiety that the dog is suffering from. Here are some of the most common clinical signs:
Mild fears: signs may include trembling, tail-tucking, hiding, reduced activity and passive escape behaviors
Panic: signs may include panting, pacing, active escape behavior and increased out-of-context, potentially injurious motor activity
Sympathetic autonomic nervous system activity, including diarrhea
Lesions secondary to licking and biting their own body
Tail-chasing and circling