If you have a shy or naturally fearful dog, I have some good news: the condition is now easier to manage.
Just like humans, animals vary dramatically in how they relate to new experiences and to one another. Some are social butterflies, while others prefer to view the world from under the bed. Fortunately, there are ways to help your dog manage the fear. I’ve been watching and trying out the new advances in the pet product industry. The good news is there are plenty of options to help these naturally fearful dogs; the bad news is it will take some time for you to find the solution that works best for your dog.
There are some who believe that interacting with their dog can a) result in decreased stress levels or b) result in increased stress levels, or worse, reinforce the behavior. In 2005, scientists decided to find out. They discovered that interaction with the owner (positive or negative) did nothing to either increase or decrease a dog’s cortisol levels (cortisol is an indicator of chronic stress). What did lower the cortisol level was the presence of other dogs.¹ ²
The most powerful thing you can do as a new puppy owner is to socialize your canine. The more experiences a dog has, the more comfortable he becomes in dealing with change; the more he learns to trust you and the less fearful he will be. Even if you have an older dog who is fearful, it’s still not too late.
Begin the new experiences early and in baby steps. For instance, if your dog is fearful of people, begin by inviting a friend over for an afternoon. Choose a room to spend the time in, for instance a family room or den, and bring your dog in with the two of you. Instruct your friend to ignore your dog completely and allow him to approach on his own timeline.
Dogs don’t like uncertainty any more than you or I do. We want to know that things will work out and while we do seek out new opportunities, we enter those with the certainty that all will be well because we understand out to deal with nearly any situation. This same certainty should be given to your dog. Training helps your dog understand that whatever new opportunity presents itself, he will be safe. Training also helps give your dog a chance to focus on a task, which helps him navigate the challenge.
No matter how much training and socialization your dog receives, there are some animals that are just more easily frightened than others. The following are tips that could help your pets adjust to noise, new people and new challenges.
By planning ahead, you may be able to reduce your dog’s anxiety. From calming coats such as the Thundershirt (which use natural pressure points to relieve stress) to pheromone therapy from Adaptil in the form of sprays, collars and diffusers (which uses natural pheromones to help calm dogs), there is indeed a solution for every pet.
While music has charms to sooth the savage breast, specific types might also help soothe canines even more effectively. Pet Acoustics has created a playlist that has been tested on stressed out dogs. It has placed the music on a Bluetooth speaker and all you need to do is plug and play when you’re away from home.
Herbal and Other Natural Remedies
A few studies indicate that some herbal remedies, such as lavender aromatherapy, might be effective in helping minimize stress and alleviate fear in dogs.³ Aromatherapy products, such as Canine Calm from Earth Heart, also appear to be effective in helping minimize stress and alleviate fear in dogs, based on anecdotal evidence. Other products combine herbs and other ingredients in supplement form. Licks Zen, for example, uses chamomile, tryptophan, L-theanine, eleuthero toot and ashwagandha root, while Pet Naturals of Vermont’s Calming chews uses colostrum calming complex, L theanine, and thiamine to help relax pets
With just a little research, you can find a solution that will help calm your fearful, shy or scared dog.
1 Nancy Dreschel, DVM, & Douglas Granger, PhD. 2005. “Physiological and behavioral reactivity to stress in thunderstorm-phobic dogs and their caregivers,” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 95:153–168.
2 J.S.J. Odendaal & R.A. Meintjes. 2003. “Neurophysiological correlates of affiliative behaviour between humans and dogs.” The Veterinary Journal 165:296-301.
3 Migiwa Komiya, DVM; Akihiko Sugiyama, DVM, PhD; Kazuko Tanabe, DVM; Tomiya Uchino, DVM, PhD; Takashi Takeuchi, DVM, PhD. (2009) Evaluation of the effect of topical application of lavender oil on autonomic nerve activity in dogs. American Journal of Veterinary Research 70:6, 764-769
About the Author: Stacy Mantle is a fulltime freelance writer, bestselling author and founder of PetsWeekly.com. She resides in the deserts of the Southwest with a few dogs, several cats and a very understanding husband.