When my friend Neila goes to the grocery store, and she has to answer the question, “Paper or plastic?” her response is invariably “Plastic.” Why is that?
It’s because her Rottweiler, Dallas, is absolutely terrified of paper bags. Neila has no idea why Dallas finds paper bags so threatening – to the best of her knowledge, he’s never been attacked by one. Dallas, however, is firmly convinced that paper bags have malevolent intentions, and that they want to cause him grave bodily harm, and possibly even kill him.
Since Neila can’t figure out what is causing Dallas’s fear of paper bags, and since paper bags are not essential in her household, she simply goes with the plastic.
Some Fears are Odd; Others Not So Much
So, what are dogs scared of, and more importantly, what inspires the fear?
Really, a dog can be afraid of almost anything, and sometimes there’s no real explanation. Of course, a dog that’s afraid of umbrellas might have been hit with one. A dog that’s afraid of mannequins in store windows might be afraid because they sort of look like people, but they still don’t really look like people are supposed to!
Some dogs are afraid of their own farts, and honestly, I can’t come up with any explanation for that.
Simply stated, a dog can be afraid of just about anything. The cause might be hard to identify; it could be due to improper socialization, a bad experience, or even genetics. A frightened dog might tremble, cower, bark, drool, engage in destructive behavior, and sometimes even become aggressive.
The following are some of the most common things that fall under the category of what dogs are afraid of.
This list is by no means all-inclusive, but it does cover some of the more common dog fears and phobias.
I’m not crazy about thunder myself, mainly because it’s accompanied by lightning, and my little house is fairly high up. With dogs, though, the fear is simply due to the noise. If the fear is just mild, the dog might tremble a bit, tuck his tail under or flatten his ears. If he’s well and truly terrified, though, he might lose control of his bladder and/or bowels, and could also become destructive.
The very best thing you can do if your dog is afraid of thunder is not react to it yourself. If you’re calm in the face of a thunderstorm, your dog will likely pick up on your emotions and also relax.
That said, I know that you can’t always keep your anxiety under control, so if your dog is also nervous in thunderstorms, you might consider getting him a thunder shirt or anxiety wrap. You can buy them for as little as $20, and it’s a small price to pay for your dog’s emotional wellbeing.
I really hate it when, following the Fourth of July or New Year’s Eve, I see all kinds of Facebook posts and all kinds of “lost pet” ads in the local newspaper that begin with “Dog ran off during fireworks.”
I mean, come on, people! The loud sounds and flashing light displays can be terrifying to dogs. Don’t ever take your dog to a fireworks display if he’s not on leash; don’t let him out in the yard if fireworks are going off nearby, and please, please, just use a little common sense!
Some dogs can be desensitized to fireworks, but why would you want to put your dog in a position where he’s going to be terrified in the first place?
3. Being Left Alone
Fear of being left alone is fairly common, and it’s a topic that I’ve talked about in Mommy, Don’t Leave Me! Dealing with Separation Anxiety in Dogs and also in 7 Myths About Separation Anxiety. Dogs that have separation anxiety can become destructive, and also might bark excessively and forget their house training when you leave the home.
To ease separation anxiety, first of all, don’t make a big deal out of the fact that you’re leaving and coming home. If your dog is extremely anxious, you might also try leaving for just a minute, and then coming back; this reassures your dog that your leaving is never going to be permanent. You might have to do this over and over before he gets over the anxiety. For more tips and techniques, check out the two posts I’ve just referenced.
4. The Veterinarian
When dog owners are wondering, “What are dogs scared of?”, the veterinarian is likely to be pretty high up on the list. This isn’t all that unusual. After all, the animal hospital is just full of new, unusual smells, other animals and unfamiliar people. Also, the dog is being handled by a lot of different people, and sometimes there are needles! And rectal thermometers! Why wouldn’t a dog be afraid?
5. Riding in the Car
Most dogs love going for drives, but you’d be surprised at how many fear it. Most of the time, this is because the dog hasn’t been taken for all that many drives during his formative months. Maybe he got carsick on the first trip, or maybe his first car ride was a trip to an animal shelter, where he was left in the company of strange people and unfamiliar dogs and was left wondering why he wasn’t wanted any longer. Or worse, maybe he was just dumped at roadside and wondering the same thing.
If your dog is afraid to ride in the car, it’s a fear you can overcome. Start by luring him into the car using a treat, and then going for a quick ride around the block. Then it’s more treats, longer rides, still more treats and even longer rides. Eventually, you’ll be able to cross fear of riding in the car off your own personal “what are dogs scared of” list.
When Leroy was just a puppy, he fell going up the stairs, and for some time afterward, stairs were number one on his “what are dogs afraid of” list. The way I handled it was by making a game out of it. I put Janice outside so she wouldn’t interfere, and then I gave Leroy some treats, gradually leading him toward the stairs. Then, I put treats on the stairs, all the way from the bottom to the top, and once he made his way up to the second story, I reversed the procedure. I coaxed him onto the first step with treats, and then put treats all the way down the stairs.
I have to tell you, I was so proud of Leroy once he overcame his fear of stairs! He even spent the better part of the afternoon running up and down the stairs, with a big Boxer smile on his face. His expression clearly said, “Look at me – I can do this now!”
Dogs (and puppies especially) are often afraid of men. Sometimes, there’s an obvious cause: the dog has come into a shelter, having been rescued from a household where there was an abusive man. Other times, it’s simply that men are big, and they usually have deep voices.
If this sounds like your dog, then you’ll have to work on desensitizing him. Ask the men in your life to speak softly, and get down on the dog’s level by crouching down so that they don’t look quite so big.
Remember, too, that treats can go a long way toward buying a dog’s goodwill. A quiet man who’s willing to get down on the dog’s level and offer some goodies can go a long way to helping overcome this particular fear.
This is very much like a fear of men, and is best handled in the same way. Tread carefully, though; forcing your dog to accept strangers could lead to aggression.
I’ve never been around children all that much, mainly because I don’t particularly care for them. The exception is my nephew, Owen, whom I tolerate.
Before Janice and Leroy, I had a Boxer named Gloria. She was never around children, and I made the mistake of not introducing her to kids. The upshot was that the first time she came into contact with Owen, she bared her teeth at him. My sister, Colleen (Owen’s mom), told me to, “Get that animal away from him!”
Well, I could see her point. She thought that Owen was in danger, and she reacted the way you’d expect any protective mother to react.
Gloria’s perspective was, I think, something along the lines of, “I’ve never seen anything like this before – it’s too short, and too chubby, and I’m not sure what it is!” I had to work on it a bit, and had to do a lot of talking Colleen around, but eventually, Gloria and Owen became friends.
I think that a lot of the time, when kids make the list of “what are dogs scared of,” it’s simply lack of familiarity. Other times, it’s that kids aren’t always that good with dogs. They pull on ears and tails, and sometimes offer unwanted, vigorous hugs. No wonder the dog is scared.
Even when the kids are being pretty good, squealing and running can agitate a dog.
Most of the time, if they’re exposed to kids, dogs will lose their fear. If you have a dog who genuinely dislikes children, though (and there are a few), it’s best simply to keep the dog away from kids. I know a woman who had an English Mastiff that she adopted from another woman who said the dog was a menace around her children. My friend’s response was, “He doesn’t like kids? No problem; I don’t like them either. I’ll take him.”
That dog lived a long, happy life, and never had to deal with children.
I’ve already told you about Dallas and his fear of paper bags. Other dogs can fear objects that seem perfectly innocuous to us, and sometimes there’s no way of identifying the cause. Vacuum cleaners are a common fear, and it makes sense, because a vacuum cleaner makes a lot of noise. But why would a dog be afraid of the Christmas tree angel, a wire whisk, a certain rock in the driveway, a teddy bear, a dustpan, a particular plant, a certain color of tea towel, etc?
Lest you think I’m just throwing stuff out here, let me assure you, I’m not. These are all items that various dog owners have told me top the list of what their dogs are afraid of.
I have no idea why dogs fear certain objects, but sometimes they do.
What Is Your Dog Afraid Of?
It seems as though whenever I think I have a comprehensive list that I can entitle “What are Dogs Afraid Of?” someone else comes out of the woodwork with something I’d never have considered.
Of course, I’d never belittle a dog’s fears. I want dogs to perceive the world as a happy collection of rainbows, cuddles, joy, sunshine, and love. It hurts my heart when dog are afraid.
I think, though, that your dog should be exposed, in a gentle, loving, supportive environment, to whatever is frightening him. Don’t force your dog to confront whatever is causing him to be afraid, but if you can work through it with love, treats, and positive reinforcement, please do. No dog should have to be afraid of anything.
Except maybe paper bags. They’re evil!
What does your dog fear? Leave a comment below.