Common Phobias and Fears in Dogs

Updated on: May 11, 2022
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Common Phobias and Fears in Dogs

Dogs’ bravery and selflessness are some of the many virtues that have made them man’s best friends. Yet, dogs can be fearful at times, both for good reasons and for some comically pointless reasons. So, let’s examine all of them by going over the 8 common phobias and fears dogs can have.

1. Thunder, fireworks, and other loud noises

Many dogs have fear of fireworks and thunderstorms. The former is very noticeable around New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July. This phobia is why many animal lovers view fireworks as borderline animal abuse on a mass scale – especially as far as stray animals are concerned.

The cause behind this fear is quite obvious. Fireworks, thunderstorms, and other loud noises such as construction work, low-flying planes, and others, are just exceptionally loud – more so than anything else canines are used to hearing both at home and in nature. The problem becomes especially evident when you consider the fact that dogs have four times stronger hearing than humans and also catch much higher frequencies.

Fortunately, this fear is both preventable and manageable. With fireworks, in particular, the way to avoid a phobia is to get your dog used to the sound and to add positive associations with it. Going for a park day and lots of playtime with treats on the fourth of July is a good way to do that. Managing the fear of thunderstorms is trickier but you can always just make sure that your dog is comfortable and feels safe at home while the storm passes.

2. Separation anxiety or fear of abandonment

The infamous separation anxiety is a problem that plagues a lot of dog breeds. It’s a complex problem with some of its aspects being associated with fear, and others – with loneliness, boredom, and depression. A big part of the problem is indeed the fear of abandonment, however.

What exactly is separation anxiety? It’s the fear and anxiety your dog experiences whenever it’s left home alone for an extended period of time. Because dogs don’t have the same concept of time as us, they often feel terrified when we leave as they don’t know when and if we’ll return. This is especially common in the more social and intelligent breeds.

Even when your dog has started to remember your schedule, however, and knows around what time you come home, the separation anxiety persists. Many such dogs just remain afraid to be left alone. The problem becomes even more pronounced when the dog hasn’t gotten enough exercise, playtime, and social interactions prior to being left alone which is often the case for people who leave for work early in the morning.

So, what can you do? There are actually quite a few things that can mitigate the issue. Here are a few examples:

  • Rearrange your schedule so that there’s always a family member home with your pooch.
  • Take your dog with you when possible.
  • Hire a dog sitter or a dog walker.
  • Arrange playdates with other dog owners when you’re away.
  • Give your dog plenty of playtime and exercise before leaving for work – a tired dog is a calm dog.
  • Get lots of fun, interactive, and new dog toys for your pooch to play with alone.
  • Install some pet gates to restrict certain areas of the house as dogs with separation anxiety can develop destructive tendencies. Do NOT close your dog in a single room, however, as that will make your dog feel punished which will only worsen the problem.
  • Get a second dog to keep your pet company.

Or, simply get a dog from a breed that doesn’t experience separation anxiety as often. Such breeds are usually more independent and less social. In a word – they are more catlike.

3. Fear of travel

Many dogs love riding in our cars and smiling happily through the window. Some dogs are positively terrified of getting in a moving vehicle, however. There are a few possible causes for this fear. Most of the time, it’s just due to a lack of early exposure – if your dog is already a couple or a few years old and is just now getting a car for the first time, the experience will be completely new, outlandish, and horrifying for the canine.

The solution is to get your dog used to the car as early as possible. If you’ve missed that chance, however, the other trick is to first start playing with your dog in the stationary car once a day for a few days. Once your pet starts viewing the vehicle as a fun and safe place to be in, start slowly and gently moving the car.

Other possible reasons for fear of travel include past trauma such as being beaten and/or left in the car, being sick in it, being driven to be left in the shelter or to be thrown on the streets away from home, being frequently driven to the vet as a pup, and so on. Or, maybe your dog just gets carsick.

4. Fear of specific household objects

Similarly, you can find that some dogs are afraid of basic household objects, usually ones that make loud noises. The vacuum cleaner is the most classic example. Most of the time, the cause is simple – it’s loud and it looks scary, therefore your dog immediately hates it. Sometimes there can also be past trauma involved if a previous owner has tormented the dog by “playing” with the vacuum.

As with most things, the solution is usually positive exposure therapy. If you vacuum often enough and if you offer your dog plenty of petting and treats while doing so, chances are that your pooch will grow to love the vacuum or the other loud household items pretty quickly.

Or, you can always just wait for your partner to get the dog out for a walk and vacuum while they are away.

5. Being terrified of going to the vet

This is a perfectly understandable fear from a human’s point of view. We too are often terrified of going to the doctor, especially when we know that some sort of physical intervention will have to be performed such as giving blood, dental work, and so on.

So, we can hardly blame our dogs when they are afraid of going to the vet. Additionally, a lot of dogs have extra bad memories from their puppy years if they’ve had to go to multiple vet visits in rapid succession and/or go through some nasty procedures while at the vet.

6. Fear of people and strangers

This fear is very normal for a lot of dogs, particularly ones from the more indoorsy breeds or just dogs that haven’t experienced enough socialization growing up. That’s why we are constantly telling people how crucial it is to start socializing their pets as soon as they bring them home.

This is especially true for the larger and stronger breeds with guard dog temperaments as they can become outright aggressive toward strangers out of fear. Most other breeds go the opposite direction and become withdrawn and passive when new people are around.

To avoid both issues, simply make sure that you’ve given your pup plenty of social contact with various people and other animals early on. Accompany this social contact with treats, praise, petting, and playtime so that your dog starts associating other people with positive experiences.

7. Water and swimming phobia

Unlike cats, most dogs love swimming and playing in the water. There are even “water dog” breeds such as many most Retrievers, Poodles, Newfoundlands, and others.

Still, some dogs are notoriously terrified of being in the water – either for a swim or for a bath. The reason is simple and is one we already mentioned above - lack of exposure. Another common reason is past trauma. So, if your dog has never been given a bath or has never gone for a swim, it’s perfectly normal for it to be afraid at first. Alternatively, if a previous owner was too forceful and abusive while trying to bathe the pup, fear is also to be expected.

The way to deal with water phobia is to approach the whole thing slowly, gently, and with lots of positivity. If you want to bathe your dog, for example, start by filling the bathtub no more than an inch at first. Then, gently place your dog in while playing with it, giving treats, petting, and so on. Do NOT use running water as the noise of it can be scary in and of itself. Once your dog gets used to inch-deep water, make the next bath two inches deep. For swimming, simply start by playing with your dog on the bank of the river or on the beach.

8. Fear of children

Fear of children is similar to fear of people but with a few small and key differences. For one, children are very loud – much more so than grown-ups most of the time. Children also often torment dogs physically by pulling their ears and tails – something grown-ups usually know not to do. Additionally, many dogs are afraid not to get scolded when playing with children because they’ve had this happen before.

To fix this, you simply need to help your dog have nice experiences around children until it starts feeling comfortable with them.

Looking at all the entries on this list, it can seem like dogs are as cowardly as rabbits. That’s not at all the case, of course - most dogs won’t have any of these phobias or will exhibit one of them at most. And, more importantly, if you raise, socialize, and train your dog properly you should be able to avoid all of the above phobias with little issue.