Phobias are exacerbated fears: panic during thunderstorms or fireworks, fear of men, children, other dogs, etc. Dog social anxiety is a form of phobia so we need to understand what a phobia really is, how it appears and why and finally what can be done to take care of it.
What is a phobia in Dogs?
A phobia is a disproportionate fear reaction to a stimulus from the normal environment. Fear is a normal reaction, it allows the dog to protect itself, it is limited in time. Phobia is an amplified reaction that blocks all learning.
The most frequent phobias are social phobias and can be related to humans (and of certain humans in particular: children, men, etc.) or to other dogs.
There are also specific phobias: the phobia of noises (gunshots, firecrackers, thunder …), even more specific phobias like a phobia of motorcycles, birds, manhole covers, kites, etc …
Phobia can have 2 different stages:
- simple phobia (stage 1) is directed towards a specific element or person
- complex phobia (stage 2) is generalized towards all the elements relating to the initial element of the phobia and can give rise to constant generalized anxiety and anticipation reactions: for example for a thunder phobia, the dog also fears excessive wind, rain, darkening of the sky, or for a phobia of the car, the dog is afraid as soon as the owner prepares his luggage.
How to recognize the Dog Social Anxiety signs
The dog produces adrenaline when it is afraid, its heart accelerates, its breathing too, it gasps, its pupils are dilated, it trembles. In stage 2 phobias he can drool enormously, vomit, present diarrhea …
In general the dog will remain either immobile (impossible to move him down the street if he has a social phobia for example), or he will try to flee, it is avoidance, or he will show aggression.
A phobia can easily lead to aggression. In fact, the dog by “aggressing” makes the stimulus flee when it is a living being, thus this creates a positive reinforcement and the risk is the automation of these aggressions. The dog may choose to warn first by growling, threateningly barking, but it can also attack without warning (during automation). It is very important to take this risk into account, especially in the case of a social phobia (phobia of children for example) because a drama quickly happened.
How does a phobia appear in dogs?
Poor development conditions can give rise to phobias: if the animal has not been in contact with different stimuli during the socialization period (before the age of 3 months), it will be definitively fearful of these stimuli.
We talk about awareness: the animal reacts more and more to a stimulus instead of getting used to it as it should normally. Development conditions that are too poor (no outdoor outings, little human contact, etc.) can therefore predispose to multiple phobias. We are talking about deprivation syndrome.
This is why it is increasingly recommended to encourage outings outside even before the end of vaccinations.
Some phobias are said to be “post-traumatic” and result from a significant event, for example the phobia of the veterinarian, the phobia of the car after an accident, etc.
Did you know ?
A phobia in dogs can be made worse by your own. For example if your dog is afraid of the storm, if you fear the storm yourself, the phobia can be aggravated and the treatment complicated. The treatment can also be compromised by your habits: for example, a dog suffering from social phobia will not be able to heal if you only like to take it out in the morning very early or in the evening very late when the streets are empty and quiet.
Finally, phobias are a vicious circle: a simple phobia which becomes complex, causes a generalized anxiety state in the dog. And an anxious dog can quickly declare other phobias towards even insignificant stimuli (birds, lampposts, etc.).
It is very important never to consider a phobia lightly because the disproportionate and uncontrollable reactions of the dog present a danger for him and for those around him (dog which jumps out of the window during thunderstorms, which escapes by running in the street in the middle of cars, which attacks without warning a man, etc.).
The intervention of a veterinarian is necessary because it must first of all verify that no medical problem favoring explains the avoidances (such as for example a painful otitis which makes the dog fear that a human touches him), and that no hormonal disorder modifies the dog’s social behavior.
Then a precise diagnosis of the psychiatric condition is essential to adapt the treatment and the advice and it is also necessary that the veterinarian makes sure that the dog can support the treatment (the choice of the molecule can vary according to age and condition dog).
Treatment for Dog Social Anxiety
The medical treatment makes it possible to break the vicious circle which makes that the animal always reacts in the same way, it makes it possible to restore a normal functioning of the ways of the brain and thus to prepare the ground for the behavioral therapy which is essential and to facilitate that -this.
The most used behavioral therapy is that of controlled immersion: we place the dog in front of the stimulus of moderate intensity until he gets used to it: for example we make him listen regularly to a thunderstorm sound with a low volume at the start and getting stronger. The dog being under medication, this will allow the reactions to be controllable and they should be less and less important.
We can also practice what is called counter-conditioning: we place the dog in a very pleasant, reassuring and motivating situation for him, for example we play with him with a toy that he particularly likes and then we put it in presence of the object of his phobia while continuing to play and reward normal behavior. We then create a new association: the object of the phobia is associated with something pleasant (game, reward …).
Exposure to the stimulus is essential for healing: if the animal is only treated with medication, upon stopping treatment it will regain all of its phobia.
It can be interesting to call on a dog trainer for this behavioral therapy. In all cases when your dog has a panic attack related to a phobia, these are the recommended actions:
- avoid reassuring him because it reinforces the behavior, the message he receives is “it’s good you are right to be afraid”.
- ignore his behavior or try to divert his attention with a game
- if the object of the phobia can be anticipated: for example fireworks on July 14: lock your dog in the most isolated room possible in a reassuring environment (basket, toys).