Cause Of Fearfulness In Dogs Is Often Misconstrued

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by Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services

If a dog is fearful of a specific stimulus category, for example “men,” it does not necessarily mean the dog was abused by a man, or even abused at all. This applies equally to dogs showing fear of tall people, children, or anyone with skin color different from the owner’s. We hear this misconception almost daily from clients with anxious rescue dogs.

Dogs adopted as adults — whose backgrounds are unknown — may show fear of people, things or situations for other reasons. They might have missed exposure to an adequate variety of people or other dogs while they were going through the sensitive period for socialization (about 3-12 weeks of age), and they might also have inherited an anxious temperament. They certainly might have had aversive experiences and thus became more nervous over time rather than less, but, nonetheless, the supposition that they were abused is often a leap too far. And we certainly have encountered many dogs who were raised from puppyhood by benign owners, and were still hand-shy or nervous wrecks around unfamiliar people.

Why is it potentially a problem to assume past abuse? Probably the most important reason is that, if previous maltreatment is surmised, the dog’s more general anxiety is not going to be acknowledged or addressed. Assuming your dog was hit by a bearded man might lead to a more passive life of beard-avoidance, without taking it any further.

The fact is that fearfulness is common, especially in dogs whose previous owners neglected them or were ignorant about socialization. It’s also common in temperamentally nervous dogs, in spite of socialization. Anxiety needs to be managed with a plan, so that the dog’s confidence increases in general as well as with the specific stimulus frightening her.

Fear of thunderstorms doesn’t imply previous abuse by a thunderbolt; but to a nervous dog, fear is sensible when the stimulus is threatening. Sometimes unfamiliar-looking people are scary; sometimes noisy, moving objects (like vacuum cleaners) are even more so. It’s our job as humans to make the world as safe as possible for dogs, without assuming that they will simply overcome their fearfulness now that (thankfully) they’re not being abused.

Adoption Options

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Cupcake

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Sissy Lala

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Lodi

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Autumn

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Ditto

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Penny

Pictured on this page are just a few of the wonderful animals available for adoption at the Humane Society of Central Arizona shelter, located at 605 W. Wilson Court, just south of Main Street off South McLane Road. All adoptable pets are already spayed or neutered and current on vaccinations. Shelter hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Tuesday and Thursday, 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Closed Sundays and holidays. For more information, visit www.humanesocietycentralaz.org or call (928) 474-5590.

Cupcake

Cupcake is a sweet, affectionate little chunk! She loves to arrange her bedding in a little nest where she can curl up and be comfortable. She gets along with some dogs, as long as they give her space. She loves tennis balls and squeaky toys! Cupcake would do best in a home with older children.

Sissy Lala

My name is Sissy Lala and I am a calm, friendly, easygoing girl. I like attention and will gladly come say “Hi!” I might play from time to time, but quiet time with my people is great, too! I walk well on a leash and love to get out and explore. I am comfortable with other dogs, and have a polite, easygoing play style.

Lodi

My name is Lodi and I am a calm, confident guy who loves to explore! I enjoy attention, but am content to do my own thing. I am polite and well-mannered with people of all shapes and sizes. I do not like cats or other small animals and should not go home with them. I am tolerant of other dogs, just not particularly interested. I’d rather go for a hike with my people!

Autumn

Autumn is a people pleaser. She adores people and LOVES to be petted. She gets along fine with the other cats in her cat house, but spends most of her time up on the shelves.

Ditto

Ditto is outgoing, adventurous and affectionate. He gets along with everyone and is quick to make friends. He loves to meow and talk to you and he isn’t afraid to let you know he wants some attention. He likes to play with kitty toys and other cats.

Penny

Penny is an easygoing girl who loves people. She is calm and gets along with other cats that are calm too. Penny would make a great lap cat for someone looking for an affectionate companion.

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