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Help Your Dog With Separation Anxiety and Other Common Fears

Animal Planet’s popular dog trainer Victoria Stilwell shares solutions for getting your dog through anxiety, fear of storms, and other worrisome behavior.
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Q: What should I do when I see that my dog is afraid of something? Should I comfort him? Ignore him?

A: Obviously, it’s different for every fear. It used to be thought that you should ignore your dog when it was fearful because, if you were giving comfort or attention, you were reinforcing the fear.

But research has shown that’s actually not the case. You don’t want to go completely crazy with your dog and mollycoddle it. But you need to provide a reassuring arm and a reassuring voice and a reassuring presence so that the dog knows you’re there.

 

Q: How can I help my dog get over these fears?

A: Try to redirect the behavior -- the fear -- onto something more positive, like a game, a toy, some food, or attention. Get the dog to try to focus on something other than the fear.

This is where food plays a really powerful role. You’re actually training the brain to function in a different way. Because the dog’s sense of smell is immeasurably superior to ours, when you activate that sense of smell, you can deactivate the emotion of fear and anxiety. This is something I’m becoming a lot more interested in because, more and more as I do my training and the more dogs I see with fears, the more fascinated I’m becoming with how smell can help a dog overcome fear.

 

Q: I’ve heard playing a tape of storm sounds at increasingly louder volumes can help a dog get over its fear of thunderstorms. Do you think this kind of desensitizing works?

A: I’ve used it, but only with other therapy. It’s not going to work alone. And there’s no way you can replicate the sounds of a real thunderstorm. There’s also a theory that dogs feel static electricity. Long before the storm comes, dogs feel changes in the barometric pressure. I don’t think we can really comprehend how a dog feels. I think it’s the noise, it’s the visual of lightning, and it’s maybe the static shocks it’s getting.

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