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Pet Owners Can Help Their Fearful Pets

How can fear, anxiety and phobia be prevented or eased? 

27.5.2022

Preventive measures such as socialisation and habituation can help to reduce fear and anxiety in pets. The socialisation phase starts when animals are very young. In this critical development phase, the animals are open to learning about their environment. It is important during this phase that animals are introduced to many different situations, people, objects, etc., so that they are used to them and see them as part of normal life. If the socialisation phase is filled with positive experiences, animals are more resilient later in life to cope with stressful and possible fearful situations in the future.

When an animal is experiencing fear, the response of the owner to the new stimuli plays an important part in how the animal will react. When the owner reacts relaxed, they can show their pet, that there is no reason to fear. Any responses of the owner (being too overprotecting, apprehensive, paying extensive attention to their pet, reacting frustrated, using punishment) can worsen the situation for the pet, and is counterproductive.

Always bear in mind that your pet needs to learn to deal with any unpleasant stimuli.

Even after years it can happen that a familiar event can cause negative feelings in a pet when just one bad experience happens in connection with it (a firework explodes near the dog). This experience may be a shock for the animal and lead to it suffering from lasting fear, anxiety and even phobia. This phenomenon is called ‘single event learning’.

How can fear, anxiety and phobia in pets be treated? 

If you think that your pet is suffering from anxiety or a phobia then it is advisable to find a professional animal behaviourist, to help with addressing the fears your pet is experiencing. Desensitisation and counter-conditioning training are possible therapeutic measures. To ease the life of the pet, it is advisable to avoid situations that cause your pet anxiety until you have the advice of a behaviourist to how best address the situation. Any behavioural training should always be reward based and should not involve positive or negative punishment to resolve the fear, this will only show short term results and actually increase the fear in the long-term.

Black dog looking at his owner

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