Dog Fears and Remedies

Having a dog that is frequently fearful of new situations, noises, and things like height can be challenging for dogs and their owners.  But now we are starting to understand the triggers of those fears and more importantly, the remedies. While genes (breed) play a role, a new scientific study has discovered that the more dogs are engaged in activities and the more diverse experiences and canine friends they have, the less fearful they are in new situations and environments.

Study Findings Overview

♦ Noise sensitivity, fear of novel situations and fear of slippery surfaces and heights are common behavioral problems among dogs. According to a behavioral survey of nearly 14,000 dogs conducted at the University of Helsinki, these non-social fears are associated with factors related to the dogs’ living environment, lifestyle and breed.

♦ Dogs that were engaged in activities the most and were actively trained were found to be the least fearful.

♦ Study results indicate that insufficient socialization of puppies to various situations and new environments in particular has a strong link with fearfulness related to novel situations and loud noises, as well as different walking surfaces, such as slippery surfaces, transparent stairs or metal grilles. On the other hand, the company of other dogs reduced the occurrence of non-social fear.

♦ Fear of fireworks and surfaces was more prevalent among the dogs of first-time dog owners.

♦ Differences were also seen between rural and urban dogs. Urban dogs were more fearful than their rural counterparts.

♦ Non-social fearfulness is more common in sterilized females and small dogs.

♦ Being fearful of slippery or otherwise unfamiliar surfaces was associated with a generally fearful disposition in dogs.

Humans exposing dogs to a wide variety of experiences is not always going to be a remedy for dog fearfulness because genetics can also play a role…

♦ Breed-specific fears:  Significant differences between breeds were identified in the study, with Cairn Terriers among the most fearful breeds and Chinese Crested Dogs among the least fearful. Additionally, variance was seen between different non-social fears in the fearfulness of individual breeds. For instance, Welsh Corgi Pembrokes expressed a lot of noise sensitivity but little fearfulness of surfaces. At the same time, fear of new surfaces was common among Lapponian Herders, Miniature Schnauzers, Chihuahuas and Labrador Retrievers, while noise sensitivity was less so.

Journal Reference: Emma Hakanen, Salla Mikkola, Milla Salonen, Jenni Puurunen, Sini Sulkama, César Araujo, Hannes Lohi. Active and social life is associated with lower non-social fearfulness in pet dogs. Scientific Reports, 2020; 10 (1). Overview/ DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-70722-7