Why Do We Not Recognize Fear Related Problems?

We recently invited you to a complimentary webinar we conducted about how fear affects behavior problems.  One of the reasons we know this is an important topic is because so many problems we deal with are fear based, but often go unrecognized as such.  The 100+ questions we found as we were reviewing our “most burning question” page on AnimalBehaviorAssociates.com certainly supports that belief.

Questions related to fear included fear of and aggression toward other dogs, fear of being crated, fear of being left alone, noise phobias, fear of and aggression toward people, fear of other cats, fear of only certain family members, fear of riding in the car, and generalized fears that are having a significant negative impact on the pet’s quality of life. About 75% of the questions had something to do with a fearful behavior, yet in many cases the wording of the question indicated the person asking it did not recognize the behavior was fear motivated.

Why does fear as a motivation go unrecognized so often?  Is it because in general people are still viewing their relationships with their pets – especially their dogs – as first and foremost one of a “pack leader”, “I’m the boss and you do what I tell you” role?  In that case, a pet’s lack of compliance with its owner’s wishes would immediately be interpreted as an act of defiance or rebelliousness.  If we think we know what the reason for a behavior is, we are less likely to step back and observe what our pets are telling us and consider alternative explanations.

Another common thread in many of these questions is the unspoken expectation that pets are supposed to be able to easily adapt to all kinds of situations without becoming fearful or aggressive, and choose the “correct” or most desirable (from our point of view) behavioral response.  Consider these comments:

 "She (a terrier mix) used to jump around and whine when dogs walk by but now she barks…. and has snapped at another dog coming up to say hello"
 "My terrier has always been a nervous dog. He would hide and bark from afar anytime he was scared, but during the last few months he bit twice."

Both dogs had a history of being agitated, frightened or both in the presence of other dogs but effective techniques weren’t used to help the dogs behave differently.  After some period of time, the behavior escalated to aggression.  That’s why it’s so important to recognize fearful behavior and intervene in a timely fashion – to help these dogs overcome their fears, learn new behaviors, prevent the fear from becoming worse and potentially developing into an aggression problem.

Another important point to remember is that past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior.  Without intervention, it’s likely the behavior will be displayed in the future in similar situations and could also escalate.  Dogs that have been aggressive toward other dogs in the past are likely to be aggressive to them in the future.  Several questions in our box related to the advisability of leaving dogs that had severely injured or even killed one family pet alone with the remaining pets.  To us, the answer is quite clear.

We’ll answer questions about problems between family dogs in this month’s BehaviorEducationNetwork.com Pro members’ only webinar coming up on Thursday, November 18th at 5pm Mountain time.  You can attend this session and reap all the benefits of having access to Behavior Education Network by becoming a member. 

If you want to learn more about counter conditioning and desensitization techniques, which are often used to work with fear related problems, check out our DVD about those procedures.  Behavior Education Network members receive a 20% discount on the DVD and all products we produce at AnimalBehaviorAssociates.com

  • Contact Us

    Animal Behavior Associates, Inc.
    7900 W. Layton Ave. #905 Denver, CO 80123