This week, I saw a video on Facebook of a rooster being “hypnotized” by a line drawn in the dirt close to his beak. It caused him to become completely immobile–but when the line was erased, the rooster immediately attacked the closest person, then ran away to the other side of the yard. My first reaction was to laugh. Honestly, seeing videos of grown men being flogged by an angry rooster is hilarious. After watching the video for a second time though, I realized something. The rooster wasn’t hypnotized. He was terrified. In one seemingly-funny video, I saw that rooster exhibit all three common responses to fear of a threat: freeze, fight, and flight. First, he was completely still. Because the perceived threat was very close to him, he essentially “played dead”. Once the threat was removed enough for him to feel like he had a fighting chance of survival, that’s just what he did—he attacked what he viewed as the source of danger. Then, he ran for safety.
Watching that video made me think. How often do we put our dogs in similar situations—ones where we think we’re seeing one reaction from them when they are actually exhibiting signs of fear in dogs? Like the photos and videos, we see of folks “pet shaming”. Those dogs may look guilty but they’re experiencing fear, anxiety, and stress caused by their owners’ displeasure. I believe that if we as pet owners realized that we’re causing our pets to be afraid, we wouldn’t put them in those situations. After all, fear leads to unwanted behaviors—and can even be the root cause of aggression. Instead, we need to work toward positive communication and relationship building with the animals in our lives… whether they’re pets, livestock, or working animals.
Fear diminishes the quality of life, so we should all strive to identify and minimize the signs of fear in dogs. With that in mind, I’d like to share six signs that your dog is feeling fearful. Watch for these signs in your own dogs, as well as dogs you may encounter out in the world. Knowing these signs can help you offer your dog a better, healthier quality of life. Also, being able to tell when a dog is afraid can lower your chances of being bitten by a frightened dog.
Signs of fear in dogs
- Tail Tucked
- Lip Licking
- Ears Flattened Back
- Avoiding Eye Contact/Turning Head Away
- Cowering/Hunched Posture
When you see signs of fear in dogs, there are two things you need to do immediately.
First, be a detective. Figure out what is scaring the dog. It could be a person, an object, or another animal. It could even be you.
Second, be a superhero. You have the power to make the dog feel less fearful. Create space between the dog and the thing that scares it. If s/he is afraid of you, back away slowly until the dog begins to relax. If s/he is afraid of something else—but comfortable with you—either lead the dog away from the perceived threat or move that threat away from your dog.
If you need help with your fearful dog, call Guthrie Pet Hospital at 282-8796 and ask to schedule a behavioral consultation with Stefani Fortney.