What Makes a Dog Suddenly Change Behavior From Afraid to Not Afraid?

by Chris Miksen
    "Fireworks? I'm not really afraid of those anymore."

    "Fireworks? I'm not really afraid of those anymore."

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    It's usually good news when your pup's fears suddenly vanish, but it can be a bit disconcerting why those nagging anxieties just packed up and left. You might be able to credit yourself for their disappearance, but sometimes it's all about exposure and natural canine progression. Older pups might have a medical problem to blame.

    Positive Association

    When your pup's fears suddenly disappear, it's possible he's associating something positive with what used to cause his fears rather than something negative. In a lot of cases, that requires you making an attempt to counter condition him, especially with a fear of sounds. Counterconditioning is usually a slow process, but with minor fears, your pup can go from being scared of something one day and be fine with it the next. Let's say you bought him a new bed and situated it inside a big basket. He gets in, but the basket makes weird sounds and freaks him out. He makes it a point to stay away from the bed. Toss a few treats in the bed and you'll probably see a sudden transformation. He's associating the bed, basket and the strange sounds with something positive, so he's much more receptive to his new sleeping quarters. This is mostly for minor fears. Deep-seated fears will typically not change so suddenly.

    Puppyhood Socialization

    Puppyhood is an odd time for dogs. It's when they're often shuffled to a new home and experience crazy things, like baths and canine-hating cats. While typically very trusting of their owners, puppies aren't so trusting of everything else, like the wind or strangers. But with more and more experience in situations they once found scary, their fears go by the wayside. This shift in behavior is sometimes gradual, but it can be sudden. Consider the frightening aspects of a train. It's huge, rushing ahead at a fast speed and it makes awful noises. Cowering in fear is common enough, but after a few times of reacting negatively to the big, bad train, the demeanor of puppies often shifts. They realize nothing bad happens because of the train and there's nothing to truly fear. Older canines can also be socialized, but the change in their behavior is almost always more gradual.

    Fear While on Walks

    Your pup feeds off of your demeanor. If you're relaxed and calm, he's more likely to remain relaxed and calm. Tighten your grip on his leash or stiffen up and he'll become way more attentive and very possibly frightened. If your pup seems scared while strolling through the park one day but completely fine the next, think back to how you acted. Although it's perfectly natural to be a bit nervous when another dog or person comes into sight, avoid tensing up on your pup's leash and closing him in with your body. All you're doing is making him nervous about what's ahead. And although he might act like a killer canine, it's most likely fear he's showing. You'll probably see an absence of fear if you relax, breathe easily and walk normally.
    An important warning: If you know your dog is aggressive, blocking him with your body and keeping a tight grip on him during close encounters with people and dogs is completely acceptable.

    Canine Dementia

    If your pup's long in the tooth and full of gray whiskers, a sudden change in his reactions to certain stimuli may indicate dementia. PetMD adds some more bad news, explaining that about 50 percent of pups over 11 years of age experience signs of dementia. It's not all doom and gloom -- you can stymie the advancement of dementia with therapy. If your pup does have dementia, his behaviors will shift back and forth. One day he may no longer be afraid of something that always scared him, and the next he's back to cowering in fear. Other symptoms include confusion, moderate to extreme lethargy, incontinence and slow learning abilities.

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    About the Author

    Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.

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