Understanding and Overcoming Your Pet’s Fears

While many of us would like to believe our little puppy is fearless, the truth is that there are many things a pet will
experience that may frighten it at first as it attempts to understand more.

“Pets can be fearful of all types of things,” says Dr. Mark Stickney, Clinical Associate Professor at the Texas A&M College
of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). “Thunderstorms, fireworks, cars, and even children can all
potentially be sources of fear for a pet.”

Pets become scared because they, like all animals, have evolved to recognize threats. Animal’s fear physiology is similar
to that of humans with the heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature rising when frightened.

Dogs, bred as pack animals, need to be with their owners when afraid. Cats, being more solitary, hide when scared and
may be less destructive.

The critical socialization period‐ 8 to 12 weeks of age‐ is an important factor in shaping the behavior of both puppies and
kittens. During this time, the pet should have its first vaccinations and then exposed to all sources of stimuli including
people, things, and sounds.

“If you plan to have the animal accompany you while horseback riding, take it to a place where it can see and smell
horses. If you plan to take the animal along during hunting, take it to the field where it can see and hear gunshots,” said

Crate training is also imperative from the first day the pet comes home. This gives the pet a place to feel safe when you
leave the house.

“The crate should always be a safe and happy place. The pet should never be put in these crates to be punished or for
any negative experience,” said Stickney.

One way to overcome fear is to expose the pet to the source of its fear and reward them for when they are brave.

“Some dogs experience anxiety and become distressed when they hear keys being picked up. One way to desensitize
them is to frequently pick up keys and then sit back at home or leave the house for a minute and then come back. The
pet will slowly recognize to ignore these cues,” said Stickney.

A current market trend is tight‐fitting pet jackets to aid in behavior. While these may help, they are shown to mostly aid
in modifying mild behavior problems.

“The idea is that animals feel safe and secure when they are compressed, just like babies when they are swaddled,” said
To aid in more severe fears, specialized veterinary behaviorists prescribe a combination of behavioral medication and
pharmacological treatments.

“Pharmacologic therapy only serves to help the behavior modification, there is no such thing as a single solution to fix
the problem,” said Stickney.

“The sooner you address these issues, the better it is because these fears do not go away on their own,” said Stickney.
“Nothing is easy about rearing a puppy. It’s a big responsibility, but there are incredible benefits if you put in the time
and effort early on.”

About Pet Talk

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.