If you’ve ever seen your pet act strangely or shy away from a non-threatening object you may have just passed it off as a funny five minutes. However, if you see them repeat this behaviour, or they seem fearful in the same situation, they may have a phobia.
I have a dog of my own, named Buffy, who is terrified of daffodils. She can’t stand the smell and will not walk on routes that bypass daffodils, which is a little difficult in springtime! This may seem like a random fear, but it all comes down to an instance where, as a puppy, she stuck her nose in a daffodil that had a bee in it. The bee stung her on the nose, and ever since Buffy has amalgamated that pain with the sight and smell of daffodils. She’s also scared of buzzing noises for the same reason.
It’s not just dogs, either. I used to ride a horse called Badger who was scared of garden hoses. He would not cross the yard if someone had the hose out, so it had to be packed away and covered if we wanted to leave the stables. This was apparently due to him once being bitten by a snake.
This kind of link makes sense if you consider how animals are trained, and also the way their reasoning works. Animals have a good understanding of cause and effect. For instance, if they behave well they will be rewarded. With this in mind you can understand that my dog sees a daffodil and blames it for the bee sting, or that Badger sees a long snake-like thing on the ground and fears that it might bite him.
Sometimes the reasons for a phobia won’t be as clear-cut and understandable to us as their owners, and this can be a concern. Individuals will deal with their fear in different ways but their response will largely fall into one of two categories: aggressive or submissive.
If your pet is facing their fear with aggression they will usually attack whatever it is they’re frightened of, either by vocalising loudly or physically striking or biting it. While you can try and tackle this behaviour yourself you may find that you have better luck with the help of a behaviourist. In the meantime try to keep them away from whatever is stimulating their fear response. It’s very important not to punish them for fear-related aggression as this could cause them to lash out at you.
If your pet is responding submissively that might manifest itself in urination or trembling, and they might even run away. In this instance you can gently introduce them to the object they are afraid of and treat them when they approach it. This will change their negative perception of the object and create new positive connotations. If their fear does not abate then, again, you might benefit from the attention of a behaviourist.
It is rare that a pet’s fear is totally irrational; there is usually a root cause. It might be difficult for you to deal with, especially if what they’re scared of is fairly commonplace, but with love and patience you should be able to make some headway.