How to Help a Panicky Dog – Tips from The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan
Dogs have strange fears, just like people. Quinn, a Rat Terrier/Chihuahua mix was adopted from a caring rescue group at 4 months, and adjusted well to her new family. With her cushy life in her loving new home, she had nothing to fear. Except bananas.
Quinn can sit and watch in fascination as her owner eats a banana. She wants a bite. But, if her owner offers her the banana, by extending it toward her, Quinn bolts out of the room. The dog has a serious fear of bananas.
One has to wonder how this little Chihuahua Terrier developed bananaphobia. Did she have an unfortunate run-in with a banana as a puppy?
Many dogs have seemingly strange fears, such as of men with moustaches or people wearing hats. Some dogs are fine on carpeted stairs but refuse to walk on wooden ones.
There's no way to know how a dog processes what he encounters, but we can be sure they don't see things the same way we do. It's unlikely a dog sees a vacuum cleaner as a cleaning device. To some dogs, it's a toy to chase or it's something annoying to ignore. To others, it's a noisy, scary thing scooting about that doesn't heed his warning to stop. And it's attached to his owner's hand – is it hurting her? To some dogs, the vacuum cleaner is a dangerous intruder.
When a Dog Isn't Just Scared - but Has a Phobia
Some fears run deeper, and are actual phobias. The most common phobia in dogs is of noise, especially fireworks and thunderstorms. Many dogs express concern over these noises, but the truly phobic dog may go berserk. The phobic dog may jump out a window, chew through doors or walls, run away – anything to escape the noise.
Ironically, it;s the most loving owners that do exactly the wrong thing for their scared dogs. The caring owner runs over and comforts the scared dog when he starts panicking. This just confirms to the dog that yes, this is something to fear, and the reward for panicking is love and affection. Next time there's a clap of thunder, the dog will again panic. Comforting the dog makes the owner feel better, but it doesn't help the dog.
What Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer, Says to Do for a Scared Dog
According to Cesar Millan of National Geographic Channel's The Dog Whisperer, in his book, Cesar's Way, "Love is not meant to enhance instability. Love is meant to reward stability, to take us to a higher level of communication." He goes on to say, of course you should love your dog at all times, but show affection at appropriate times. Withhold affection when your dog is behaving inappropriately.
A better response to fear is to remain calm yourself and let your dog see that there is nothing to be afraid of. Speak to him gently; offer a command such as "come" or "sit." Distract him with a toy. Let him see that this thunderstorm is no big deal and you're all going to get through it just fine. Cesar Millan says that when your dog is afraid, he needs leadership.
While many doggie fears and phobias can be dealt with by your own calm reaction, some dogs will need the help of a behavior expert or even medication.
As for Quinn, the banana-fearing dog, her owner continued to casually offer her a banana whenever she sat and watched her eat one. While bananas may always give her "the willies," she can now remain composed, and simply turn her head away from it.