Downeast Dog News
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Helping Your Dog Thrive

Brambell’s Five Freedoms – Part 5 – The Freedom from Fear and Distress
By Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA | May 01, 2018
Photo by: Debra Bell

This is the last of a five-part series in which I have discussed Brambell’s Five Freedoms and how they provide a valuable reference point for assessing a dog’s quality of life. So far we have examined the first four of Brambell’s Five Freedoms: Freedom from Hunger and Thirst, Freedom from Discomfort, Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease, and the Freedom to Express Normal Behavior. This month I will address the fifth freedom, Freedom from Fear and Distress. I will be readdressing some of the same topics from part 2 of this series, Freedom from Discomfort, as fear and distress are an extension of discomfort especially when considering our dog’s emotional state.

I genuinely believe that no psychologically healthy human would ever intentionally cause his pet fear or distress. However, a lack of knowledge — or incorrect information about animal behavior often is a cause of fear and distress in dogs.

Experiencing fear and distress is normal for any living thing throughout its life. However, since one fearful event can be traumatic enough to create a permanent and debilitating disability, it is essential we understand fear and distress and that we do everything possible to minimize its effect on our dog.

Ensure your pet is free from fear and distress

Can you readily tell when your dog is fearful or stressed? Dogs typically do one of four things when afraid. 1) They flee and run away as fast as they can from whatever it is that has scared them. 2) They fight by barking, growling, lunging at, and attacking whatever has threatened them. 3) They freeze in place, not moving a muscle, and not making eye contact with what they fear. 4) They fidget about, displaying normal behaviors (sniffing, scratching, etc.) in an abnormal context while ignoring the threat. These four are the most extreme reactions, but well before your dog exhibits any of those behaviors, it will give you subtle signs of its emotional distress. It is essential that you know and understand these signs so that you can intervene early. Unfortunately, when many dog parents see their dog freezing or fidgeting about, they say “Oh, he’s fine” not understanding that the dog is in fact distressed. ( FMI – http://bit.ly/DogsSignsofFear ).

Have you and your family committed to NEVER using aversives to manage or train your dog? By definition, an aversive is anything that causes your pet fear or distress, so if you use these tools or methods, you are NOT ensuring your dog is free from fear or distress. Commonly used aversives include but are not limited to shock collars, choke collars, prong collars, leash corrections, or anything where the intent is to physically or emotionally punish the dog as part of training or management. Dogs subjected to aversives are likely to develop behavioral problems and have a much higher probability of becoming aggressive. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) notes that the use of aversives is a significant reason for behavioral problems in pets and that they should NEVER be used. ( FMI – http://bit.ly/RewardVSAversive )

Was your puppy well socialized? Early socialization and habituation is key to freedom from fear and distress, as is ongoing socialization and enrichment throughout a dog’s life. Inadequate socialization or inappropriate socialization is a frequent reason for a dog to be fearful in certain situations. Remedial socialization is possible, but you should work with a reward-based, fear-free trainer so that you do not make things worse. (FMI – http://bit.ly/SocializationPuppy ) ( FMI – http://bit.ly/HowToChooseADogTrainer )

Do you actively look out for your dog’s best interests so that you can protect it from people that do NOT understand canine body language? Most people do not understand that not all dogs want to interact with people nor do those people comprehend the subtle signs that a dog gives that says, “please leave me alone.” Most dogs do not want to bite, but only do so when they feel they have no other option. As our dog's caregiver, we have a responsibility to look out for our dog’s welfare which means intervening when others do not respect our dog’s right not to interact. Additionally, we need to understand that sometimes the best thing we can do for our dog is to leave it at home. Not all dogs enjoy walking in the animal shelter’s annual fundraiser.

Do you understand the necessity of providing both physical and mental stimulation for your dog while not letting either go to extremes? A lack of adequate physical and mental stimulation can cause a pet to be distressed. However, too much stimulation and exercise can also be even more detrimental, creating a state of chronic stress. Playing fetch or going to the dog park every day can become addictive, causing chemical changes in the brain which can contribute to distress and other behavior problems.

Do you understand that while the dog is a social species, it may not like every dog it encounters, even ones that you may want to add to your family? While the domestic dog is considered to be a social animal, some are more social than others. Dogs do not automatically like one another. If we force a dog to live with another pet that it is afraid of, we are causing fear and distress.

To read previous articles in this series visit the Downeast Dog News website at https://downeastdognews.villagesoup.com/ or visit Don’s blog at https://www.words-woofs-meows.com

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Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com. He is committed to pet care and pet training that is free of pain, force, and fear. The opinions in this column are those of Don Hanson.