Fears and Phobias in Dogs

I recently learned a new term for a phobia called Casadastraphobia. It means a pathological fear of falling into the sky. I had been researching compulsive behaviors in dogs that have a fear of the sky after working with a client whose dog has started this behavior in the recent months.

Over the years I have worked with dogs that had a wide variety of compulsive behaviors including hallucinatory compulsive behaviors, such as shadow or light chasing, or dogs that were afraid of specific things in the sky such as birds, lightning, aircraft, tree branches blowing and alike, but not like the extreme behavior of this dog who responds to the moon, sun and clouds or sometimes nothing at all. He either starts barking at the sky for no apparent reason, or sometimes suddenly ducking like the sky was coming for him and running inside for safety. My first thought was that he was associating something that scared him with the sky. Possibly he had experienced a loud noise at the same time as a plane or a bird appeared in the sky, until I saw another strange behavior he has of circling his head a full 360 degree neck rotation while looking into the sky. He will do this behavior out of the blue while backing up seeking safety.

His owners said they had noticed the dog displaying this behavior only in the last months, however I suspect that this behavior would have been slowly developing in the dog’s psych over a period of time and possibly could have started with something as little as a leaf blowing on him one day. It is a difficult life for a dog to lead when the only time he felt safe was when he was indoors.

We have helped hundreds of dogs with fear and anxiety related problems over the years and in most of the cases the dogs recover well by doing some generalized confidence building, socialization, and desensitization work. Some of the dogs had a general phobia over a specific noise or object but otherwise displayed normal behaviors however there have been a few cases that are more extreme and dramatic and usually it stems from the fact that the dog has not been dealt a fair hand genetically and has had repeated exposure to their fear without any relief provided other than to escape or avoid the fear completely, so they have never learned a coping mechanism to deal with it like the dog with Casadastraphobia.

Many dog owners will concur their dog has shown fear at some stage towards some type of noise or object. A few of the more common fears include loud noises (engines, vacuum cleaners etc), fireworks, thunder and lightning, fear of certain people, especially men to name a few, some can be very strange indeed such as a Shih tzu I treated once who had a phobia of cameras and cell phones.

I personally have had dogs with fear of silly things like plastic bags or aerosol cans and loud sounds such as fireworks or loud vehicle engines like motorcycles. One of my dogs was afraid of shiny floors. He could not walk across a shiny floor which was a real problem when you live in a house with all marble flooring. So, I had to put throw rugs throughout the house for him and in rooms that did not have a rug he worked out that if he turned around and walked in backwards that all would be well, and he could navigate the room. But in these cases, the dogs had a fear towards something specific but did not display anxious behaviors in general and in time with slow and steady exposure their reactions to the thing they feared went away totally or they learned to cope without much reaction, so it did not reach the stage of becoming a phobia.

There is a big difference between levels of anxiety in dogs. Dogs that have a specific fear of one thing, fears that become phobias and dogs that have such extreme anxiety and irrational fears of everything. The world can be a scary place and unpredictable things can happen but dogs with anxiety are always seemingly worried something bad is about to happen. They have trouble relaxing and usually go into hiding or try to escape over the slightest thing. It takes little to trigger their anxiety, such as a change in your routine or a family member comes to visit.

Some quirky behaviors can be endearing and even humorous in our dogs like my dog that was afraid of shiny floors. However, if you notice a behavior that is starting to inhibit your dog’s life it is time to look at helping him before it becomes a phobia, or he starts developing more anxiety.

You can start by creating a positive association with the trigger that is creating a fearful response from your dog, slowly desensitizing him, and eventually creating a new response from him. If you are unable to do that then it best to control the dog’s exposure to the trigger and seek professional help from a qualified dog behaviorist.

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