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  • Writer's pictureSteve San Miguel Zamorano

How to Start Treating Your Pet's Fear & Phobias

Beginners 101

Each time your pet is exposed to an anxiety, fear, or phobia-inducing situation and cannot be made to calm down, the problem is likely to worsen. Finding a way to control, relax, calm, or distract your pet in the presence of the stimulus is needed to correct the problem and teach your pet that there is nothing to be feared. A pet’s fear and anxiety will be lessened by an owner who is calm and in control. For most cases of fear, behavior modification techniques, where the pet is exposed to mild levels of the stimuli and rewarded for non-fearful behavior, are utilized. For low levels of fear or anxiety, especially when the pet is being exposed to new stimuli, many pets will calm down with continued exposure, as long as nothing is done to aggravate the fear.

Consequences that reinforce the fearful behaviors (inadvertent rewards or retreat of the stimulus) or aggravate the fear (punishment) must be identified and removed. Exposure to stimuli that have an unpleasant or negative outcome (e.g. an aggressive dog, or a child that pulls the dog’s tail) also serves to instill further fear.

Drug therapy may also be a useful adjunct to behavior therapy techniques and may be necessary for the treatment of some phobias.

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