Despite his seemingly privileged life, Einstein suffers from fear and anxiety. When Einstein encounters strangers he becomes afraid and seeks to protect himself and his family by growling, lunging or chasing newcomers out of the house. Unable to understand loud, unexpected sounds such as thunder, Einstein paces and whines during thunderstorms. When encountering other dogs on his evening walks Einstein, stricken with fear, assumes the role of protector and may bark, snarl or even lunge at other neighborhood dogs.
Einstein is a good dog, and his family sees the good in him every day, but they are growing concerned by these behaviors – as they should. Einstein does not understand that the things that he fears are not harmful, and that his actions are potentially putting his future in his loving home at risk.
It is not too late for Einstein – old dogs can learn new tricks. What Einstein needs is the socialization he lacked as a puppy. While walks or house guests may seem like socialization, they lack the structure and positive reinforcement required to help Einstein overcome fears and habituate appropriate behaviors.
Let’s rewind back to when Einstein was an 8-week-old puppy. His newly informed owners decide to enroll him in puppy kindergarten and socialization classes. Einstein receives positive exposure to loud noises; people of all genders, ages, shapes and sizes; and interacts with other puppies allowing him to learn how to communicate in dog language in order to befriend other canines. As Einstein matures he loves when visitors come to his home, he sleeps quietly through stormy nights because loud noises are no longer unfamiliar and he does not make a scene by becoming aggressive to passing dogs while on his nightly walks.
The moral of Einstein’s story is that puppies undergo a critical socialization period between six to 16 weeks of age. During this time positive exposure to people, animals, sights and sounds can teach puppies to be confident and comfortable with these common interactions and prevent the majority of fear and anxiety based behavioral problems. If your pet has missed out on this critical developmental period and is displaying some of the behavior issues noted in Einstein’s story, it can be helped.
Please contact your veterinarian or a certified dog trainer who focuses on positive reinforcement training. Regardless of age, dedication and time can help your pet become a confident, friendly, less anxious member of your household.