Anyone who has owned a dog knows that sometimes your pup will suddenly and inexplicably start acting scared. If you didn’t see or hear anything yourself, you might be left wondering what’s wrong. Maybe some sound startled them that you happened to miss? Or possibly your suspicions that your house is haunted might be true after all.
In this article, we’re going to run down possible causes of mysterious fear in your dog. There are some simple reasons your dog might be acting frightened, none of which require supernatural explanations. There are some more serious possibilities as well, and we’ll address those at the end.
Interpreting Their Fear
Figuring out what your dog is afraid of is often a simple process. Dogs are usually not subtle creatures and will bark, stare at, and obviously avoid something that frightens them. If you’ve ever owned a dog that’s scared of the vacuum cleaner, you know what the signs of this kind of direct fear are.
Watch your dog carefully when they start acting scared and try to detect patterns. Does it always happen in the same room? Maybe it happens at a similar time each day. Collecting clues like this can help you narrow down the possible causes.
Some sources of fear have less obvious signs and can cause concern for you despite being innocuous. Your dog’s hearing is far superior to your own, and a distant loud noise or sound in a frequency hard for humans to hear could have spooked your pup. If your dog is moving from one hiding spot to another, it could be because they feel the threat is coming from everywhere, a sure sign that a loud sound spooked them.
Pacing or walking in circles nervously could also indicate a sound is bothering them. One way to rule this out is by taking them for a car ride to see if the behavior stops when they’re somewhere else.
Unwanted House Guests
Another difficult source of fear to detect is an infestation. Your four-legged friend might become aware of the problem before you do. Some insects have painful bites that can startle your dog and cause them to associate where in the house they got bit with pain. Even creepy crawlies that don’t bite, like cockroaches, can startle your dog since they’re relatively big, move quickly, and are new stimuli.
Rodents like mice and rats can also cause your dog to act strangely. Even if they aren’t afraid, pacing behavior when searching for a pesky mouse could easily be confused for fear.
Negative Experiences Tied to a Room
Rooms like the bathroom and laundry room can be unpleasant for your dog, and they might avoid those rooms or be wary of going in or near them. They might be reminded of bath time when they’re in the bathroom, an experience most dogs do not enjoy.
Similarly, the laundry room is full of loud noises and mysterious machines, so most dogs won’t relax and let their guard down there.
Another possibility is a one-off experience you may not even be aware of. We had a dog get frightened by a coat falling off the rack in the hallway, and it took us weeks to realize the source of his newfound fear when it happened again.
Sometimes you might never figure out what spooked your buddy. As long as the fear subsides with time, there probably isn’t anything to worry about.
Older dogs are more prone to age-related maladies, and sometimes unexplained fear can be a sign of cognitive decline. Unfortunately, our canine companions are not immune to brain diseases like dementia. Some dogs experience confusion or auditory and visual hallucinations that can be intense, frightening experiences for them.
If you suspect your older dog is experiencing age-related cognitive disorders, contact your vet. They will conduct a thorough examination and help devise a plan to help you make your older dog’s latter years comfortable and happy.
Without any apparent outward stimuli causing your dog’s strange, scared behavior, it could be a symptom of underlying illness. Many possible conditions could present as fear.
Aging dogs are more susceptible to vestibular disease, but all dogs can develop it regardless of age. Vestibular disease is a catch-all term for ailments affecting the body’s vestibular system. There are many facets to vestibular disease, but one rare symptom involves auditory hallucinations, which can be extremely frightening experiences.
The bottom line is any unexplained fear that doesn’t seem to have any cause needs to be taken seriously. If you think there is a chance your dog’s scared behavior could be due to illness, contact your vet immediately and schedule an appointment.
Unexplained behavior from your dog is always troubling, but most of the time, new skittish and scared behaviors have innocuous causes. Careful observation can help find the cause and set you on the path to helping your pooch overcome their fear.
In the rare cases that there is a more serious underlying cause, it is a good idea to schedule a trip to the vet. Old age and disease can cause your dog to act scared in unusual circumstances, and it’s important to get professional help so you can give your dog the best life possible.
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