My dog is acting strange and hiding — What Can Be Done About It?
As pet owners, we sometimes notice odd behaviors in our pets. For instance, they begin to show a sudden onset of anxiety, or suddenly become more aggressive than ever before. Such situations definitely make me wander — out of nowhere, my dog is acting strange and hiding. After all, a pet dog is like a child to us. If it is scary and distressing, we feel the agony too.
Dogs feel fear and anxiety just like humans. However, while there are many triggers, that is no reason to worry. All problems have a solution. To start with, we can try to find out the cause. Then, we can customize a recovery plan.
As always, I’ve done my best to figure out the reasons behind strange behavior in dogs. Read on to find out more if you’ve found yourself thinking my dog is acting strange and hiding, but I don’t know what to do about it!
First things first — observe common behaviors
If we notice that our pet is not greeting us in the usual manner, or is refusing to come out for a walk, we need to stay alert. Such behavior may be usual for some dogs that are naturally a bit anxious. But for other stronger ones, it is a warning sign.
Observing a pet keenly for a few weeks can help us understand the triggers better. However, not only do we have to keep an eye on the pet, but we also need to observe the changes in their surroundings. Just like us, dogs too find it hard to instantly adapt to a change in their environment.
Needless to say, it is distressing and saddening to see our pets suffering from anxiety. However, understanding the symptoms the dog is displaying and trying to find the causes are important steps. These can go a long way in helping our pets recover completely.
There are a few common causes of anxiety in dogs, whereas others are very specific. If the onset of anxiety is sudden and we notice it fast enough, the road to recovery can be short. Nevertheless, we also need to make sure that the chances of having a relapse are minimal.
My dog is acting strange and hiding — Causes
If we notice that our dog has been displaying strange behavior for a substantial amount of time, we should try and get to the root cause. However, keep in mind that every dog is unique. As such, the answer to why a dog is acting strangely often is very subjective. Now, let us look at a few causes of odd behavior in dogs.
Where did it all begin?
A dog’s interaction with other dogs and humans impacts how it sees the world as it grows up. If it grew up on the street, it would be more resilient. In contrast, if the dog was abused on the street, the memory would get etched into its brain. The fear and negative experience remain throughout its life even if loving parents adopt it because, in some corners of its mind, a fear of mistreatment will definitely exist. Still, it’s debatable whether or not childhood experiences will continue to affect the dog as it grows up.
Genetically, a dog may be more vulnerable to anxiety. An overly anxious dog can give birth to a puppy that would, later on, show signs of anxiety. The famous “Nature vs. Nurture” debate holds good in the case of dogs as well. Nevertheless, it is very hard to distinguish whether a dog’s anxious nature comes from its genetic makeup or the environment in which it was nurtured. Sometimes, an early negative experience can trigger a fear that can manifest itself in different ways. As the dog grows up and learns more about different situations, the fears can show up.
Generally, a puppy takes about 2 to 4 months to adapt to its new surroundings. This is especially true if it comes from a shelter. During this period, it is flexible and adapts to changes quite easily. It forgets its old home quickly and begins to focus on adjusting to its new family life. It is eager to make friends with everyone.
But in this phase, all puppies may not get a loving family. Instead, if they are ill-treated, the negative consequences drawn from this experience are most likely to carry on throughout their lives. Also, the older the dog, the more difficulties it faces in adapting to a new environment.
It is possible to erase the fears to a certain extent, but never completely. For all these reasons, people prefer adopting puppies since it is easier both on them and the dog.
Fears as the cause of why my dog is acting strange and hiding
One of the most common triggers for flashes of anxiety in dogs is fear. Like us, dogs learn fear through conditioning.
There are various types of fears stemming from different life experiences. Sometimes, certain excessive fears may lead to expressive behaviors like aggression and biting. They may remember past events that caused them pain and learn to respond in pain every time the situation recurs. In addition, if the dogs become victims of phobias and do not seem to get over them, owners resort to letting them go. They end up giving them to dog shelters because they cannot handle their furry friends anymore.
Symptoms of fear
While it may be difficult to detect fear symptoms at first, we cannot help but notice a few situations. When the dog exhibits starkly contrasting behavior, it catches our attention.
Firstly, a dog’s posture speaks a lot about its mood. If its head is stooped, and it looks for a hiding spot and doesn’t come out even when we call it, the dog could be suffering from anxiety. Some dogs even lose bladder control and begin to urinate frequently, especially females. Previously cheerful dogs may start tucking their tail in between their legs and growling at people they know well. Also, those with sharp ears may even stop paying attention and just focus on staying away from people.
Like humans, when a dog feels stressed, it resorts to the fight-or-flight response. An urge to escape and find the cover is quite noticeable. On the other hand, something subtle like tensed muscles can be easy to miss.
All in all, there’s a good chance my dog is acting strange and hiding due to fear. However, as dog owners, it is up to us to stay vigilant and identify such symptoms early on. The earlier we identify them, the quicker we’ll find out the reasons behind such behavior.
My dog is acting strange and hiding — fear of separation
Dogs are originally packed animals. They live in groups, hunt in groups, and eat in groups in the wild. Therefore, being left alone can be really scary for them.
Separation anxiety is more common in dogs than we think. When we leave our house in the morning, we know at what time we’ll be back. We make arrangements accordingly for our pet’s food and other needs. But, think from their perspective. It probably looks like we are making those arrangements because we are not planning to come back. Every single day, our pet goes through this cycle of anxiety, pain, waiting, and joy at regular intervals.
If our dog spends many hours by itself with no company, that could give rise to many medical complications. Psychologically, the dog gets affected since it is anxious and scared all day. It may feel depressed, so it may start shedding excessive hair. It may also chew on its paws all the time to ease the situation and temporarily calm itself.
Similarly, the dog might get bored. However, toys can keep the dog occupied for some time, and hiring an affectionate dog walker can reduce the anxiety to a large extent. In addition, sometimes, symptoms of early-stage anxiety can be mistaken for symptoms of old age conditions like dementia and arthritis.
My dog is acting strange and hiding — fear of loud noises
It is common knowledge that dogs are more sensitive to noises and can hear frequencies that we humans cannot. Dogs dread the sound of thunder — presumably the most widely recognized of all dog fears. However, in a few cases, thunder might cause just a little tension, which stops when it’s over.
If we notice that our puppy is really scared because of the thunder, we could hold their paws, pet them, and cuddle them. Reassuring the pup that we are there for support goes a long way in building a relationship of trust. On the other hand, if the symptoms are severe and the dog runs away and refuses to come out, we need to find another solution.
This is also dangerous because the dog might run straight out of the house, and we all know that running onto the road like that can even be fatal sometimes. The dog can get out of control, and if it has grown big, managing it will be quite a task. Also, as the dog grows older, its sensitivity to noise increases. Thus, even if they are not anxious now, they might be in a few years.
Another point to note is that if we are anxious about the thunderstorm, it is more likely that our dog will reflect our feelings. Dogs can sense human emotions very quickly, and if they sense that their owners are uncomfortable, they quickly mirror the feeling.
The best way to help our dogs would be to keep them away from places that have excessive noise. However, if everything fails, we should take them to the vet and get a tranquilizer injected if necessary.
My dog is acting strange and hiding — fear of seasonal disturbances like fireworks
Usually, dogs that are sensitive to thunderstorms and other loud noises are also frightened by fireworks. The flashes of light accompanied by the sounds of bursting crackers are not a regular occurrence in a dog’s life. Any sudden instance of such sounds can make a dog tremble and run away to hide.
Some dog owners try to desensitize a dog to such sounds by playing them on a music player, but this is helpful only for certain dogs. If the dog has a predisposition to fear of noises, playing loud noises might actually worsen its condition and phobia. A better option would be to gently distract the pooch when there are loud noises and make it feel comfortable and safe.
Over time, firecracker noises can cause chronic pain in dogs. The trembling can become more frequent, along with drooling and running berserk. Older dogs can hurt themselves easily due to such behavior. However, distracting them from the noise will not work because they are conditioned to respond in a certain manner every time they get triggered by loud noises. So in such situations, it is best to see the vet because several factors such as the age of the dog determine the best recovery solution.
My dog is acting strange and hiding — fear of vehicle rides
For dogs, cars can be really intimidating because of the enclosed space, to begin with. Early experiences with automobiles can affect them for as long as they live. For instance, if the pup got separated from its mother at a very young age and was brought home in a car, it could remember the negative experience the confined space created. Also, if we take the dog to the vet in a car, then it will learn to associate the car with a trip to the doctor, which may not always be a pleasant experience.
In contrast, since pups are adaptable and learn easily if we can train them early on to love cars, they will become comfortable. Dogs that have been in shelters for a large part of their puppyhood will not have the same luxury, but with patience and love, they too will learn. Generally, pups develop trust in their owners faster than older dogs. Keeping this in mind, we can train our pups to adapt to their new surroundings — cars, a large home, muddy gardens, etc.
If the dog is showing reluctance regarding getting into the car, we can try bringing a carrier along with its favorite blanket. Otherwise, the people closest to the dog can sit next to it and pet it until the car reaches its destination.
Another way to help dogs get into cars without fear is by giving them an incentive — a treat or a snack. But this will not work if the dog is sufficiently full. Instead, playing with the dog near the car or walking it close to a car park may help get it used to vehicles. The next time the dog sees the car and has to take a ride, it will definitely feel more comfortable.
Fear of going to the vet
Nobody likes visiting a hospital, especially children. Similarly, pups dread visiting the vet. It may be because of previous experiences such as a vaccination that stung quite badly. Also, dogs are sensitive to certain smells, and the vet’s office usually has all sorts of smells. There are unfamiliar people, new dogs, and if the pup has been to the vet before, it knows that the examination table means no good.
Since dogs have a heightened perception of smell, they can easily pick up distress signals other dogs are giving out, due to pheromones. Pheromones are secreted by the body and released into the atmosphere to be picked up by other animals.
Dogs, in particular, can sense pheromones fast and understand what they mean. So, if our dog is in the presence of other dogs suffering from more severe conditions, it will get anxious. It will begin to feel threatened and actually show anxiety. The vet’s staff will have trouble calming the dog even for a routine examination because the dog is convinced that the pain is near.
Also, dogs can gauge our emotions precisely and mirror them. Therefore, they might lose all hope if we are stressed and show it openly. This is the reason some vets prefer to conduct examinations privately without the presence of the owner. The owner’s presence can make the dog more anxious than it already is and unnecessarily delay the examination.
Fear of hygiene
Some dogs really don’t like bathing, while others are scared of getting into the tub. Consequently, it can be difficult to keep our dogs clean. But that does not mean we can skip giving our dog a nice, clean shower.
There are special itch-removal shampoos available for dogs, which can soothe our puppy’s dry skin. We can also make the bath interesting and fun for the dog by taking the tub outdoors if possible. If the dog is in the garden or a place that it is familiar with, it may not feel as uncomfortable.
Furthermore, distracting the pup with a toy is also a great idea to make bath time easier for everyone involved. Ultimately, the dog will definitely come out feeling refreshed, having totally forgotten the troubles it had in the beginning!
Apart from baths, clipping a dog’s claws is a very difficult task. Dogs fear claw clipping a lot because their paws are very sensitive. Among all the body parts, a dog’s paws are the most sensitive and soft-skinned, so the process is a struggle both for the owner and the dog.
If the dog spends a lot of time outdoors, there is a good chance that the nails are automatically trimmed to the optimal length due to wear and tear. But nowadays, very few dogs get that much exercise. So, we have to trim the claws frequently to ensure that dogs don’t hurt themselves. If the claws are too long and the dog collides with a solid object, they could break. That is very painful, as the claws have sensitive roots — even the slightest damage to them can cause a lot of distress.
The fear of house objects like staircases
There are many popular videos online that show puppies learning to ascend and descend staircases in the house. However, while they are adorable, only the dog’s owner knows how stressful this is for a puppy. In fact, it is even more difficult if a person adopts a slightly grown-up dog that spent its puppyhood in a shelter that had no stairs.
The dog feels very scared to go up and down the stairs since it needs the right level of balance. Also, since dogs use all four limbs to move around, even a small mistake while descending a staircase can throw it off balance. The dog will tumble down and tremble at the thought of ascending the stairs again.
The best way to help dogs learn how to move on a staircase is to teach them while they are still puppies. We can keep a small treat or snack on the first step. If the pup is hungry and wants to be a bit adventurous, it will try to climb onto the first step and grab the treat. On the other hand, staircases can be so frightening that dogs will never try to get on that first step.
Teaching a pup to climb staircases requires a lot of patience. We have to train them every day and shower them with praises irrespective of their progress. One person can stand on top of the staircase and call the dog up, while another one can coax it from the other end. Eventually, the puppy will learn how to effortlessly climb and get off the staircases, but this whole process will feel like a nightmare until then.
A fear of strangers
Meek dogs have trouble hiding their fears of certain people. For example, my aunt got a dog when it was about a year old. The dog always barked at the mailman and hid under the table every time he appeared. However, when he was not wearing his uniform and stopped by to chat, the dog had no problem. It took my aunt a while to notice this connection and deduce that the mailman’s attire was scaring the dog.
Such dogs are generally submissive and show signs of fear by tucking their tail between their legs. They also resort to hiding for many hours at a stretch. In addition, salespeople who come to our doorstep to sell products may also scare the dogs. They become defensive trying to protect themselves and their master.
A fear response to strangers may also stem from prior experiences. For example, if a dog’s pup was hurt by a young boy, it may growl at all the young children it sees. In the dog’s childhood, if it was abused by an older person, it is bound to remember that and transfer its feelings to other similar-looking people.
It is hard to understand why dogs fear certain people, but with patience and a sharp sense of observation, we can ascertain the cause.
The fear of electronic devices
Sometimes, electronic devices let off signals that we cannot detect. But, our dogs very well can.
This is a particularly hard trigger to detect. If we buy a new electronic device for our house and our dog starts behaving peculiarly almost immediately, we should find a way to protect our dog from it. We can try placing it in another part of the house or removing it altogether if it is unbearable for the dog. The best thing to do would be to inquire about the potential effects of the device on pets before buying it.
My dog is acting strange and hiding — how can I help?
There are a few ways in which we can help our dog become more comfortable and relaxed.
This technique involves rewarding our pets for good behavior. However, bad behavior does not imply punishment. Punishing our pooch for bad behavior may harm its trust and loyalty. If our puppy has climbed a flight of stairs and we reward it with some treats, it is positive reinforcement. But if we punish it for not improving even after a few days of trying and refuse to give it treats, it is punishment.
Conditioning and behavioral modification
Psychologist Ivan Pavlov showed us in his famous experiment that conditioning could help cultivate certain behaviors. We can use similar principles to help our pets get over their fears. For example, convincing a dog daily to stay by our side (and not hide) in the presence of loud noises is a great idea. If we do this for a significant amount of time, it can help it get over the fear itself.
Anxiety reduction techniques
If our dog is suffering from anxiety, we can help it to calm down by showering it with lots of love and affection. Taking a day off and spending time with our pet can make a difference in its perception, considerably reducing its anxiety. Also, if we notice that our dogs feel very lonely during the day while we are running errands, we can appoint a caretaker. It might take a while for the dog to get used to the caretaker, but once we get past that, the dog is sure to be happier. Therefore, in contrast to an anxious and tired one.
Dogs need as much care as humans, and they are part of our family. Any struggle they are going through affects all of us and adds to the pressure we already feel. Though dogs cannot directly communicate what they are feeling, we pet parents can definitely sense their emotions.
After going through the causes of fear in dogs and tips on how to manage them, the answer to why our dogs are acting strange and hiding is quite clear. To sum it up, a little bit of patience can go a long way in helping our dogs get over their fears and lead a pleasant life!