The dictionary definition of phobia is “an exaggerated and often disabling fear.” Phobias can affect dogs of any breed, age, or sex. Distinguishing between fear and outright phobia can be tricky. Here’s an overview:
Fear is most often caused by under-socialization. Most fears can be reduced and sometimes conquered completely. Common fears: Men, strangers, children, loud noises (gunshots, car backfire), strange objects (crutches, vacuum cleaners), car travel, vet’s offices.
Phobias can develop from fear or trauma, or have a genetic component. Phobias can be managed but rarely cured. Common phobias: Thunder, firecrackers, lightning, storm (wind, heavy rain, with or without thunder and lightning), loud noises.
Symptoms of phobia.
Panting, shaking, pacing, whining, howling, drooling, trying to hide.
In severe cases, dogs can be gripped by panic and try desperate things to get away from whatever scares them, including crashing through windows or running headlong into traffic.
What to do.
In mild to moderate cases, desensitization—the treatment for most types of fears—can be effective, and involves pairing the scary thing with something the dog loves: food, play, etc. Many vets also recommend using Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP), a chemical that triggers a calming response in the dog. Other than that, good results have been reported with the use of wraps (swaddling), sound therapy, and the elimination of static electricity (during storms). In severe cases, medication can be necessary.
Before trying any treatment always get expert guidance from your vet or a behaviorist.