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(See also Vet Phobias)

Dogs can develop phobias, or exaggerated fears, about all kinds of events, people, other animals, objects and sounds. This tendency is often an inherited trait, though dogs may also have a tendency to anxiety if they have suffered unpleasant experiences just after birth, or been separated from their mothers too young. Though many authors see six to eight weeks as a suitable age to take a pup home, it's usually safer to wait until eight weeks, because the extra two weeks spent with mum and littermates can give the pup more confidence in coping with life, as well as giving the pup time to learn more social skills.

Generally, it helps to try to get the dog to associate what he is afraid of with something nice. Take it gradually, and don't force the issue unless you really have to, or you may panic the dog and undo progress. If your dog is afraid of an object, for example, just leave the object on the floor next to his favourite titbit and move away, pretending to ignore the dog. If he doesn't approach the object, try again, with the titbit further away, and if he eats the titbit, try it again with the object nearer the titbit. The same applies to fear of cars, you can place titbits at a distance from the car, and gradually nearer, until the dog gets in the car. However, if your dog really doesn't like getting into cars, do check this isn't because of aches and pains. The same applies to fear of stairs - dogs may be unused to stairs, in which case teaching them to climb very short flights with titbits helps, but also check for medical problems.

Dogs may not be used to car journeys, or they may associate them with unpleasant events, like being put in kennels. Very short journeys going to somewhere fun, like a park where they can play, can change their expectations.

Sound phobias are difficult to deal with, and can arise suddenly when dogs are adult. If your dog is only a little afraid of gunshot, try walking him with a calm, older dog, and he should take his cue from his companion. It's best to try not to be out in thunderstorms, or when fireworks are being let off, as very loud unexpected bangs can spook many dogs. Use a harness if he pulls in a frantic bid to get to safety. A harness can calm dogs, whereas if they are throttling themselves by pulling very hard, this can intensify their panic and damage them.

Dogs often bark, or tremble and hide, when they hear loud bangs and thunderclaps and they are indoors. Close all windows, pull all curtains, and put on your dog's favourite music or the TV so that the flashes and sounds have less of an impact. Dogs vary in terms of how much they are comforted by the owner's presence, and by being touched. Very spooked dogs may just want a bolt hole near you. These are the dogs that show abject terror, and pant. Petting them is unlikely to help, their 'flight' survival instinct has kicked in and they just want a safe place. You can rig up a 'safe place' behind your favourite chair by placing an open dog cage, or crate there and covering it with blankets. This allows the dog to 'go to ground' until he feels it is safe to come out. Keep the door open when he is inside so he feels he is in control. The advantage of this is that you can leave it in place when you go out, giving the dog a way of coping in your absence.

Dogs that are less spooked can be calmed in other ways. You can call the dog, and reward him for coming and sitting beside you by giving him long, firm strokes and massage. Many dogs that are just a little spooked during storms or firework bangs can also benefit from playing games. Try playing with the dog's toys until you attract his interest, and then involve him in his favourite games. Generally it helps to encourage a dog to do something active as a way of learning to cope with his fears of stimuli that move or make noises. It's much easier for him to tune out the bangs or whatever he is afraid of, if he's doing something, rather than just sitting still, especially if he is confined. This also applies to fear of motorbikes, children, trucks, whatever moves and/or is noisy.

Fear of vacuum cleaners is very common, and may lead the dog to bite your legs or sleeve to get you away from the dangerous noisy moving object. One method of tackling this that often works is to get the dog used to the vacuum cleaner with a helper, first having the helper vacuum while you play training games with the dog nearby, then swapping with the helper playing with the dog and you vacuuming. This is better in a large room, so you can start out at a distance, and it's better if the helper is someone your dog really trusts. However some owners simply put the dog into a down stay, explaining that the vacuum cleaner is quite safe - which method is better depends on the dog, how spooked, and how obedient he is.