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Scared Behavior

Shih Tzu Behavior - Frantic, Fearful and/or Depression

Overview

Whenever a dog is displaying odd behavior such as acting frantic, fearful or depressed, a vet check is a must. There are many physical conditions which may cause this behavior. Only when you know that there are no health issues, should you begin to look at the other possible causes.

When a Shih Tzu shows frantic or frightened behavior, there may be many causes. This can include:
  • A lack of socialization
  • Genetics
  • A traumatic experience that the dog has had
  • Over stimulation
  • Improper training when the dog does act afraid
How to Help

When a Shih Tzu has a problem with fear or nervousness, it is important to use calm yet firm training.  
Your Words and Actions

As humans, we are accustomed to console those who are afraid or upset. When dogs are experiencing similar behaviors we tell them, "its okay" in a soothing tone and stroke them. This does not usually work with dogs who are behaving afraid. Why? Because your soothing words and pats give your Shih Tzu the message that you are approving of their behavior.

This should be explained to everyone in the household. 

What does work? It is in the best interest of your dog to either ignore them (this shows your Shih Tzu that all is fine, you are calm and there is nothing to be afraid of) or speak to the dog in a mocking tone, i.e.: "don't be silly!" or "knock it off!" (again, these are the words and tone that will show your dog that everything is alright)

Giving Treats = Not a Good Idea

If your dog is acting afraid to come to you or behaving afraid of any situation, if you give doggie treats to “help”, this does not help. This gives your Shih Tzu the message that they are receiving a reward for how they are behaving.
Over-Stimulation

The Shih Tzu is, of course, a very small dog. When a dog has a problem with fear, it is important to protect your dog from pushy people and/or dogs. Many nice people will be attracted to your dog as well but remember that it is your job to protect your dog from unwanted attention. 

While it will become normal in time for your dog to greet people, having a group surround your dog, having several children pick him up and maneuver him around and such can be very overwhelming to a dog who has not had the slow and steady steps of socializing. In addition, small children, in an attempt to “play” may be hurting the dog.

Whatever your dog is afraid of, should be introduced in slow, small steps. 

For example, if your Shih Tzu is afraid of people, have a friend come over for 5 minutes per day for a week. While there, everyone should speak in calm, happy tones. The dog should not be forced to be petted or played with. In time, increase the length of the visits. Remember to not mistakenly train your Shih Tzu to think their fearful behavior is correct. This means no soothing tones or “its okay” comments. When you dog is acting calm, do give praise, pats and treats. When your dog is behaving frantic or fearful, ignore the behavior and continue showing your Shih Tzu that you are not afraid.

Your dog will learn to mimic you. It is your actions, tone and words which will train your Shih Tzu on what is expected and your dog will learn what the difference between a normal calm situation and one which would be a cause for concern (for example, a burglar)

When You Dog Uses You as a “Shield”

If your dog has been climbing into your lap for comfort or leaning into you to "escape" something that is not really a threat, do not allow your Shih Tzu to do so. This, again, gives your dog the wrong message. If you allow your Shih Tzu to hide next to you, this gives the message that there is indeed something to be afraid of and you are there to protect them. If there is no danger, you must not behave as if you are protecting them.

What can you do instead? You can give your dog something else to think of. You can do this by giving a command such as “Sit” with a calm yet firm tone and gentle physical placement if needed.

Praise

Whenever your dog is acting calm, give praise, kisses, pats, cuddles and treats (don’t over do the treats, but 4 or 5 small treat per day to reward calm behavior will be fine).
Gender Specific Fear or Fear of You

Some dogs show a fear toward a certain gender, and this may be the gender of the owner.

Training can be done to help resolve this. Each day for 5 minutes, you can expose your Shih Tzu to the person whom they are afraid of. If your Shih Tzu is not afraid of you, but of a certain gender, ask a friend to be the helper.

1. The goal is to slowly have this helper be able to hold your Tzu. (Or if your dog is afraid of you, you will be doing the following steps) This should be done in a very gentle, yet confident way.

2. Have your helper (or you):
  • Not talk to your dog
  • Be sitting down when holding your Shih Tzu
  • Place your dog in your helper’s lap
  • Stay close and do not say anything to your dog. You can talk to your helper if in a happy, calm tone even if the dog squirms and struggles a bit.
  • Try this for 5 minutes per day. At some point, when your Shih Tzu does not struggle, have your helper gently pat your dog yet still not speak.
  • By the 2nd week of your dog learning to calm down during this brief time, step things up by having the helper give a small treat and talk to your dog in a calm, soft, happy tone.
Noises

A dog may show extreme fear of noises…whether you hear them or not! Sirens are the most common problem. Your Shih Tzu can hear sounds from miles away and you will never know what it is that they are hearing. This can be sirens, car alarms, honking horns, a vicious barking dog, etc.

If your Shih Tzu is acting frantic and there is no one around and no stimulation that would be a possible cause, this may point to noises as being the problem.

While you cannot control the noised that your dog hears, you can control how you react. This will be different than the above situations. When your dog is showing fear of people or situations that you can clearly see, you should not reinforce their behavior by patting them (which gives the message that their behavior is correct) However , if your Shih Tzu is afraid of something you cannot see or hear, it usually does work to soothe your dog. However, do not over do it.

When you dog begins to act afraid and you see no reason why:
  • In a very calm, matter-of-fact tone, say “Calm down”
  • Do not allow your dog to hide against you, however you can give some reassuring pats to show your dog that the noise they hear is not a danger to you. It is your actions which will show your dog if they are correct in acting afraid
  • Try to distract your Shih Tzu with play time or an interactive toy
See Also: Shih Tzu is Acting Odd - The top 8 reasons for weird behavior. 
Depression

When a dog is afraid all of the time, this can begin to wear on a dog. They may become very emotionally exhausted from being afraid all day. This can then lead to depression. If a dog is appearing very depressed, a vet exam is a must, as the signs of depression can point to health issues.

If all is well in the health department, do what make a dog happy:
  • Offer a happy, calm home
  • Keep a daily schedule that your dog can depend on (walk time, play time, relaxing time, feeding time, grooming time, etc)
  • Bring your dog to places of interest. Most dogs love adventure, just being able to walk around and smell new scents can keep a dog very well entertained and exercised. You may wish to walk on a different route, find a safe park to explore, go for a short safe hike, etc.
It is rare, however some dogs do have clinical depression. Low does of anti-depression medication can be very helpful in these extreme circumstances.
More Information

This, of course, is an overview of these behavioral issues. We, the AllShihTzu Team, have put together 308 pages of detailed Shih Tzu information for you, in both a hard copy book and eBook. Learn more.
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