How to recognise fear in canine inpatients

01 April 2013
8 mins read
Volume 4 · Issue 3


The veterinary environment has been seen to cause a fear-based reaction in a large number of patients. Fear of the veterinary practice or environment can lead to occurrences of aggression, injury and impede on the welfare of patients. The ability to recognise the warning signals and the indicators of fear will equip veterinary staff with the knowledge to recognise when a patient is experiencing a fear response. Steps can then be taken to turn the veterinary environment from negative to positive and improve the welfare of all patients as well as make the experience safer for all involved.

A good understanding of fear and its behavioural signals in canine patients can be important to ensure a patient's experience of the veterinary practice is kept as positive as possible. This ensures the welfare of the animals is of a high standard and the safety of all involved is improved. This article looks at how to recognise these behavioural indicators and how to respond to them effectively.

‘Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by threat, danger or harm (Oxford Dictionary, 2013). This is a natural response to any perceived aversive stimuli and is related to a natural survival instinct. Learning the relationship between an aversive stimuli and the environmental cues that predict it is essential to survival (Maren, 2001).

Fear-related behaviours are commonplace within the veterinary practice. In a study of 135 cases, 78.5% of canine patients were categorized as fearful (Doring et al. 2009). These fear associations take hold very quickly and develop over time if not dealt with. This means that one negative experience while in practice, if of sufficient intensity to that particular dog, can lead to a lifelong fear of the practice. By looking at the high percentage of dogs within practice that are displaying fear-related signals it becomes apparent how important it is to recognise these behaviours.

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