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How to Help a Fearful Dog

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

57% of dog owners say their pet is anxious. 40% are afraid of noises, 33% have separation anxiety, and 15% are reactive to strange situations.

Watching your furry friend hide from the world can hurt your heart, but it can also drain your wallet. Owners of fearful dogs spend $400 more a year on tasks such as vet visits and medications.

DFW Dog Trainers
The world can be a big scary place.

Noticing the signs and developing a consistent training routine is the best solution to this problem. Read on to learn how to comfort your fearful dog.

Signs of a Fearful Dog

Aggression in dogs is usually fear-based. Their barking, biting, or growling may be a cry for help.

A fearful dog is more likely to have "accidents" around the house, whether they're a puppy or an old-timer. This is known as submissive urination and is an attempt to get whatever's scaring them to not see them as a threat and go away.

Cowering, shaking, lowering their ears, and running away are a few of the most obvious signs of a fearful dog. There are also more subtle forms of body language they may give off such as yawning, panting, or lip licking.

Anxious dogs may attempt to get as far away from whatever's stressing them out. They'll try to avoid it by refusing to give you eye contact, becoming disinterested in toys or treats they use to enjoy, or sniffing the ground to find anything else to focus on.

Once you notice these signs, the next step is understanding a dog's emotional triggers. They could be noises, other humans or dogs, or even a specific object in your home like a vacuum cleaner. Noticing where and when your dog begins to act anxious is an important first step in finding out how to help them.

What Scares Dogs

Anxiety and fear can be genetic in dogs as well as humans. Check and see if their littermates are also fearful.

Dog socialization is the process of getting them used to anything new, including:

  • People

  • Dogs

  • Sensations

  • Environments

  • Sounds

  • Textures

  • Surfaces

If you got your dog from a rescue or a previous owner, you don't know whether or not they've been properly socialized. If they haven't, they won't be prepared to emotionally handle new situations.

Early trauma is, unfortunately, another common cause of fear for dogs. An animal suffers from abuse every 60 seconds, and 65% of them are dogs.

These harrowing situations can explain many specific phobias of dogs. They may be afraid of men because of previous abuse or certain objects that they've been beaten with or injured by in the past.

Fear doesn't always start in the mind; it can also begin in the body. Anxious dogs often have serious health issues. They may lunge out at other dogs or humans because they're in pain, and the behavior may go away with proper treatment.

How to Comfort Fearful Dogs

Take your dog to the veterinarian first, especially if they're older. It's important to eliminate any underlying issues that may be contributing to your dog's fear. They can also give you advice on where to look and what to do next.

Training is one of the best ways to build your dog's confidence back up. Start by teaching them basic obedience or agility skills. It can make them feel accomplished and help redirect their attention when they get scared. A confident dog is a less nervous dog.

Exposure therapy is another essential component. Gradually guide them into new experiences, including the ones that they're afraid of. Start by keeping them far away from their stressors and then move them closer and closer over time.

Having a more confident, calm dog nearby can help. Dogs are pack animals and communicate signs of danger to each other. If they see their friend doing tricks or surviving a new situation, they'll begin to realize that it's okay.

Watch your tone whenever you give commands or instructions. Yelling at your dog will only make them more afraid. It also tells them that they only have to obey when you're yelling. Use a calm tone every time you train to get better results and save your voice.

This doesn't mean you can't communicate with your dog. You can and should give verbal feedback by saying "no" or "good." You should also give physical feedback such as clickers, gentle tugs, or hand signals.

Both you and your pet should give off calm, receptive energy when you work together. If either of you starts to get stressed, it's okay to stop for the day. Each session should be short and end on a positive note.

Create a consistent routine for your fearful dog. They should know when they'll eat, play, and train every day. It helps them feel in control of the world and know what to expect.

If they have separation anxiety, you may need to switch up your routine. Change which door you go out of or where you put on your shoes. They won't recognize the signs of you leaving and become distressed anymore.

Give your dog a quiet space to escape to when they're afraid. Put a crate in a quiet room with a blanket over it and a few toys nearby. Teach them to go to it whenever they need to.

Never expect them to change overnight or become a vibrant pup who isn't afraid of anything. Comforting a fearful dog takes time and patience, but the rewards are worth it.

Where to Get Help Training a Fearful Dog

One thing that dogs have in common with humans is a tendency to develop anxiety. They can become fearful because of their genetics, history with humans, or poor socialization.

A fearful dog uses body language to let its owners know when they're afraid. They may start lowering their ears, becoming aggressive, or ignoring stressful situations. You can help them by gradually exposing them to what they're afraid of and rewarding them when they face it.

Working with professional trainers helps you learn how to build up your dog's confidence. Book a consultation with K-9 Culture Dog Training today.

K-9 Culture Dog Training

Helping Humans Have a Dog that is a JOY to Live With!


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