Helping a Fearful Dog

Helping a Fearful Dog

Three Main Reasons for Fear/Phobia – this all depends on your dog’s experiences, socialisation, environment and even breed.

Lack of Socialisation: If your up wasn’t proper socialised as a puppy, this can really impact how they interact with the rest of the world. Dogs who aren’t socialised properly are more prone to separation anxiety and fearfulness. Socialisation is the process of helping a dog feel comfortable with people, other animals, new places and novel objects.

Socialisation includes bringing your dog out into the world and introducing them to various kinds of people and situations — which helps them learn how to be a happy, friendly pup and can reduce fear in unfamiliar situations.

If your dog wasn’t socialised during the critical socialisation window between 3 and 16 months, that means they’re more likely to be scared in new situations.

Bad Experiences - Even with all the socialising in the world, if your dog suffered from some kind of traumatic experience (like being abused by previous owners or even just being left home alone during a really loud thunderstorm), there’s a possibility that they’ll be scared of those same (or similar) experiences moving forward.

Genetics – Some dog breeds are just more fearful of other things, people and animals. Be it due to their size or general disposition, some dogs are just naturally more wary and careful.

Common Dog Fears – Many dogs do share a few phobias and fears, some really make sense due to the nature of the object/environment. These include:

1.       Fireworks

2.       Thunderstorms

3.       Other dogs

4.       Other animals

5.       Travelling

6.       Unknown people

7.       Being alone

How Can You Help Your Dog? – There area number of ways you can help your pooch, some are hotly debated as being effective, but some things work for other dogs and not others. You just have to find out what will be best for your pet.

Talk To Your Vet - The first step should be a thorough medical evaluation to determine if health problems are playing a role. Dogs who are in pain may develop fear of anything that exacerbates the pain, such as being touched, being approached by a playful dog, a leash or collar, or a sport class like agility.

Older dogs may develop fears and phobias following physical changes, including cognitive deterioration or loss of sight or hearing. A myriad of other physical problems can be in play as well, and any underlying medical issue should be resolved.

Don’t Force Them into Scary Situations - It’s not going to help, and it may make the situation worse, adding yet another scary experience that confirms your pup’s belief that something is worth being afraid of. Wilde advises that we allow the dog to make the decision about approaching or avoiding a potentially scary situation.


Positive Reinforcement Training - Positive reinforcement is the most highly effective training method to build confidence and trust in individuals, so learning some things can help your dog!

Positive reinforcement is when you reward your dog for doing what’s right rather than scolding them for doing something “wrong.”

This will help change your pup’s behaviour over time without potentially hurting your dog or causing them stress (which is often the case when you punish your dog!).

Desensitization - Desensitization is the idea of slowly increasing exposure to an object or situation that ignites the fear in your pet.

An example of desensitization is to play fireworks sounds at home at a low volume, slowly increasing it over time, in order to get your dog used to the sounds.

Counterconditioning - Classical counterconditioning consists of pairing up what frightens the dog with something the dog loves more than anything else; eventually, the dog realizes that the scary thing predicts the wonderful thing. If your dog fears people, then every time he sees someone, they should immediately receive a their favourite treat or highly prized toy or other item.

Eventually, the dog will have a positive emotional reaction to seeing a person, because they know that something good is about to happen. Exposing your dog to the trigger that scares them, starting at very low levels of intensity and gradually working up to more intense exposures, is most effective. In practice, desensitization and classical counterconditioning are often done together.

Some dogs progress rapidly, but others make progress that can only be detected when viewed long-term, over years or perhaps over the dog’s entire life. No matter which pattern describes your dog, it’s important to work gradually, and as Wilde says, “go at the dog’s pace.” You must only move to more intense triggers when the dog is clearly comfortable at the previous level of exposure. Fearful dogs must be handled carefully and with endless patience.


Jan 20 2023
by Claire