Home » dog » How to deal with a fearful dog? [COAPE Behaviorist Ewa Jaworska

How to deal with a fearful dog? [COAPE Behaviorist Ewa Jaworska

I have a fearful dog and what now?

How to deal with a fearful dog

One of the main problems that behaviorists face in their work is the behavior of fearful dogs. Clients often report to us complaining about the aggressive behavior of their dog, or the constant fear of other dogs, people or objects. Contrary to appearances, these seemingly distant behaviors may have a common ground and result from the dog's fear.

  • Fear and fear
    • Where does anxiety come from?
  • Can anxious dogs be helped??
  • How to work with a fearful dog?
    • A quiet lair at home
    • The dog decides on contact
    • Guests at home
    • Yellow ribbon in a dog
  • How to relax a dog that is afraid?
    • Relaxing massage
    • Supplements
  • Working on a walk
    • Passing stressful stimuli while walking
    • Contact with dogs
    • Disturbing items

Fear and fear

Fear and fear

But let's start from the beginning. What is the difference between fear and fear?

The fear is often temporary, depending on the situation the dog is in. The dog reacts with fear immediately after being exposed to the stimulus. In turn, anxiety is usually a fixed, chronic condition where the dog is afraid, even if there is no direct factor that would trigger the condition at a given moment.

Where does anxiety come from?

Of course, there can be many reasons. Some dogs that have been exposed to a lot of stress in utero (for example, their mother lived on the street or in a very stressful environment) may be more anxious than others.

In turn, dogs that come to us from a shelter or come from pseudo-kennels and we know little about their past, may have traumatic experiences that also cause anxiety behaviors.

Dogs that have been bullied or bitten by other dogs or beaten by irresponsible handlers may also have a tendency to show anxiety behavior.

It can be similar with half-wild puppies that grew up in a quiet countryside or in the forest, and then end up in a busy city where much more is going on and are constantly bombarded with stressful stimuli. They also have every right to be afraid.

Another example is dogs with socialization deficiencies. If they did not acquire certain social skills early in life, did not have a well-balanced relationship with other dogs or people, they may later have more trouble dealing with surprising new things.

Can anxious dogs be helped??

Can anxious dogs be helped??

Many caregivers are worried and stressed about their dogs are afraid. They really want to help and support them, so that the dogs relax, feel confident and start enjoying life. They just don't always know how to do it.

Good and experienced behaviorists can provide great support and knowledge to lost caregivers. Such dogs should and should be helped, because timid dog, which opens, wags its tail and begins to walk more boldly through the world is an amazingly beautiful and touching sight!

How to work with a fearful dog?

How to work with a fearful dog?

For starters, it's good to work with your dog's anxiety by giving him a sense of security and the ability to tame his fears in a gentle, calm and gradual manner. You work delicately with fearful dogs, allow them to make decisions and show us what is comfortable for them and what is not. When we listen to the dog - it will feel more confident and start to open up beautifully!

There are several areas worth mentioning here that will make your dog feel more confident, both at home and on a walk.

A quiet lair at home

Fearful dogs should have their own, safe and inaccessible space where they can always hide, rest and relax. Such a place should be secluded enough not to be passed by it all the time (for example in the corner), but also preferably one from which the pooch sees the apartment and holds his hand (paw!) on the pulse and knows what is happening in the apartment.

If we do not know what place will be the best for our new pooch, sometimes it is enough to closely observe him. When the pooch appears in our house, he usually intuitively chooses a place where he lays down naturally, or looks for sheltered quiet places, and there we can put his dog bed. Apparently he feels safe there.

If we want the pooch to learn that this is his place, we can give him the best toys for the dog, congas, or bury treats there. We can also teach him a simple command "to place ".

The dog decides on contact

Fearful dogs do not like to be surprised by gestures, swinging hands, violently picking up on the hands, coming up from behind, or cuddling. This causes them a lot of stress, they can snarl when they feel threatened, and they have every right to do so.

Therefore (this is especially important when there are children at home) it is good to let the dog come to us first and decide if he wants to contact us. Let us not force him or do anything against his will. This will provide him with a great mental peace and the dog will not look around scared all the time where the threat will come from.

Guests at home

Fearful dogs often have a problem with guests, couriers and new people at home and can bark at them out of fear, and sometimes show their teeth and attack. Barking is often an attempt to push the threat away, an attempt to deal with a situation. In addition, barking is also a self-rewarding mechanism, so the dog is relieved when barking, so he can quickly become addicted to this mechanism.

Our task is to make our guests:

  1. They ceased to be "dangerous ".
  2. They associated the dog with something nice, so they became desirable.

How to act?

When guests come, we give them a treat to throw at our dog. The point is for the dog to mate well. They can squat sideways and extend their hand for the dog to smell it. You have to be careful not to make any sudden gestures and strokes in the process of getting to know each other, because it stresses the dog.

During the guests' visit, please do not reach out to the dog violently, do not walk quickly towards it, do not look into its eyes intensely, do not lean over it. In fact, the more they ignore him and sit quietly on the couch, the less stressed the dog becomes. When a pooch wants to smell himself at people, we let it happen and praise him for being a good and brave dog!

Yellow ribbon in a dog

If we go for a walk with the dog, we also keep an eye on the boundaries - if people want to approach, we say that "the dog is undergoing training " and not to do so.  Alternatively, they can crouch down some distance and allow themselves to be sniffed if our dog decides that he wants to approach them.

He should have the driving force to decide whether he wants to contact you or not. This will raise his self-confidence and will make him become "the master of the situation", instead of being put in it against his will and he will have to defend himself from fear by barking.

We can also put a yellow ribbon on the collar / leash as a sign for passers-by that the dog is fearful and should not be disturbed. Fortunately, in Poland we are becoming more and more aware that the yellow ribbon means that the dog does not want any contact.

How to relax a dog that is afraid?

How to relax a dog that is afraid?

In the case of fearful dogs, it is worth reducing their tension by offering them activities and activities that relax them in a natural way.

Such activities include:

  • sniffing,
  • chewing,
  • biting,
  • licking,
  • chewing things.

So let's make sure that the pooch has access to toys such as:

  • olfactory mat,
  • congas,
  • rumen,
  • pressed bones,
  • rubber toys,
  • cardboard boxes with relish buried so that he would have the satisfaction of tearing them apart.

We can also bury the flavors around the house and ask the dog to look for them, or we can hide them in his blanket. This will make your dog learn to focus on specific activities and have the satisfaction of finding a delicious reward.

Relaxing massage

It is also worth opening up to new techniques. If our pooch has a problem with touch and we want to calmly tame him with the hand and show the dog that touch can be nice (perhaps the dog previously had bad associations with touch and does not trust him), you can try a gentle relaxing massage for the dogs ( e.g. T-Touch or GaSa massage).

Such a massage calms the dog down, reduces its tension and allows you to get used to the touch, and for the caretakers it is a great method to get closer to the pooch.


To raise the dog's mood a little and calm him down, you can also consider gentle supplements, such as a pheromone collar, or supplements for dogs based on lactic peptide or tryptophan. These are preparations mainly based on herbs, so their action is very subtle, but some dogs react to them nicely.

Working on a walk

Working on a walk

During the walk, we try to follow a few simple rules so that our pooch knows that we control the situation and the danger and he can take care of snooping and "being a happy dog", and in the meantime we will do the rest!

Passing stressful stimuli while walking

We try not to go straight to things that may make our dog anxious (people / dogs / prams / cars etc.) It's stressful for our dog.

If possible, we try to summon the dog and avoid a large arc "threat", so that our pooch knows that we have the situation under control and we support him.

If we cannot avoid the risk of the arc and we know that our pooch will get stressed or he will bite out of stress, it is better to turn back and leave in advance. If possible, we return the dog with a command, and not by pulling him by the leash, because it also increases his stress, and we want to avoid it.

Contact with dogs

Many fearful dogs have a problem with other dogs. When they see another dog, they tuck their tail, withdraw or bark nervously out of stress to avert the threat.

That is why it is very important that we, as guardians, do not lead to accidental contacts with foreign dogs, which may, for example, run loose to our dog. When our dog is on a short leash, it will not have a chance to escape.

Therefore, especially at the beginning, it is worth initiating contacts with calm, balanced dogs that will not oppressively force our pooch to contact. We can go for a parallel walk, in the distance, so that our dog gets used to it and understands that other dogs are fun and contact with them does not have to be stressful.

If we also see that our dog is interested in some strange, passed dog, but is not afraid of it, then we can also follow this dog for a while, so that our dog becomes accustomed to its presence.

Disturbing items

Many dogs are afraid of things that seem irrational to us. Rustling garbage bags, electric brushes, prams, or even large field stones can make our dog scary ?

What is important in the process of getting the dog used to the "scary" object is patience and not forcing the dog to contact. It is better to play the disturbing noise of the brush in the background when the dog is playing or relaxing so that he slowly gets used to the low volume sound.

In the case of static objects (such as a stone), we can be the first to approach, without dragging the dog, we can only encourage him with a word or spread the flavors around so that the object is nice to associate with. It is important that the dog tries to overcome his fear himself and makes the decision himself that he wants to get to know the object, and we will support him next to him, should a dangerous field stone decide to attack ?


What is key in working with fearful dogs is the gradual expansion of their world so that they willingly (and with our support) overcome their fears and open up. For this to happen, the pooch should have a stable environment, be able to make decisions whether he wants to be in contact and, above all, feel safe.

As guardians, we should try step by step (getting the pooch out of the fear shell is a process!) support our dog, it is also worth preparing for this process substantively, thanks to a meeting with a behaviorist who will help diagnose the source of anxiety and tell us how to work with a specific pooch.

Good luck and remember that fearful dogs will be extremely grateful to us if we help them, and they will repay us with true canine love in return! Could there be a more beautiful payment? ?

Sources used >>

Leave Your Comment