My Dog is Scared, How Can I Help Them?

My dog is scared of … me, other people, fireworks, other dogs, children, thunder, storms… the list goes on and on. If you don’t know why, or you don’t know how to help them, read on to discover what could be behind your dogs fears and how you can help them to be more calm and confident.

What is Your Dog Scared About?

There are so many things that your dog can become scared about, ranging from people to places, objects to animals, sounds, and situations. Some dogs are so timid that I’ve heard owners say ‘my dog is scared of everything’.

People can be a major source of dog fears, particularly men and children, although there are plenty of  dog owners who say that their dog is afraid of them too.  This is often thought to be a result of the puppy missing out on the very early, first and critical stage of socialisation. It is recommended that puppies be handled from about 4 weeks so they get use to the smell and sound of humans.

Certain places can also scare dogs, from a particular spot in their own backyard, right through to the local park or wide open spaces. These fears often relate to a bad experience they had in these places, or outside the home. The fear may even be caused by a smell, perhaps of another animal, that remains undetectable to us.

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The list of objects a dog can be scared of is endless. Common items that scare a dog are the vacuum cleaner, telephones, and TVs, all of which could be more about the noise it makes than the object itself. However, other fears I’ve noticed include hats, TV remotes, clocks, beards, and balls! Again, a bad experience connected with these objects could have scared the dog.

Animals, especially other dogs are another source of fear. Some dog owners have to pick their dog walks with great care because they can’t risk meeting another dog. The worry with this particular fear is that it could spill out as fear aggression towards the other dog.

Loud noises such as thunder, storms, high winds and fireworks are other very common sources that scare dogs. Sounds in the home such as the rumbling of a washing machine, the sound of the doorbell, or high pitched ringing of a telephone can also cause problems and some dogs are so over sensitive that almost any sound can start them trembling like a leaf.

Finally situations like being left home alone, or left in a car alone, even for just a few minutes can create so much anxiety in a dog that they will pace, tremble, howl and drool excessively from the moment you leave.

Why do Dogs Get Scared?

Socialisation is very important to a young puppy, with critical periods being from around 4 weeks of age. If a dog reaches the age of 6 months and has had very little socialisation, fear problems can get set in.

Dogs need to be exposed to other people and other animals, roads, cars and as many experiences as possible of things they will come into regular contact with, in a safe, controlled way in order to build their self confidence.

But missing out on socialisation isn’t the only reason for dogs becoming scared. Bad experiences or traumas, such as being attacked by another dog can create serious problems as can being harshly scolded by someone reduce their self confidence and turn them into a scared dog.

How To Help Your Scared Dog

Make sure you always stay calm and don’t show anxiety around your dog. If you are feeling scared or nervous, your dog will take a lead from you and will feel they have even more to be scared about.

Regular training can help you build your dogs confidence in themselves and their trust in you.

Make your training sessions fun and use lots of positive rewards. Take it slowly and proceed one small step at a time, making sure you never reward scared behaviour. That means praise, treats or play when they confront a fear and not giving them attention for scared behaviour, so don’t go and comfort them because it doesn’t help. Act as if there is nothing for them to worry about.

Never use punishment as you are likely to make your scared dog worse. It has been proved not to help reinforce good behaviour, and you risk losing the trust of your dog.

Finally, learn how to be a calm and assertive pack leader and build a strong bond with your dog. When they can trust you to take charge and make decisions it will help build their own self-confidence. If you want a step-by-step training programme to help your scared dog, click on the link and find out more about dog anxiety and our new eBook, as it could make your life a lot easier too.

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  1. Paty
    3 years ago

    Be aware that there are different mdheots of training.Those will fall into 2 main categories.The traditional way is compulsive training and uses some type of training collar (usually a choker or pinch collar) to give the dog what is often referred to as corrections’.The dog is forced to respond in order to avoid or escape these karate chops to the throat’.Not a nice way for the dog to learn and not for the faint-hearted dog owner either.The method relies on negative reinforcement and punishment, but is sometimes complemented (depends on the trainer/owner) with rewards for doing the right thing too. The gentler mdheots are predominantly based on Positive Reinforcement. Some trainers use a lot of luring and rewarding.A major improvement is when in combination with an event marker (a clicker is wide-spread used), it resembles marine mammal training.You can learn to capture’ instantaneous responses similar to taking a snapshot with your camera. Things such as lifting a paw, eye contact, head turns, taking a bow (stretch), and of course a sit, down, picking up items, dropping items and basically everything a dog does.The dog responds because he predicts getting a reward.He wants to respond because the consequences are pleasant he LOVES the training sessions because those are opportunities to earn rewards.You can teach the most amazing behaviors in small steps, a process refered to as shaping.I went the route of learning behavior analysis/modification (operant conditioning) myself and I find it is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve taught her the most amazing things I never before believed I could do. Now, I would never just hand my dog over to a trainer unless I’m absolutely sure he/she uses positive’ only mdheots and even then only when I’m supervising.If you do choose or are curious to head into that direction, here’s an excellent starting point:It’s also got a mailing list with lots of members and everyone is free to join.Of course, I can’t stop you if you choose to take your dog to the first trainer you can find, whether that be positive or traditional. All I can recommend is that if you love your dog, do a little home work first and learn how each method affects a dog’s personallity. Training is learning and should be fun not a pain in the neck!

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