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How to Help Your Fearful Dog

Dogs can be fearful for a variety of reasons including a lack of socialization, scary experiences in their past, and/or genetics. Whatever the reason for their fear, there are steps you can take to ensure that you recognize when they are afraid and then to help them feel safe and secure.

Your dog can have different ways to tell you that they are feeling uncomfortable or afraid. The signs may be subtle, but it is important for you to recognize your dog’s body language as soon as possible and intervene.

Recognize Fearful Body language

  • Eyes wide and round

  • Lick lips

  • Duck away or retreat

  • Drooling

  • Tucked Tail

  • Roll onto their back

  • Pacing and Panting

  • Freezing

  • Baring teeth

  • Growling

  • Lunging and Barking

  • Snapping and Biting

What To Do

  • Identify what things trigger a fearful response from your dog. Limit their exposure to these triggers until you create a plan to slowly desensitize them.

  • When you notice your dog is showing fearful body language quickly and calmly remove them from the situation. Do not allow anyone to chase or corner your dog.

  • Keep a collar and tags on your dog. Ensure that they don’t have access to dash out the door or escape from your yard. Escape proof any fences and use doors, baby gates or a leash to prevent door dashing.

  • Create a “safe spot” for your dog in a quiet area of your home. Establish a predictable routine and allow them to gain confidence in you and their surroundings.

  • Find tasty treats that your dog LOVES (small pieces of chicken or hot dog often work) Begin treating them for calm and relaxed behavior. Start this process far away from the scary things and slowly move closer as they gain more confidence. Our behavior team can go over this process with you in more detail if you schedule a post adoption training consult.

What To Avoid

  • Do not force your dog to “face his fears”. This is often referred to as “flooding”. This outdated technique is more likely to increase the fear.

  • Do Not use punishment or corrections (leash corrections, prong collar, e-collar, etc). This will only increase the fear and anxiety. Your dog may begin to fear you as well. Using punishment has been linked with creating increased behavioral problems and even aggression. We would not recommend any trainer that suggests using these methods.

When to Seek Help

Many dogs and their people benefit from consulting with a certified positive trainer. A professional that has experience working with fearful dogs can create a customized plan for you. If your dog is showing any aggression please seek the help of a professional.

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