Simple Solutions for Fearful Dogs

Three main reasons for fear

Some dogs seem to be afraid of everything and some dogs seem to be afraid of certain things. Dogs who startle at everything and take a long time to recover, are not able to cope with the stress in their environment

  1. Some dogs seem to be born that way-This type of fear is called genetic and is passed through the genes of one or both parents. 
  2. Lack of early learning and socialization- A dogs early learning and socialization period is shorter than ours and happens within the first three months of their life. 
  3. Traumatic event- 

Conclusion: Scary things happen and we can’t avoid that. Puppies and adolescent dogs go through phases when they startle at things. This is a normal reaction. A dog that startles at something and recovers quickly is a having a healthy response. A dog that continues to show fear even after the scary thing goes away or seems to take a long time to recover after the scary thing goes away is having an unhealthy response. 

How fears develop

Dogs who have a genetic predisposition to fear and/or lack early learning and socialization are more inclined to be afraid of people, places and things that are unfamiliar. Things that happen suddenly or are hard to predict can cause the dog to develop panic attacks. Fear of being left alone can exacerbate this. 

Unfamiliar people and animals

Direct eye contact

Smiling- showing teeth 

Men, hats , sunglasses

reaching hand out-especially the back of a hand. It would be better to show the palm of your hand. Many dogs see think you have a treat to give them.  

Sudden movements towards or direct approach

Unfamiliar sights and sounds 

vacuum cleaners,  hair dryers, skateboards 

Things that happen in the environment that are hard to predict Thunderstorms and Fireworks

How do I know if my dog is fearful?

People and dogs have the same responses to fear. When we cannot cope when faced with something scary we have Fight, Flight and/or Freeze response. Even our expressions are similar.

The following video shows the subtle signs of what fear looks like in dogs  

Avoidance and cowering, tail tucking, or refusing to move

More noticeable and potentially dangerous reactions

freezing and running away

Prevention, Safety and Management

Control the environment and try not to put your dog in situations that cause the fear and the reactions (behavior) to that fear. I have listed a few things that can help.


All the time- Products with vitamin B complex and sunflower lecithin can help support the central nervous system.  

During stressful times-

  • Composure
  • CBD Cannabis without the THC can be extremely helpful. THC can cause extreme fear in dogs and make your dog even more fearful. The CBD in cannabis counteracts the fear.

What to do when your dog becomes afraid

Get your dog away from the thing that is causing the fear. When your dog is afraid, don’t force him to do anything that causes more fear. Get him to a safe place

If your dog enjoys being petted, it can help to comfort and calm



How to Change the way your dog feels about the “Scary” thing

Expose your dog to the “scary thing” at low levels

It’s important to know you can’t change the way the dog feels when he/she is fearful. 

Expose your dog to the scary thing at low levels and a safe distance. In order to do that you need to know this is called desensitization 

Desensitization is accomplished by pairing an unpleasant thing with a pleasant thing.  It changes the way your dog feels about the thing (trigger) that causes him to behave the way he does. This is done by presenting the trigger from a distance or level the dog is comfortable with and giving the highest reward. For example; you give your dog cheese or something the dog really, really, loves as soon as the stranger appears from a distance. If your dog always sits when you ask but doesn’t do it when the stranger approaches, you are too close. Start at the distance your dog is able to sit when asked. 

Conclusion; the treat comes out when the “scary thing” approaches. The treat goes away when the “scary thing” goes away. 

Change the behavior

When you change the way your dog feels about the thing that causes them to act the way they do, you can change the behavior. This is done by teaching an alternate behavior. The behavior you teach depends on the cause of the fear and how the dog behaves in the presence of the “trigger” 

Got Stress? Behavior is guided by emotions

There are two kinds of stress. Eustress and distress. Eustress is the "happy" stress and distress is exactly as it sounds, "sad stress" We all live with stress and a little stress is good for learning. Too much stress, however is bad even if it's good.

The Limbic System and the Cerebral Cortex

The Limbic System is responsible for experiencing and expressing emotions, which can directly affect behavior. It is the canine’s emotional center.

The Cerebral Cortex produces learning, memory, attention, perceptual awareness and problem-solving. It is the canine’s thought center. 

The cerebral cortex and the limbic system have an important relationship with each other. While one of these two systems are  stimulated or in use, the other system’s function is inhibited. 

Example: When a canine is slightly stressed you can still access their cognitive abilities before the brain defaults to the limbic system

Example: When the canine starts to become overstressed, his brain starts to shift into the limbic system and he becomes enthralled in an emotional response. He is no longer able to respond because the cognitive ability has shut down.

The nervous system, responsible for behavior, is engaged when the demand to change or adapt occurs
— National Crisis Response Canines