top of page

Fearful Dog Archive

This section of our site provides information on the most commonly reported fear-related problems in dogs. Generally speaking, social fears like the fear of certain humans (especially strangers) is the most common, but regardless of who (or what!) your dog is fearful of, you'll find the information here helpful.  Information regarding other common canine fears, such as the fear of thunderstorms, fireworks and car rides can be found at the bottom of the page.


Living with a shy/fearful dog requires compassion, patience, and the right approach. The process begins with you.  Please take your time as you read and absorb the information found here. As the guardian of a shy/fearful dog the best thing you can do is educate yourself, because the more you learn and understand, the better equipped you'll be to help your dog learn to cope more comfortably, and successfully. 


Read the 5 Golden Rules by Nicole Wilde, for a straight forward list of the do's and don'ts with your fearful dog.  Five Golden Rules for Working with Fearful Dogs by Nicole Wilde


Be sure you have realistic expectations of your fearful dog! Click here; Reality Check - Suzanne Clothier/Carpe Canem Inc.


Methods Matter. Click here to read about the dangers of attempting "quick fix" solutions, especially for fear-based behavior/s.   


It makes no sense to punish the fearful dog (this includes shouting and jerking on their collar)! You're only making things worse! Read more here:


Thank Your Dog for Growling  - Growling is nothing more than a communication from your dog that s/he's uncomfortable with what's happening. Pay attention, and never punish your dog for letting you know! 


Yes, You May Comfort Your Dog! - Discusses the myth of "reinforcing fear"


Understanding your dogs fear, and helping him/her gain confidence:  



Helping fearful (a.k.a shy/timid) dogs: 


More on helping fearful dogs flourish: 


Safe and appropriate "socialization" for your fearful dog (or pup!)


A "cortisol vacation" is something every fearful, stressed-out, anxious dog needs: Click to learn more.

Please understand that most cases of dog bites to humans are the result of fear in the dog. The following links are excellent resources that can help stop a bite before it happens (or happens again!)


Can I pet your dog? Read this excellent article for more about why it's always ok (and best for your fearful dog) to say "no":


Bite Prevention: Understanding your dogs communication system   This link includes excellent photos of dogs communicating that a bite is coming if forced to continue to 'tolerate' the situation they're in.  If your dog is fearful or behaves aggressively toward humans (strangers for example) reading and understanding the information at this link is a must!


Know that some fearful dogs will choose to move themselves away, by hiding, cowering, or running away from the person/people/thing they're afraid of.  On the other hand though, some dogs will learn (through repeated negative experiences) to choose more "offensive" behaviors such as charging, lunging, nipping in an attempt to make the person/people/other dog, or thing move away from them.  Regardless of which set of behaviors your dog uses, the driving force behind the behavior is fear.    


It's very common for people to want to interact with (and pet) shy/fearful dogs. As humans, it's hard for us to understand why a dog would be fearful of a human who "just wants to be friends" - but it's your dog who's afraid…and your dog's perspective is the only one that should count.  If Rover is fearful of Uncle Ted, trying to "get him to like" Uncle Ted by forcing him to accept pets (or treats!) from him will very likely backfire. Rover could become even more scared of Uncle Ted, or worse...he could bite him. Shy dogs must be allowed to choose to approach/interact - or not - on their own terms.   Respecting your dogs need for space when encountering a person they're frightened of by; 1) not forcing him to interact 2) not letting others force themselves onto him and 3) allowing your fearful/shy dog make the choice whether they want to approach/interact (or not!) in their own time, and on their own terms, will help prevent the fear from becoming worse, and most importantly will teach your dog or pup, that s/he can trust you to keep them safe around humans who are scary to them. Here's a great article with more information and tips:


Befriending the Shy Dog; Treat & Retreat! Read to learn more about this technique

Does your dog really want to be petted? Click  for a video to find out how to tell!


What you need to understand as you set out to help improve your dog's fearful behavior: 


More on how to help your dog feel better through counter-conditioning:


Give your dog the power of choice! The video link below shows the importance of giving your dog the power to choose what they're ready for, and when!


It's important to understand the concept of "thresholds".  Thresholds can be thought of as your dogs 'limit' for what s/he can comfortably handle in circumstances that are frightening. Putting your dog into situations that force them beyond their threshold/limit causes greater levels of fear and stress...and s/he'll continue to be fearful (and even more so!) of whatever that scary thing is (person, place, object).  Read the articles at the links below to learn more, including ideas for how to control your dogs exposure in a way that keeps him/her well below their limit, starting now!


What is a Threshold? — 




After you've read the articles above on thresholds, click on this link It's a terrific article from a human perspective about what happens to stress thresholds when multiple anxiety producing events occur at the same time. A concept within the realm of behavior modification known as "trigger stacking".  This commonly happens to dogs too!


Stop Dog Aggression Before It Starts

Dr. Sophia Yin DVM, MS


How to properly greet a dog, and what can go wrong when done inappropriately! 

Dogs Bite When Humans Greet Inappropriately
By Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS

More on canine fear of strangers, and how it develops:


My Dog is Scared  

A Timid Rescue Dog 

Fear of Strangers


Fear of Thunderstorms, Fireworks and Car rides:

Fear of Thunderstorms

Fear of Fireworks

Fearful of the car/car rides: A must-read article if your dog is anxious in the car which includes the steps to take to help car rides go from scary to fun:

Also read the article at this link; for more helpful tips to help with your dogs fear of the car. 

Start with a visit to your veterinarian to discuss anti-anxiety medication. Medication can be helpful for your dog’s progress as you work through a behavior modification plan together. Click below to learn more:



Other resources and support:

The "Yellow Dog Project" - seeks in part to educate the public about the proper way to approach a dog (only with guardian's permission) and to promote the use of yellow ribbons to identify dogs needing extra space, including dogs who are shy/fearful.


DINOS = Dogs In Need Of Space!  - You are not alone! 

bottom of page