How to Help a Fearful or Anxious Dog

Anxious looking dog hiding under a cover

This article discusses a problem that is common to many dogs for a variety of reasons. This article describes how to help a fearful or anxious dog. It also describes some of the body language that will tell you that your dog might display that will tell you that your dog is fearful or anxious.

What Causes a Dog to be Fearful?

Fearfulness can be caused by trauma; however, many dogs are genetically predisposed to fear. Fear can also be caused by lack of socialization of a puppy at a young age. The more different types of experiences a puppy gets exposed to the less fearful she will be of new experiences.

What are some behaviors that a Fearful Dog Might Display?

Watch your dog to see if she expresses any of these behaviors:

  • Depression
  • Trembling
  • Cowering
  • Hiding
  • growling
  • Barking
  • Whining
  • Lunging at people or dogs

Lunging is more of an aggressive behavior and should be dealt with as soon as possible. Contact a reputable animal behaviorist to get help for this serious problem.

Desensitizing your Dog’s Fears and Anxiety

The best way to help your dog become less fearful is by desensitization and counter conditioning. You can help your dog become more confident by gradually exposing them to what they fear. Be sure not to force your dog into any situation that causes her fear.

As your dog makes progress, add a treat, and praise her. This will take patience, but it will be worth it to help your dog live a happier less fearful life.

Some of the more common fears that dogs have are:

  • Separation Anxiety (fear of being alone)
  • Fear of loud noises ( fireworks, thunder, etc.)
  • Fear of unknown dogs
  • Fear of unknown people
  • Fear of losing something valued (food, toy)

Attention Seeking Behavior

Anxious Dog hiding under bed covers

Be sure that you reward your dog and praise her when she is behaving well. If you only pay attention to your dog when she is misbehaving, then she will continue to misbehave.

If you know that your dog is getting enough exercise and mental stimulation, then you should just ignore her. You want her to learn when these behaviors are acceptable.

Fear and Aggressive Behavior

If your dog’s fearful behavior starts becoming more aggressive, then it’s time to get help from a reputable animal behaviorist. The behaviorist will work with you to develop a desensitization and counter conditioning program for your dog.

Learn more about canine body language so you can determine if your dog is frightened or anxious.

The best way to prevent fearful behavior is plenty of socialization starting at an early age. If you adopt an older dog, you can’t really do this. However, you can start introducing your newly adopted dog to various social situations, once she is comfortable with you.

Helping a Fearful or Anxious Dog Feel Safe

Young Frightened dog hiding under a book

If you have just adopted a dog pay close attention to her body language so you can learn to determine if she is afraid and what types of situations make her fearful. Never punish her for her fear as that will only make it worse.

Let her get used to her new home and the people that live in the home without pushing or pressuring her. If you have children be sure to teach them also to treat her gently and not to force her to do anything.

Once you become familiar with your dog’s body language and she is comfortable with her family and home you will be able to help her to avoid situations that cause her fear. If she is afraid of strange dogs and you are walking her just go to the other side of the street.

If she is afraid of strangers, don’t allow them to pet her. Sometimes fear can turn to aggression if this happens then get her away from the situation that is bringing out the aggression in her.

Before you take your dog to unfamiliar places and start socializing her, be sure she is completely trusting of you and your family members, so she will be more relaxed and not everything will be unfamiliar.

Introducing Your Dog to an Unfamiliar Dog

This information applies to a dog you are considering for adoption or when encountering an unfamiliar dog on a walk or some other situation.

When you are first being introduced to a dog you don’t know you most likely won’t know immediately whether this is a fearful or aggressive dog. Therefore, it is recommended to not approach a strange dog too quickly.

This applies to a dog you are considering for adoption or encountering an unfamiliar dog on a walk or some other situation.

Approach the unfamiliar dog on their own level. Sit or kneel on the ground, when meeting the new dog and don’t make direct eye contact as this can be intimidating for some dogs. You can try to give the dog some treats by tossing them to her one at a time from a lowered position at their own level. Try decreasing the distance from which you throw the treat a little at a time, until the dog is coming to you and takes treats from your hand.

Don’t try and pet the dog until she is taking treats from you by hand without any fear. When you want to pet the dog, wait until she is taking treats easily from you. Also, don’t pet her on top of her head, most dogs don’t like this and may cringe or worse if this is done.

It is best to start petting the dog on her chest or under her chin as this is more comforting for the dog.

Dog Breeds Predisposed to Fear and Anxiety

Some dog breeds and mixes are more likely to become anxious than others. Some of the more anxious breeds include the Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Bichon Friese, German Shepherd, Toy Poodles, Labrador Retrievers, and others.

They may display their anxiety in different ways such as barking, whining, destructive behavior but they are displaying anxious behaviors for some reason.

Before you change anything try to think of some thing that has recently changed, assuming this behavior is new to her. Dogs need routine and come to expect it. When something in the routine changes this can easily cause fear and anxiety in a dog.

If you notice your dog becoming anxious, try just comforting her and petting her to calm her nerves. However, if her anxiety or fear does not subside, seek out the help of a behaviorist to get her to calm down and be more relaxed and happier.

You can also try some dog-calming treats or supplements.

Final Thoughts


I hope this article has helped you to understand a dog’s body language and how it can help you to help your dog. We all want our dogs to have healthy and happy lives without fear and anxiety. We want to give them their best possible life that we can.

Sometimes dog calming beds can provide help for your dog. Here are some recommended choices of dog calming beds.

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