Dealing with a scared dog is something we often get wrong. Even when we think we are being gentle and kind we can accelerate canine fear, read on to see how.
Scared Dog
The fact is, that by the time a dog looks obviously scared, her body is flooded with adrenaline. Her digestive, system and immune system is shut off. If a dog is truly worried by humans and the experiences in her life so far, the poor animal could have this reaction when you do something as simple as making eye contact.

Do Not Make Eye Contact

You offer eye contact for reassurance.

A scared dog sees eye contact from a human as confrontation.

This is different to bonded eye contact. When we know a dog well we get the look of love. When we don’t and they are scared by past experience, they can only assume that a direct stare is a prelude to attack.

Don’t look directly in the eyes of a dog you don’t know, ever, it’s extremely bad manners in dog language and will undoubtedly make even the most well-balanced dog uncomfortable.

Rescue Dog Cognition & Rehabilitation Diploma

Do Not Make Friends Like A Human

It’s tempting to keep fiddling with a scared dog, don’t do that, she doesn’t need you to actively try to make friends with her she needs you to be there if she approaches you, be respectful of her space and never put her into any situation that makes her stress levels rise – this includes encroaching on her personal space, which she is entitled to, as we all are.

With scared dogs the very best thing to do is let them take as much space as they need and only offer reassurance when they ask for it.

Physically and emotionally leave the dog alone and let her come to you in her own time. Until she does just let her tag along with your everyday life in the background. Complete lack of pressure is the quickest way to build confidence in a worried dog.

Do Not Miss The Link Between Problems

“I’m trying to make friends with her but the dog seems to have so many problems”.

We forget that the act of trying to make friends is likely to be the most stressful one of all. If we are always looking at a dog, trying to touch her, offering attention (bearing in mind we are a big scary stranger at this point)this dog is going to be very worried indeed.

In reality the dog is never getting chance to just relax, so her stress levels are never going down thus leaving her far more reactive that she would be if we just stepped back and gave her some relaxing space.

Stress stacking means that we add one scary situation atop another until the dog is so anxious that reactive behaviour occurs. With stress stacking there is no downtime, no chance for stress hormone reversal and survival instinct takes over the dog.

It is often this point when people say “It just came out of nowhere” or “the dog bit without warning”.

In addition to the third mistake, please don’t walk or groom a really scared dog at this point if you can help it. The idea is to remove as many stress triggers as possible and encourage relaxation and if you’re touching an animal or taking her out into the scary world then this will have the exact opposite effect.

What Should You Do?

To make life easier for all of you as quickly as possible you need to first alleviate the stress levels of the dog. This means:
Leave her alone.

  • Give her a safe place and allow her to go to it.
  • Use flower remedies, pet remedy or herbal support if applicable to the individual dog.
  • Don’t allow other people to approach or even interact with the dog.
  • Offer gentle reassurance in her language. For instance, avoid eye contact, stay low, quiet and move slowly around the home.
  • Observe her carefully and when she starts to show signs of feeling more confident offer gentle encouragement, but don’t overwhelm her.
  • Don’t force anything, not grooming, walking, food, the quicker you remove compulsion the easier the dog will find the transition into trusting you.

Scared Dog

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1 Comment

  1. Michael Schoeff

    I agree with what you said about giving a dog space. Lots of times I’ve seen puppies refuse to move even when they are outside. It can sure be a challenge to get them out of that state. Usually if I’m gentle and try to play with them in a subtle and kind way (I’ve had more puppies over the years), they slowly start to get out of that state of anxiety. This is very common among very young puppies.



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