Help! My Dog Is Scared Of Me!
How to build her trust 💕
Do you think your dog is scared of you?
Whether she seems to cower when you walk in the room or she runs to hide in her crate, it never feels good knowing you’ve somehow become the trigger that makes your dog afraid.
The Dodo reached out to Rick Allen, an obedience specialist at The Pampered Pup, and Dr. Sarah Wooten, a veterinary journalist and veterinarian with Pumpkin Pet Insurance, to find out why your dog is scared of you and how to help build her trust.
Why is my dog scared of me?
There can be a variety of reasons why your dog might be scared of you, and they don’t all have to do with you personally.
These are some of the most commons reasons why your dog is afraid of you:
She had a bad experience with you
According to Dr. Wooten, the most common reason why your dog is afraid of you is because she had a negative, scary or possibly painful experience with you in the past, even if you didn’t mean for this experience to happen. “These experiences can include accidents (like accidentally stepping on a tail or a paw), hitting the dog, screaming or yelling at the dog or negative punishment,” Dr. Wooten told The Dodo.
While scolding may be how some people train their dogs, it’s never considered the best way. Your dog doesn’t realize you’re just trying to teach her right from wrong, and can become scared of you in the process.
This is why positive reinforcement training (aka rewarding your pup with positive experiences and treats) is a better option.
“Dogs can also be scared of people if the person is overly anxious, stressed or fearful,” Dr. Wooten said.
She had a bad previous owner
According to Allen, some fearful dogs are made to be that way from a neglectful or abusive experience with a previous owner. “For those poor animals, their daily environment was chaotic, violent, filled with anxiety and competition with other animals for dominance,” Allen told The Dodo.
She was adopted from a shelter
“Dogs can also be fearful of you if they were in a scary place, like a shelter or a home with other aggressive dogs, before they came to live with you,” Dr. Wooten said.
While some shelter dogs are totally happy-go-lucky from the start, others may need more time to get adjusted to a brand-new life. Just think about how jarring it is to go from one place to another so quickly (and with people you don’t really know yet).
If you adopted your dog and started noticing fearful behavior, just be gentle and patient. “Within a few weeks, their shy nature will blossom into a personality that never stops loving, but, more importantly, confides in you for being understanding and nurturing,” Allen said. “Like their human counterparts, dogs need time to heal their wounds — both physical and psychological.”
While the scary experience your dog had could be anything from a jump scare to a painful encounter, it really doesn’t matter what happened. Whether it was you, someone who looks like you or an experience in a different environment entirely, it only matters that your dog was scared at some point in her life. “This experience caused the dog to develop a fearful memory associated with people that is evolutionarily designed to protect the dog from any more negative encounters,” Dr. Wooten said. “This fearful memory often seems irrational and excessive to humans, but in a dog’s mind, it makes total sense.”
Signs my dog is scared of me
While it never feels good to know your dog is afraid of you (especially if you’re loving and kind to her, and just trying to give her the best life possible), it’s still important to know how to tell if your dog is scared of you.
Some of the most common signs your dog is scared of you include:
- She hides from you.
- Her tail is tucked between her legs.
- Her head is lowered.
- She avoids eye contact.
- She trembles when you’re around.
- She becomes aggressive.
How to get your scared dog to trust you
If your scared dog is a young puppy, you still have time to prevent her fearful behavior as an adult by taking advantage of the socialization period every dog goes through.
“The best way to deal with irrational phobias, including fear of humans, is to ensure that your dog has positive, happy experiences with humans of all shapes and sizes during the critical socialization period of around 7 to 15 weeks of age,” Dr. Wooten said. “During this time period, puppies are forming their opinions about the world around them. This is also the age when fear develops. If your puppy has happy, positive experiences with people during this time period, it will likely lead to a harmonious relationship with humans. If your puppy has scary, negative experiences with humans during this time, it will likely cause irrational fears.”
While it’s easier to make sure a puppy has these positive experiences to shape their life, what if your scared dog is an adult? Luckily, there are still plenty of ways to help build her trust in you.
Here’s how to get started:
While it might be hard not to, don’t take your dog being scared of you too personally. “Your dog is afraid, and it will likely take some time to build trust,” Dr. Wooten said. “Let a frightened dog come to you, not the other way around.”
The best thing you can do is be patient and allow her to open up in her own time.
Give her plenty of space
In order to feel safe, your dog needs a private place to retreat to when things get too overwhelming. “This could be a bed or a crate. Whatever it is, leave your dog alone when they retreat to their refuge — they likely just need some space,” Dr. Wooten said.
Use positive reinforcement
Creating memories while using positive reinforcement will help to shape new, happier experiences for your pup. This includes everything from the way you crate train her to how you go on walks together.
Using positive reinforcement also means avoiding punishing your dog or forcing your dog to do something she doesn’t want to do, as this can lead to fearfulness and undesirable behaviors later on.
Follow a routine
Dogs enjoy routine, and frequent changes to their routine can be stressful. To help alleviate this, try to keep things the same as much as possible when dealing with a fearful dog.
“Feed the dog at the same time every day, go for walks at the same time, give your dog some consistent structure to reduce stress hormones, like cortisol, that can make training more difficult,” Dr. Wooten said.
Play with her
While training is important, playing is just as important! It’s essential to have fun with your dog to build positive associations and reduce stress. “Playing with your dog before training and keeping training sessions short and positive go a long way in reducing fear and facilitating training,” Dr. Wooten said.
Manage your own emotions
Dogs can pick up on human emotion, so if you’re harboring any fear or anxiety, that may be affecting your dog. “Take time to manage your stress, maintain good self care and practice calming yourself with breathwork or meditation as needed so that you can be in a good emotional space for your dog,” Dr. Wooten said.
Try calming aids
If your dog seems to be more fearful than you can comfortably handle, consider getting over-the-counter calming supplements and products (like anxiety vests or music) that can help ease her worries.
Work with a professional
Fear in dogs can be tricky to navigate, especially if the scared dog is new to your home. “The best way to address the root of fear is to work with a certified canine behaviorist trained in positive methods or a veterinarian board certified in behavior,” Dr. Wooten said.
“In addition, some dogs may be too fearful to start training and need prescription anxiety meds from a veterinarian to bridge the gap until the dog becomes more comfortable,” Dr. Wooten said. “Still, other dogs may have an underlying medical condition that can be causing fear.”
Veterinarians and dog behaviorists can support you and give you the tools and training needed to help your dog overcome fear the most quickly and keep you safe in the interim.
Keep in mind, though, that you won’t build your dog’s trust and confidence overnight. Instead, be patient while treating your dog’s fearfulness and you'll eventually see a notable change in your dog's behavior.
What not to do around a scared dog
When building trust with your dog, it’s important to know how your behaviors can affect your dog's well-being and overall temperament. “Luckily for us, most of these habits are easy to modify, and before we know it, a healthy relationship will unfold as a result of our efforts,” Allen said.
Some things to not do when treating your dog's fearfulness include:
Don’t crowd her
Finding a comfortable space between you and your dog is essential. “If you've ever seen an overbearing owner, you know how close distances and direct eye contact cause canines to become uneasy and fearful,” Allen said.
Instead, divert your line of sight away from your dog's vision, and when you need to move in her direction, make sure you're not towering over her or moving too quickly. “Even though we pass off these subtle behaviors, they act as a challenge and display of dominance to our furry pals,” Allen said.
Avoid loud noises
Eliminating intrusive, aggressive or loud noises can help her feel less afraid of you. “Much like humans, dogs can't stand being snuck up on or randomly confronted with blaring sounds, such as fireworks, guns, car engines, chaotic environments or unruly children,” Allen said.
Don’t push her
If your dog was adopted from a negative situation, it’s important to give her the time and space to open up on her own. Rather than trying to force her to come out and play, or even just to take a treat from you, be patient and allow her to decompress and come to you when she’s ready.
“One day, when you least expect it, your dog will show you their ability to love deeply, trust wholeheartedly and become the friend you need,” Allen said.
While working with a dog who’s scared of you might take some extra TLC, following these tips will help the process move along faster — and get you two cuddling in no time.
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