Why Is My Dog Scared Of Everything?
How to help her be brave 💕🥺
If your dog’s scared of just about everything, it can make you feel pretty hopeless.
While it’s pretty normal for dogs to be scared of fireworks or the vet, if your pup gets scared basically every day to the point where it’s affecting her wellbeing, then you’ll want to get her some help ASAP.
We reached out to Jessica Gore, a certified animal behaviorist, professional dog trainer and owner of Competent Pup in Los Angeles, and Dr. Jonathan Roberts, a veterinarian working with Pet Keen, to help answer the question: Why is my dog scared of everything?.
Why is my dog scared of everything? 3 common reasons
Depending on your dog's breed, socialization and history, your pup may be fearful of novel stimuli, sudden changes in her environment or even various objects.
The most common reasons a dog is scared include:
1. Lack of socialization
If your dog wasn’t properly socialized as a puppy, she may be more prone to fearfulness.
Socialization is the process of helping a dog feel comfortable with people, other animals, new places and novel objects.
Socialization includes bringing your dog out into the world and introducing her to various kinds of people and situations — which helps her learn how to be a happy, friendly pup and can reduce fear in unfamiliar situations.
If your dog wasn’t socialized during the critical socialization window between 3 and 16 months, that means she’s more likely to be scared in new situations.
2. Traumatic experiences
Even with all the socializing in the world, if your dog suffered from some kind of traumatic experience (like being abused by previous owners or even just being left home alone during a really loud thunderstorm), there’s a possibility that she’ll be scared of those same (or similar) experiences moving forward.
According to Gore, some dogs are just more fearful than others based on their genetics and breed.
Some breeds that have a history of being more fearful than others include: Maltese, mastiff, Spanish water dogs and mixed breeds.
Common dog fears
Many fearful dogs have some of the same phobias in common.
Some of the most common dog fears include:
“Anything with a large or loud presence, according to the dog's perspective, that a dog hasn't been taught to feel good about may cause a fear response,” Gore told The Dodo.
In general, fears (or phobias) can be categorized into four different groups:
According to Dr. Roberts, the most common sound phobias in dogs are thunder, fireworks and gunshots because all of these sounds are loud and unpredictable. “Dogs have highly tuned-in and sensitive hearing and perceive these loud sounds as extremely threatening,” Dr. Roberts told The Dodo.
This is the fear of certain situations. The most common is the fear of being left alone, or separation anxiety. “Dogs do not always understand that they will only be left alone for a certain time period,” Dr. Roberts said. “In their minds, every time you leave, they are fearful you will never return.”
According to Dr. Roberts, separation anxiety can lead to severe destructive behavior as well as unintended self-harm.
Fear of the unknown
Dogs are instinctually nervous of the unknown. “If they have never had exposure to a certain person, animal or object, they could show different levels of fear towards it,” Dr. Roberts said.
The most common fears in this category include other dogs, children, horses, cats and new objects in the garden or house.
If your dog has previously had a negative experience in a certain situation, she may develop learned fears. “Learned fears are most common in dogs rescued from abusive backgrounds,” Dr. Roberts said.
The most common fears in this category are men, people of certain races, children, dogs and, sadly, the vet.
While experiencing different levels of fear is normal for all dogs, in some dogs, fears can become irrational and develop into intense and persistent phobias. “These phobias might be genetically programmed into them or they could develop due to previous negative experiences,” Dr. Roberts said.
The most important way to avoid fears and phobias in dogs is through early exposure. “Dogs are highly adaptable and accepting during their first 16 weeks of life,” Dr. Roberts said. “During this time they need to be exposed to as many people, situations, animals and objects that you possibly can. This will prevent the development of fears to the unknown.”
Signs a dog is scared
When trying to figure out if your dog is scared, the best thing you can do is observe her body language. “If your pup looks freaked out, they probably are!” Gore said.
Subtle signs a dog is scared may include:
- Whale eye
- Lip licking
- Changes in posture or lowering
- Ears pinned back or to the side
More obvious signs that a dog is scared may include:
- Trying to escape
- Loss of appetite
- A fearful stance (body low to the ground, ears pulled back and tail tucked between the legs)
How to build your dog’s confidence
When trying to get your dog to be more confident (and not let all these scary things affect her), you’ll want to start off slowly with training.
“Using classical conditioning, reading her body language signs and going at your pup's pace allow for improvements in the fear department,” Gore said.
Positive reinforcement training
“Positive reinforcement is the most highly effective training method to build confidence and trust in individuals, so learning some things can help your dog!” Gore said.
Positive reinforcement is when you reward your dog for doing what’s right rather than scolding her for doing something “wrong.”
This will help change your pup’s behavior over time without potentially hurting her or causing her stress (which is often the case when you punish your dog!).
“Desensitization is the idea of slowly increasing exposure to an object or situation that ignites the fear in your pet,” Dr. Roberts said.
An example of desensitization is to play fireworks sounds at home at a low volume, slowly increasing it over time, in order to get your dog used to the sounds.
Counterconditioning is when you change your dog's feelings about a scary situation by rewarding her generously once she’s exposed to the trigger.
“It involves enhancing the current environment in the presence of the fear-inducing stimulus,” Dr. Roberts said. “This is usually achieved with a food or toy reward.”
An example of counterconditioning would be having your dog sit while a scary motorcycle is going by and feeding her treats to make her feel more comfortable. Then you’d proceed on your walk.
While your dog being a bit of a scaredy pants occasionally is pretty normal, irrational fears or being so scared that her quality of life is hurting is never fun. With these training tips, and by talking to your veterinarian if you need more help, your dog should be feeling way more confident in scary situations.