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Tips on how to help a fearful dog

September 29, 2021

Just like humans, dogs experience anxiety. Whether it’s a fear of strangers, noises, or new surroundings, it can be challenging to help your fearful pet. But, luckily, with some time and effort, you can help soothe their fears and make them feel more at ease.

dog hiding under the bed

“Fearful dogs suffer from pent-up mental and physical energy and they are under a lot of stress throughout the day,” says AnimalKind trainer, Carrie Lumsden, of K9 Kind Training. “Anything that uses up your dog’s physical and mental energy will help to alleviate stress.” Here are some tips to help get you started:


Be aware of your own emotional response

According to Lumsden, when your dog is scared, the best thing you can do is to react with the same emotional state you would like your dog to. “Step into the leadership role and give your dog the appropriate guidance when they are in situations that they find scary.”

For example, imagine if your dog is afraid of a broom. We know a broom is a meaningless object, but if it falls on the ground and makes a bang, or it just leans in the corner and looks “suspicious” to your dog, it becomes meaningful and now it’s a scary object to him.

So, what to do about the broom? Lumsden says, first, don’t soothe or scold your dog if he reacts to the broom.

“This will only tell your dog that there is something to be anxious about,” she says. “Instead, have a joyful and confident response to a broom showing your dog that there is nothing to be afraid of in the first place. Utilize the power of positive reinforcement and make positive associations to the broom by pairing the sight of the broom with your dog’s favourite treat many times until your dog makes a positive association to the broom.”

Give them space and time

In other cases, sometimes you might need to place your dog away from the triggering stimuli. For example, maybe your pup gets overwhelmed when the vacuum cleaner comes out of the closet.

“Move your dog away from what you think the trigger is, remove them from the situation and give them a safe space to decompress afterwards,” recommends AnimalKind trainer Amy Atkinson of Northern Noses Pet Services. “Forcing a dog to ‘go and see’ can often lead to more fear. Make sure they have time to decompress in a safe place that is only for them, like a kennel or a separate room.”

Dog sleeping

Expend their energy throughout the day

Many dogs experience anxiety because they don’t have a safe space or have sufficient time to expend mental and physical energy. Lumsden suggests broadening your dog’s world by leaving mental stimulation games and toys in the house and making time to play with them. “Anything your dog can chew or scavenge is an excellent outlet for anxiety and frustration,” she says. “Stuff-able toys like Kongs are a great activity for your dog. You can stuff Kongs with your dog’s regular diet whether you feed raw, home-cooked or moistened kibble. Freeze it and this will make for a long-lasting activity throughout the day.”

Additionally, she recommends making the time for a ten-minute training session. “Practicing skills like stay, recall, and loose leash manners in the backyard for five minutes at a time, a few times a day, are a great way to enrich your dog’s life and build confidence.”

Be patient with your dog

“Each and every dog is different and it is important that we allow them to move at their own pace,” says Atkinson. “It is so important that we do not rush our dogs, or downplay how they are feeling. We do not get to choose what is and isn’t scary for our dogs, and we cannot force them to be ‘okay’ with something.”

If you need additional support, both Lumsden and Atkinson recommend consulting a positive reinforcement-based trainer who has the skills and knowledge to effectively handle your dog’s fears. By using the tips above, including the help of a trainer, your pup will be soon on her way to becoming a calmer canine.


For more on dog training:


Visit AnimalKind.ca to learn more about finding a humane dog trainer that’s right for you.