8 Ways to Help a Fearful Dog

8 Ways To Help a Fearful Dog

by Alisson Goldberg, Certified Dog Trainer/Owner of Rochester Canine Academy








1. Don’t feel sorry for your dog. While you are emotionally connected with your dog and care about him, trying to shield him from situations by pitying him does him no favors. Indeed, since dogs sense emotions, you risk him viewing pity as a sign of weakness. Your dog is more likely to be confident when he knows his family members are calm,  powerful and ready to protect him.

2. Try not to reassure your dog by petting or murmuring to him. This is the equivalent of saying, “It’s all right, that’s good, good boy for feeling afraid, it’s all right” and it will actually reinforce the shyness. When he’s being overly shy, the best thing that you can do is to ignore him. Really! By giving him absolutely zero reinforcement, you’ll be helping him to overcome his shyness.

3. Avoid threatening actions. For example, do not stare at your dog or make prolonged eye contact––to him,    this is threatening and can create fear responses, causing him to run and hide. Remain calm and as much as possible, still while retraining your dog out of his shyness. Your own posture matters––keep it relaxed, happy and positive at all times. This will reassure your shy dog. When you speak, neither shout nor sound angry.

4. Remove your shy dog from his “safe spot.” Many overly shy dogs will choose a place which lets them feel safe, whether it’s a barrier, a hiding place, a hidden viewing spot or simply somewhere they’re less likely to be noticed. You need to get your dog out of this safety zone for the rehabilitation process to begin.

  • You can do this by quietly putting a leash and collar on him and pulling him softly but insistently out.
  • It’s vital that you not feel sorry for him: you have to focus on getting him out of there in a gentle but firm way.
  • Keep your dog attached to you as much as possible. This removes their ability to hide and forces them to learn a new way to deal with uncomfortable situations.

5. Let’s go for a walk! Exercising your dog will get him into his natural migrating state of mind, which will be a great time for you to bond with him. Remember to keep him in a “Lets Go” position

6. Set boundaries. Decide what he’s allowed to do and what he isn’t.  As with children, this will give him a sense of security. If he breaks the rules, give him a quick correction a hand movement and command or strictly spoken “No” or Uh-uh”. But never hurt him; this will remove months of work’s effect. It is best for the human to change behavior, such as sitting to reduce looming over the dog, or rolling around to distract the dog and let him see that you are harmless.

7. Be ever watchful for future episodes of shyness. Once your dog has learned shyness as a response, it’s conditioned. It is therefore best to nip it in the bud with quick corrective action should it ever rear up again. Hopefully it won’t given he will be living in a loving home but you can’t control all situations that will confront your dog outside the home, so be ready to help smooth over fear-inducing situations where needed

8. Praise confident behavior when appropriate!!


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