Working with Fearful Dogs

Fearfulness is common in dogs. In some cases it is due to an experience they have had (nurture), and in others it can be genetic (nature). Dogs may be afraid of certain situations, objects, sounds, smells – the possibilities are infinite. Naturally fearful dogs have more potential than other dogs to be fearful of new things. It is particularly important to ensure they are well socialised in their formative years.

If a dog reacts in a fearful way it is essential that this fear is addressed as soon as possible to avoid the fear becoming ingrained into the dog. The sooner a problem is addressed the sooner it can be solved. Before embarking upon any training programme to address a problem, always have your dog checked over by the vets to rule out any underlying medical problems. This is particularly important if the fearfulness develops at an older age.

Alternative remedies such as Flower Remedies can also be helpful, as can a DAP plug-in or DAP collar. Seek advice on these before using them.

Training for fearful dogs is recommended. Training classes or one-to-one sessions will help strengthen the bond between dog and owner, and will teach your dog to have confidence in you. If you can learn to read your dogs body language, and judge when they may react in a fearful way, this will greatly increase your ability to successfully work on the fearful behaviour.

Confidence can be built by exposing your dog to as many different walks, scenarios and objects in tiny amounts over a long period of time. Why not try building a DIY obstacle course in the garden to integrate into your training and play sessions?

Never rush a fearful dog. Allow them to approach new things and new situations in their own time. Never force a fearful dog to confront its fears if it doesn’t want to, and never punish a fearful dog for being afraid. Fearful dogs need consistency and routine in their lives. Above all, your dog needs to respect and trust you, look to you for advice, and feel confident that you are able to make decisions for it. Your dog must believe that it is your job to keep him or her safe, and that you are capable of this job.

A typical training programme for fear-based problems may look like this;


Firstly completely remove or conceal the object that is feared. Or remove the dog from the object. Do this for as long as it takes for the dog to become comfortable and unaware of the object of fear. The dog needs to ‘forget’ that the object is there.


Slowly reintroduce the dog to the object that is feared.

  1. Begin at a point where the dog is comfortable and is showing no signs at all of fear.
  2. Reward the dog with a toy, treat or game.
  3. Move a tiny bit closer to the object that is feared and repeat. If dog shows any signs of fear move back until the dog is comfortable and start again.
  4. Continue this process moving up tiny stages at a time, moving closer and closer to the object of fear.
  5. If the dog shows any anxiety at all, move back again to where the dog is comfortable and start there.
  6. It is essential that this is done at the dogs own pace and never rushed.

Remember consistency and patience – keep this going over as long as it takes, and if the dog seems at all stressed go back to where it was last comfortable and leave it there for the day.