You may have noticed your pet acting strangely, having lowered or flattened ears, trembling, or licking their lips when you come by. These are signs of fear or anxiety.
How to recognize when your dog is nervous? Why is it afraid? What can you do to stop your pet from being fearful of you? Let’s figure this issue out step by step.
What Causes Fear In Dogs?
Fear is a natural reaction to the threat of danger, harm, or pain. New surroundings or bad experiences might lead to fear, and that is perfectly normal. However, if your pet shows extreme signs of fear, that is a red flag. We’ve listed the most common causes of fear in dogs below:
- Genetics. Your pet might have a biological predisposition toward fear. For example, some pets are timid, some are calm, some aggressive, and some are fearful. Whatever characteristic a pet has, be gentle and kind to it.
- Socialization. The environment in which a puppy was raised is critical. Negative experiences leave a strong mark on their personality when they become an adult. So even if you accidentally hurt the pet, like stepping on their paw or tail several times, they might be affected by it.
- Punishment. Remember, shouting, verbally abusing, or beating is never an option. If you want to educate your dog, never use violence, as this leads to mistrust and insecurity for the animal.
- Fear response. If a dog reacts to someone or something with fear on their first encounter, there is a fair chance that they will respond the same way in similar situations in the future. For instance, if you drive your dog to a vet clinic by car, it may become afraid of rides, knowing from its experience that the final destination is the dreadful vet.
Related: 5 Steps To Treat Car Anxiety in Dogs
Some things can naturally scare your pet, like a thunderstorm, vacuum cleaner, cars/buses/trains, fireworks, or other pets. To calm them down, you should calm yourself first. Don’t laugh or be angry at them, they need your support and compassion.
How To Recognize That Your Dog Is Scared?
Pay attention to the body signs. Here are some of the examples of fear in pets:
- Tail between their legs
- Running off
- Lack of appetite
- Turning away
- Lifting one paw
Be aware that some of the reasons mentioned above might appear because of an illness, so it’s worth visiting a vet first. If no physical problems are indicated, find a qualified trainer.
Remember, every animal should be treated kindly; use force-free methods when training your pet. Next, let’s think about what you should do to decrease your pet’s levels of stress and anxiety.
Steps To Follow When Your Pet Is Afraid Of You
1. Be Patient
To learn how to trust after a bad experience or get used to the new environment after coming from a shelter or a shop, a pet needs time. It may take several days or weeks. Be gentle and empathetic with them. There’s no need to be pushy or angry during the adaptation period. A pet needs some space and time to feel comfortable with you.
Sometimes pets develop fears during a separation or when they feel threatened. During these times, they may lash out at you or try to run away. Do not provoke your pet. Instead, feed them while making sure they are comfortable and well-monitored.
2. Connect With Your Dog
If your pet was abused, grooming might be problematic. One of the ways to improve your relationships with them is to give them dog treats. Dog treats are biscuits made of dietary supplements for dogs and other canines or foods like tuna, chicken, and turkey. Use treats during training sessions to encourage brave behavior in them. Also, create a positive atmosphere around your pet. Avoid loud noises, quick movements, and especially yelling. Instead, be patient and gentle with them.
3. Follow A Regular And Predictable Schedule
Regularly scheduled training walks, feedings, and play times help pets feel safe and calm. Repeated actions will increase your pet’s trust.
Planning is critical to maintaining positive relationships with your dog. A meeting at the door, ritual greetings, and good-time experiences are excellent social occasions that help to establish a positive working relationship. A schedule of these things enables you to control the timing and quantity of your pet’s visits at various times during the day. In addition, it allows you to avoid unpleasantness such as accidents or illnesses, which might overwhelm your dog if he had to wait far in advance for a visit.
4. Train Your Pet
All pets are different. If your first dog liked a particular type of training session, it doesn’t mean that your new pet will enjoy it as well. So let’s have a look at some of the sessions that are the best for anxious pets.
- When your dog performs well, you can make a clicking sound. A clicking sound might be associated with a positive experience, so, step by step, your pet will understand that you are a good human. You can also speak in a positive, soothing tone of voice. These options are good if your pup is not ready for close contact and physical affection like scratching or hugging.
- Another example is not to punish your dog when they do something bad. Some pets seek attention and, like children, misbehave. It’s best to ignore the bad behavior to let them know that it is not a viable way to get your attention. Save your reactions for successes and improvements, not failures. As time goes by, your pet’s “bad” behavior will decrease, and they will be more eager to act in a good way, as only “good” behavior is noticed and praised.
- A third example is classical conditioning training. When this training is used, a pet learns to associate one thing with another. For instance, every time your pet allows you to pet them, you can reward them with a treat. Or, if they are afraid of their collar, you can reward the pet as soon as you put a collar on them.
Related: What is the Best Way to Train a Dog
5. Beware Of Your Body Language
Did you know that not all pets like to cuddle? According to some research, their stress level goes up when they are being hugged. They also feel uncomfortable when we move quickly towards them, make noise, or perform quick movements. Therefore, try to remain calm next to your pet. They can feel your anxiety or nervousness, which in turn, makes them anxious.
6. Help Your Pet Socialize
To prove to your dog you are a kind human, you can show how you treat pets by interacting with another dog. Make sure the dog is not aggressive to avoid scaring your pet even more. Once your pet is in a positive environment, they will feel more comfortable being with you.
You can try to play with them, cuddle, or brush their fur. Remember to observe your pet’s reaction while doing this and adjust accordingly. You can also take your dog out to the park or pet store. They will get acquainted with the new environment and learn to socialize.
7. Play With Your Dog
There’s a lot of research showing that playing games can help increase empathy and relationship skills between humans and their pets. It’s even been found to improve immune systems and lower stress in those living with chronic disease. So why not take advantage of this? If you have a dog that enjoys playing chase games or walking on the leash, try using one of these three methods to train them to stop barking at strangers.
8. Build Trust
Don’t offend your pet, and be careful with the way you treat them. Surround them with well-trained and well-behaved dogs and kind and respectful humans. When introducing them to others, make sure they know how to behave.
New people can drop treats on the ground but not look directly into the dog’s eyes. If your pet is stressed out, don’t ignore their reaction. This may result in distrust and worsen their psychological condition.
They might think you’ll attack them if they get near you or that you won’t care if they get hurt. It’s natural for a pet to feel scared or threatened when you leave the house. Leaving the safety of your home sends a message to your pet that you won’t be there if things get too rough, and that could influence how they react in future moves.
9. Be Careful With Children
Children’s behavior can be harmful to your pet. For example, they can be too noisy and even violent. This may cause an aggressive reaction. Teach your children to respect their pet’s space and be careful with it.
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Things You Should Not Do
If you shout, punish or scold your pet, it will not do any good for your relationship. Your pet will be more fearful and will not trust you. Remember to consistently reward good behavior instead of punishing them for bad behavior.
Sending your dog off to a kennel or a yard may seem like an appropriate punishment for misbehavior. But you should realize that your dog’s fear response is a vital socialization process.
When your dog experiences valued rewards (such as praise or a toy) while being active, he experiences little motivation or satisfaction to continue when he gets behind the fence (even if the fence is only a few feet). That’s why you should first train your dog to associate the valued reward with safe activities and then gradually expand the boundaries of those opportunities.
Related: 5 Dog Training Mistakes
You may have good intentions, but coddling or pitying is not a good option. It will encourage your pet’s fear. They will think that there is something to be afraid of.
Instead, be calm and show that there is nothing to be scared of. Do it gently, without forcing. Remember, your pet needs some time to adapt.
Show them the object or person they are afraid of, and praise it whenever they progress by coming closer. This process shouldn’t be violent or stressful. Always be kind and patient with them.
Your dog is probably afraid of everything at first. When people approach them, they may become more nervous and cautious. However, this does not mean that you shouldn’t interact with your dog regularly.
Perhaps your dog becomes more afraid of the same people as it is scared of strangers, but this can help you develop good contact with these people. After a time, they should begin to trust you and resume their previous level of confidence. If you want to encourage this process, offer your hand when you see them.
3. Be Too Strict
Don’t push your pet. You may get irritated, but that won’t do any good. Your pet is a living creature that needs support and compassion. Shy dogs are like shy humans: they feel stress when forced to do something. However, there is a solution that might help your pet to overcome their fear.
You know that your dog is not happy when you feed them on command or reprimand them. Feeding on command is rather rude and might anger your dog. Also, when done frequently, it can make them afraid of you. However, there is a solution to both of these problems: be gentle with your dog.
Yes, you are going to make them learn something. Just be sure that whatever command you give them is very mild and don’t give them any chance to fear you any longer.
Dogs are amazing little creatures. Their instincts are so strong, they will jump out at you if they see you in any condition, and this normal fear or stress can become fear-induced apathy. However, they can sense danger and sound and will act accordingly.
But sometimes, they have a bad day and end up biting someone or running away from you. This is when desensitization comes in handy. It allows them to overcome their fear in minor ways, gradually making them more comfortable around other people.
When you are trying to get your dog to relax, start with one easy step at a time. When he’s responding to you, make a game out of It and move towards something safe, like a treat. As soon as he begins to calm down, start getting closer to something that will make him feel better.
Desensitization is a gradual process to help a pet overcome its fear. The main idea is to take small steps towards the thing they are afraid of without producing a fear response. First, the object should be away from the pet, which will make them braver and more comfortable. Later on, the distance can be decreased, as the pet views it as a positive experience.
This can be gradual, such as teaching the dog not to chase squirrels or play with firecrackers until you are close by, or it can be immediate, such as yelling at the dog until it comes to you.
This method is used with conditioning training. Teach your pet that the scary thing is not necessarily dangerous; it might be good. For example, you can teach your dog to do something when facing the object, like holding a toy or looking at you. This behavior should also be rewarded because that is how pets learn. So, once your pet knows the stimuli are no longer scary, it feels safer and more confident. However, be sure to use this method under the guidance of a behaviorist to avoid making things worse.
If you notice your pet behaving strangely, don’t ignore the signs. Make sure they are not suffering from any illnesses by consulting with a vet. If you are still unsure how to treat them, find a good trainer who can guide you. Remember, no matter what the problem is with your pet, they need your patience and kindness. Observe their behavior and body language. Don’t be pushy and forceful, and give them as much time and space they need to get used to you and their new surroundings.
Know that not working on the dog’s fear can lead to aggressive behavior. The fight-or-flight mechanism is natural for all living creatures. We all choose either to run away or to stand up to the threat. Even though most dogs will run away, there might be situations when they will fight back. This is especially important when it comes to children. It is crucial to establish dominance and let your dog know who is in charge.
Building trust takes time. However, if you follow the instructions above, reward your pet, play with them, and be patient throughout the process, your pet will learn how to trust you. Be kind and compassionate because only a supportive attitude can solve the problem.