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Do You Have A Shy or Fearful Dog?

Help Them Gain More Confidence

It’s easy to assume that all dogs love everyone and everything. Why wouldn’t they? They’re dogs! But many dogs are actually shy or frightened of some people, things like loud noises, and certain situations.

Recognizing a Shy or Fearful Dog

There are different ways to identify shy or fearful dogs because they often express specific behaviors in response to their triggers, including:

  • Urinating involuntarily
  • Trying to move away or hide
  • Trembling
  • Panting or drooling
  • Shedding excessively
  • Refusing to make eye contact

Unfortunately, shy or fearful dogs can also react in more aggressive ways too, like barking, growling, and snapping. In fact, most dog behaviors that seem aggressive are usually a sign of fear, not aggression problems.

What Makes a Dog Shy or Fearful

In some cases, it’s easy to understand why a dog is shy or afraid. Maybe your dog was abused at one point or experienced a traumatic event. Sometimes you can trace fearful reactions to limited socialization as a puppy. There are also dogs who have a genetic predisposition that makes them more wary – this doesn’t mean some breeds are more fearful or shy. Instead, it means that traits in dogs can be passed from parents to children. So, if you have a shy parent, you can also have a shy puppy.

And, just as often, some dogs can develop fears for reasons we’ll never know.

Helping Shy or Fearful Dogs

If you have a shy or fearful dog, it’s essential to recognize their fears and try to help them become more confident. Remember, this can take a lot of time and patience, but these steps can help.


Fear puts dogs in a heightened state of emotion. The first step should involve managing your dog’s environment so they can avoid things that trigger their fear response. For example, if your dog is afraid of strangers, avoid crowded areas filled with people because they can overwhelm your dog. When your dog is in an environment where they feel safe and relaxed, you can start working on training, desensitization, and counter-conditioning.


Training is an essential aspect of building a strong relationship with your dog and helping them grow more confident. This doesn’t mean you have to have a certified service dog by the time you’re done, but having reliable training foundation like sit, down, and stay paves the way towards having a dog who relies on you for guidance on how they should react when they feel afraid or uncertain. We offer group and one-on-one training classes in our Obedience Academy, so let us know if you would like suggestions on how to work with your shy or fearful dog.

Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning

In an ideal world, all we’d have to do is say, “You don’t have to be scared, Fifi, that’s just thunder.” Unfortunately, communicating with a dog takes a little more work, especially if they’re in a heightened emotional state because they’re afraid.

To help your dog overcome their fears, slowly expose them to their triggers a little at a time while simultaneously giving them pleasant things to enjoy, like super tasty treats. The idea behind this is to change your dog’s emotional and physiological response to the things that scare them by helping them associate their fears with something positive.

Be Patient

Remember, if you have a shy or fearful dog, it’s crucial to take things slow. It can be a long, slow process to help them grow more confident, especially if you have an extremely fearful dog. Let them set the pace as you work with them; never try to rush them or force them into situations that make them uncomfortable. It’s also important to discuss your concerns with your veterinarian.

Do you have a shy or fearful dog? What helped them gain confidence? Tell us in the comments below!

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