How to Overcome Fearful Behaviors in Dogs

Help your dog overcome fearful behaviors

Do you have a dog who seems insecure, nervous, or fearful about, well, everything? Helping overcome fearful behaviors in dogs is key to happiness, health, and safety – theirs and yours.

If this sounds like your dog, it might help to know that you are not alone. A Finnish study of 13,715 pet dogs published in 2020 showed that nearly 75% of dogs exhibit fearful behaviors of some sort. Of course, it’s only normal that dogs, like humans, will at some stage in their lives show fear. In some situations, a healthy dose of fear is more than warranted. But persistent fearful behaviors in dogs can be a sign of anxiety. Recognizing the difference – between plausible fear and undue anxiety and helping them overcome the latter – is key to a healthy, happy life for your dog.

Fearful behaviors to watch out for in your dog

There are a number of common signs which can alert you to potential anxiety in your beloved pet. These can be broken into three categories:

  1. Body language:
    a. Flattened ears
    b. Raised hackles
    c. Avoiding eye contact
    d. Tail tucked between hind legs
    e. Excessive licking of lips
    f. Constant yawning
    g. Cowering
  2. Specific behaviors:
    a. Growling
    b. Snarling
    c. Snapping
    d. Biting
    e. Excessive barking
    f. Pacing
    g. Destructiveness
    h. Hiding
  3. Physical symptoms:
    a. Excessive drooling
    b. Uncontrolled urination, particularly indoors
    c. Panting
    d. Trembling
    e. Showing whites of eyes

Recognizing these signs – and understanding them as fear and anxiety rather than “bad behavior” – is the first step to overcoming fearful behaviors.

5 Tips to help fearful dogs feel safe

Anxious dogs are more at risk of diseases like digestive disorders, weakened immune system, cardiac and blood pressure issues, as well as overall reduced lifespan. In other words, helping your fearful pup feel safe will improve their health prognosis at the same time. Here’s how to do exactly that:

1. Seek professional help

Your first port of call if you suspect your dog is suffering from anxiety? Your vet. They can recommend behavioral modification training programs, as well as prescribe natural and pharmaceutical solutions where indicated. Case in point? Reconcile® (fluoxetine hydrochloride) is an FDA approved drug available only via your vet which has seen a lot of success treating anxiety in dogs. Reconcile works by readjusting low serotonin levels in your dog’s brain (serotonin being the chemical responsible for anxiety control), in the form of an easy-to-administer, chewable tablet.

2. Invest in training

Do your research and find a certified dog trainer in your area specializing in behavioral problems. (Remember to check their reviews!)

3. Be consistent in your approach

Make sure you are consistently and regularly hitting these key drivers of mental and physical wellbeing:

  • Exercise
  • Mental stimulation
  • Boundaries
  • Obedience
  • Affection

4. Never punish

Choose comfort and positive reinforcement over punishment. Every. Single. Time. What that looks like for you and your dog depends on your dog. It might mean physical comfort, treats, establishing a safe space (like a crate), or repetitive behavior reinforcement. It never means physical punishment of any description.

5. Be your dog’s biggest advocate

Dogs cannot advocate for themselves. We must be their champions. This means finding them the help they need, celebrating the successes and showing patience and love at every setback, and persevering regardless of progress and length of process.

All dogs deserve to experience the world as a place filled with wonder rather than worry. Helping your furry best friend overcome his fears is a great place to start.

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