Thursday, April 4, 2013

Understanding Your Dog's Fears

By Langley Cornwell

My dog Frosty had a serious fear of loud noises. She was most terrified when it stormed, when there were fireworks or when guns were being shot. She would salivate, pace and hide. Once we were able to understand what she was afraid of, it made it easier to help her when she was faced with the things that scared her.

Fear can be a crippling emotion and when it comes to your dog, fear can drive his actions and lead to bad and even dangerous behavior. Understanding the fears that your dog experiences can help you, as a responsible pet owner, better help your canine companion.

Things that scare your dog may seem silly or inconsequential, but to your pooch they are monumental. What are some common fears that dogs exhibit?


The noise created by vacuum cleaners, certain appliances and even lawnmowers have been known to scare some dogs. In the house, sudden loud noises like those from a mixer, a blender or some other small appliance can startle and upset any dog.

Often, the reverberation of loud sounds off the walls of an enclosed room can frighten your dog. In the great outdoors, though, dogs can react poorly to the lawnmower. In all cases, a dog is simply unable to make sense of the movement and the noise, and it results in fear.

In the same way, some dogs may be frightened by thunder, lightning or fireworks. It is possible to rehabilitate some dogs from such fears through therapy, positive encouragement and even medications. However, avoiding the things that frighten your dog, if feasible, may be the best way to deal with their fears.


Some dogs may be frightened of slick floors or even an unfamiliar floor. Slick floors can cause your dog to become unsteady and clumsy on her feet, which can scare her.

Some dogs may fear stepping from one type of flooring onto another such as going from carpet to vinyl flooring or vice versa. My neighbor's dog will not walk on hardwood floors. She has little carpeted paths through the rooms in her house that have hardwoods.


People are also a common fear for dogs. Some dogs may fear men specifically, or people in uniforms. If you have a dog that is fearful of people, always make strangers aware of this and discourage them from approaching your dog.

Recognize the Signs

Knowing your dog's triggers and the signs that he is becoming afraid is a must. Once you discover your dog's fears, pay close attention to how he acts. A tail tucked between the legs, ears laid back, whimpering, whining, cowering, barking, salivating and other behaviors can indicate fear.

A scared dog can even become aggressive, so it is especially important to understand your dog's fears and recognize the signs of fear. Understanding when your dog is becoming frightened and needs your intervention is imperative.

Soothing Fears

Containment is the best solution for many fears your dog may have. Put your dog inside the house or in a contained kennel when you are mowing your lawn. A dog frightened of a thunderstorm may feel safer and more secure in their crate until the storm has passed. A dog that is afraid of fireworks should have a safe place at home or secured inside their crate during any local fireworks display within earshot.

With my dog Frosty, I would crate her when I knew a storm was moving in. If a storm sneaked up on us or I wasted time with getting her into the crate, she would run and hide underneath the bed.

Being aware and observant of your dog's behavior can save you from frustration and save your dog from stress. Be ready to take action when your dog is faced with a fear.

While our first instinct with a frightened dog is to pet her and talk soothingly, much like we would do with a child, the best course of action is always removal from the situation. At some point, you may have the opportunity to introduce your dog to the source of fear under better circumstances. That would be the time to try to lessen the fear through positive reinforcement with CANIDAE TidNips treats and perhaps eventually allowing your dog to examine the source of the fear (if possible).

Ultimately, though, be ready to remove and contain your dog when she is frightened. This is the best option for her safety and the safety of those around her.

Top photo by Carterse
Bottom photo by Gareth Williams

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. I hate to admit this butt I (Frankie Furter) am afraid of THUNDER... Even when I am in my Thunder Shirt. I go down to the Den and HIDE. THERE, I said it.

  2. My dog is very afraid of noises under the house and thunder storms. But I find that most dogs as they get older are more and more afraid of thunder storms and want to get under a table or something.

  3. Our dog Maggie - who came to us from a breeding farm where she was held as a breeder mom - was afraid of everything. She took to her bed in my office and we could barely get her out of it for the first few weeks. She didn't eat for 3 days. It's been almost10 months now and with lots of patience and slowly acclimating her to the things that she feared the most, she is a different dog. Her big brother SlimDoggy Jack helped a lot too.

  4. Great tips, Langley! Each of our dogs has a noise fear or two. Wuppy definitely prefers his crate during a bad thunderstorm. Cody likes the t.v. turned up to drowned out sounds that make him nervous. Poor Dusty just seems to want to be left alone when he's scared, which is so hard to do when I want to hug and pet it better!

  5. Max, I've learned has to meet people on his terms and does it slowly sometimes yet some are instant so we just let the slower ones know to "wait for it" :) great article - thanks!


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