The fearful dog can become aggressive if put in the wrong situation. Lack of exposure to a variety of events, smells and sounds (especially during the first few months of puppy-hood), or a bad experience may have caused him to become this way. Regardless of his known or unknown history, don’t continue using it as an excuse. It’s time to move forward and help your dog, not handicap him.

The three steps to helping your dog are:

  • Identify triggers
  • Desensitize
  • Redirect the dog’s focus

Signs of a fearful dog

  • Tries to remove himself from the situation
  • Avoids eye contact, dog looks away from person or item that frightens him
  • Submissively urinates
  • Trembles, cowers
  • Bares teeth, growls, may even bite

Identify Triggers

  • Noises: thunder, airplanes, garbage trucks, vacuum cleaner, doorbell
  • Movement: bicycles, skateboards, roller blades, running children
  • Odd appearance: umbrellas, balloons, men in hats, children, wheelchairs, shadows, reflections

Desensitize Expose your dog to the feared situation incrementally while rewarding his calm behavior.

  • Keep noise at a very low volume and reward your dog for calm behavior. Gradually increase noise.
  • Allow dog to see swiftly moving objects from a distance. Reward for calm behavior. Gradually decrease distance.
  • Allow dog to see unusual objects or people from a distance. Reward for calm behavior. Gradually decrease distance.


  • If your dog is fearful of thunder, play a recording of low volume thunder while praising and rewarding calm behavior. Praise and reward if you dog remains free of fearful display.
  • If your dog is afraid of other dogs then walk him near a dog behind a fence. Start from a distance where he does not display nervous behavior. Praise and reward him. Take a step forward, praise and reward if he remains free of fearful display.
  • If your dog is afraid of men. Have your dog on a leash and have a man standing still at a distance where your dog does not display nervous behavior. Have the man take a step forward. Praise and reward your dog if he remains free of fearful display.


  • Quit while you are ahead. As always, you want to set your dog up for success and end your session with success.Take small, incremental steps.
  • Don’t expect to see the desired perfect result at your first session. Desensitizing takes several sessions over a period of time. Don’t test your dog. If you think that maybe this time he will do better at closer range and he proves you wrong, you will have lost all your previous work.
  • Redirect Dog’s Focus Once a dog has been desensitized, or if you have a dog that is just a little apprehensive, you can help him redirect his focus. This can be done with food, play, or trained behaviors.


  • If dog is fearful of hair dryers, feed him his meal only when the hairdryer is turned on.
  • If dog is fearful of skateboards, play ball with him near the skateboard park.
  • If dog is fearful of umbrellas, have him sit or lie down while the umbrella-carrying person walks by.


  • Be sure to desensitize your dog first. Make sure that a behavior, such as a sit, is fully trained before using it to redirect focus. Don’t force your dog into a fearful situation and hope that he’ll get over it. You could possibly make him worse.

Tips for approaching a fearful dog:

  • Avoid eye contact.
  • Avoid walking directly toward the dog. If you enter the home through a door way, turn away from the dog and arc around it. By the way, this is how dogs naturally approach each other.
  • Approaching any dog head on can be perceived as threatening.
  • Crouch down and make yourself smaller and less intimidating.
  • Let dog come to you.
  • Touch dog at his chest or chin. Petting on top of the head can be threatening.
  • Janine Allen Rescue Me Dog Trainer

Rescue me dog retrieved January 2013