My Dog is Afraid of Everything

My Dog is Afraid of Everything

My Dog is Afraid of EverythingOccasionally clients say, “My dog is afraid of everything.”

Sometimes it’s  a new puppy and other times it is a rescue dog. We all want a puppy or dog that is outgoing, confident and not afraid to approach anyone – one that grows up to be a good basic companion – one that you can take everywhere with you.

There are three causes for fear in dogs. Let’s take a look at these causes:

The first is genetic – rare but it can happen. You will notice this fearful pup has a lower tolerance to almost everything:

  • Objects like garbage cans, noises and people – even leaves blowing across the yard will spook this pup.
  • In the people category dogs may be most fearful of men, then little boys, then little girls and the least afraid of adult women.

The second cause for fear in puppies or dogs is a lack of early primary/secondary socialization.

  • The optimum time for this is from birth to about 12 – 14 weeks of age.
  • We pull them out of their critical schooling at 8 weeks causing them to miss an additional 4-6 weeks of finishing school with mom and their littermates.

Now the responsibility is on us to complete the task.  We are not nearly as well-equipped to do the job as their mom and littermates. Besides, we have other “human” stuff to do. I see a lot of “lack of socialization” in puppies and dogs.

The third cause is learned fear.

  • This is where a puppy or dog associates pain with something. An example would be if a phone rings when the pup or dog steps on a tack, the phone ring (and other similar sounds/tones) signal that pain is coming and fear is induced. Or in our case, our lab Sammy had 2 surgeries at an early age, strangers to him mean pain.

With puppies that come across very timid and almost fearful we tend to initially soothe their fear or feelings, thinking they will grow out of it.

If your puppy is under the age of 5 months, you have an opportunity begin before the window of socialization closes.

But by the age of 6 months, if it’s not happening—-it’s time to get busy training your dog.

Beyond the age of 5 months in puppies – and of course older newly adopted dogs it will just take a little longer. In either case, you should start sooner than later.

Irrespective of what you think, these fearful pups need help – sooner than later. Any timidity or fearfulness in dogs should be addressed as soon as possible. You should embark on a major campaign to get your puppy or dog comfortable with whatever specific things seem to spook your pup.

Your goal: Be able to have a puppy that will be confident around all of these things of which he was once fearful.

How do you do it?

Begin a program of positive reinforcement training.  Working on obedience commands like Come, Sit and Down will slowly begin to help a fearful dog learn to focus – become task oriented. This will set a secure foundation that your dog will rely on outside in the real world around the things that frighten him.

Set up daily routines and expectations of earn-to-learn (sit and down for everything) around the house and be consistent with this every day – weekends included.

Finally, once you have accomplished the above, begin to associate positive things (high value food treats is usually the easiest) with the scary things – Keep the scary things at a distance at first. Go at your dog’s own comfortable pace.   Time and patience on your part is a must.

Additional concerns.

Allow your dog to approach in his own time and at his own speed.  This allows him to build confidence as he copes more easily with the process, keeping the stress to a minimum. If the dog wants to stay away, that should be okay.

Take him back to his comfort distance, put him in a sit then praise and treat.  This above all rules must be respected and not forced on the puppy. Some call it passive socialization.

If the puppy if afraid of someone and you force that “someone” on the puppy, you’ve just confirmed that person to be dangerous. Let the puppy approach in its own way and time.  If the puppy trusts you, click and treat for approaches and, if you have been working on sits and downs, begin to work on redirecting his focus on obedience training at a comfortable distance from the person or thing that is spooky and begin to slowly and methodically get your puppy closer.

Depending on how fearful your puppy or dog is, will to a large extent, determine your pace and ultimately how long it will take.

Closing thoughts

Remember; as you are obedience training your dog, always let it be the dog’s choice to approach. If he backs off, that’s okay too.

One other point to make is that puppies and dogs learn one person or thing at a time. Getting him used to one person is just that – he’s okay with that particular person. It’s not easy for a puppy or dog to generalize that all people are now okay. Their survival instinct – flight or fight – kicks in and causes them react in this negative fashion.

Bottom line: This takes time and patience. Do not, I repeat, Do Not switch gears and pressure the puppy. You’ll be glad you had the patience to take the time to make things work out.

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are with the teacher of your children. And remember, “Opportunity Barks!”

Sharing is caring, please tweet and share on Facebook if you liked this article.  Also, please feel free to print off a copy if this a problem you have with your dog or puppy.  Having a copy
can make doing the training much easier.  If you have any questions, please, feel free to post them on our Facebook Page.  Click HERE

Jim Burwell is a “thanks for making the impossible, possible” professional dog trainer having trained 20,000+ dogs and counting and serving more than 7,000 clients.  Jim’s easy to follow, common sense, and positive methods have made him the “dog trainer of choice” for 30 years.  One of his clients says it best: 

There are people who are so good at, and passionate about, what they do, that in their presence, one can’t help thinking that they have found their true calling and are doing exactly what they should be doing on this earth. Jim is one of these rare people. His quiet and understated manner, his effective technique for training dogs (and their families) is something which I feel fortunate to have witnessed and in which to have been an active participant


21 replies
  1. David RUSSELL
    David RUSSELL says:

    Hi, I have a 9 month old dashund terrior mix ,ive had him for 3weeks . He outgoing
    With my other dogs . He learned potty buy them. But hes afraid of people , he
    Follows my wife everywhere, but wont let her pet him. He will take a treat from my
    Hand and thats as close as he gets. Need so advise here… Dave

  2. Toby
    Toby says:

    Hi Jim, my recently adopted 9 yr old Westie mix is afraid of everything and terrified of lawn mowers, leaf blowers, work trucks, delivery trucks, buses, and can hear the trash trucks coming a mile away, loud noises, big dogs, the garbage disposal, etc. our neighborhood is a lovely place to walk, but with warmer weather, activity increases on a daily basis. Winnie was a baby momma and keep in a concrete enclosure for most of her life. She knows no commands and I am working on that and potty training. She had to fight for food and never knew what a toy was. Iv had her since 2/05/19 and would like to help her overcome her fears. I am also 76 and not able to handle a rigorous daily routine. Are there some simple tips you can give me?

  3. client care
    client care says:

    I would strongly suggest you hire a positive reinforcment trainer. You anger is not helping your dog’s fear.

  4. Joseph Watt
    Joseph Watt says:

    My 7mo old German Shepherd puppy is afraid of other dogs. Even the smaller dogs. He runs when they bark and come towards him. It is embarrassing and makes me angry.

  5. Jim
    Jim says:

    Lori – thanks for your email. Lots going on here. I can help you either with live, private video coaching or in-home lessons if you live in an area of Houston I service. This is not something I can address via email. Here is a page you can visit that explains our private video coaching it’s Extremely effective and “one” of the outstanding parts of it is YOU get the recording of your private coaching session to review as many times as you want – priceless.

  6. Lori Campbell
    Lori Campbell says:

    Hi, I have a very timid 8 month old puppy. She is fantastic around our family but is very wary of kids, and adults. When we got her she screamed about anyone or dog even getting close to her including our other dobermann. She has grown to love him now and plays well with him and other dogs now. I would love for her to be more outgoing to people though. Also she can get super excited very quickly and bites a bit too hard on her brother, leaving small scratches that have bled before. We try to keep everything low key but every day we go to an off leash park and she gets overly excited and nips too hard. Our boy won’t correct her either. He just tries to stay out of reach. We have scolded her for this but it’s like she is in another world and doesn’t seem to notice we are even there so we have to leash her up for a time out and then try again. This isn’t working. She knows sit, down, come, watch, and kisses. We love our girl, but see the excitement, walks and fear could result in an actual bite if we just let these things go. I have all the time in the world to train her and have been but it’s slow going. I was just wondering how you would tackle these issues. She is very sweet and loving with us all the time. I just feel if I am too stern she will become more fearful. Thanks so much for any help you might have.

  7. Jim
    Jim says:

    Anna: The leash is a great idea. You might try changing rooms to feed him and remember that it may take 4-6 weeks of daily work to desensitize him to being okay feeding out of his bowl with you (or anyone else there) near his bowl and in the same room. Don’t be discouraged – you’re headed in the right direction. If you need more help we can do inhome lessons or live face to face video coaching.

  8. Anna
    Anna says:

    I adopted a dog from a shelter. Instead of doing the expected “food guarding” he runs away when anyone is in the kitchen near his food bowl, and eats when people leave the room. He is fine when the cat is in the kitchen or even drinking out of his water bowl. I tried sitting next to him while he is on his leash next to the bowl, feeding bits out of my hand next to his bowl, everything. Any tips?


  9. Jim Burwell
    Jim Burwell says:

    Hi Margaret. Not really enough info but the first thing that popped into my head is at what time of day does he become anxious about the floor. IF and again not
    enough information he has eyesight issues, the shadows might be causing him problems. A quick trip to the vet might answer your question

  10. margaret
    margaret says:

    hi, I have a very large black Lab, that seems to intimidate and scare most people, but he has an occasional problem of being afraid of the floor. we have laminate flooring throughout our house, most times he is fine and will walk all around the house, but on occasion he is terrified, he will skirt around the edge of a room or stand there sooking until we come and walk beside him ( even then he is still nervous and scared). there doesn’t seem to be a stress-er or change that brings it on. I am not sure how to help him.

  11. Jim Burwell
    Jim Burwell says:

    Adele I don’t know where your original comment is so I don’t have a good idea of what you are referring to. They are 57 pages of comments on my blog.

    Can you be a little more specific

  12. Jim Burwell
    Jim Burwell says:

    That’s part of it. She won’t go to other dogs until she feels differently About other dogs. Meaning that you need to be selective of the dogs she is around and you
    must tell her with your voice, a high value treat you only use at this time, that being around “NICE DOG” is a fun thing. Then she will most likely start venturing
    out to other dogs

  13. del
    del says:

    ok so what you are saying is let her go to other dogs I don’t think that will happen she is starting to love ppl but as far as like dogs cars bikes anything like that she wont go near and cries she wont even go to the bathroom outside I will keep her out there for a little bit but then when she comes in she runs right to the pee pee pad I am really lost don’t know what to do she is a big baby not that I don’t mind but it is hard to take her for walks or to the dog park

  14. Del
    Del says:

    My puppy is 7 months old I have had her since she was ten weeks she is afraid of everything, I try taking her on walks but when she sees ppl or other dogs she plays died and starts to cry and then jumps in my arms I don’t know how to change that she is a very hyper dog and she needs to excersie but I can’t get her to go for walks or the dog park I would i love you for her to be social pls help

  15. Jim Burwell
    Jim Burwell says:

    The simplest advice is to let Izzy approach on her terms. Praise and treat for looking at or coming closer to any family member (even if it is only one step) with your ultimate goal being Izzy coming up to you. It’s good that you have patience. You’ll need a good amount of that with Izzy.

  16. brandy
    brandy says:

    my family and i will be taking in a puppy that was adopted by my brother and his family. The reason for this is because the puppy is extremely afraid of everyone and everything. literally everything and everyone. I would like some help and advice to welcome izzy to her new home and let her know we are a patient and loving family. she appears to be a black lab sheperd mix is between 5 and 9 months and comes from a shelter.

  17. leila_admin
    leila_admin says:

    Diana: In the article you read Jim gives you some very simple step by step instructions on how to associate positive things with what scares your pup. IF you allow him
    to jump in your arms and be held like a baby you are reinforcing the fear. It all gets back to his relationship with you. Have you had the opportunity to check out Jim’s
    Ground Rules for Great Dogs?

  18. Diana Davis
    Diana Davis says:

    We have an Australian Shepherd Border Collie mix who is 5 years old. We have had her 1 1/2 years given to us from a neighbor. She is very afraid of all noises and jumps at everything. The worst problem we have is when we turn our furnace on in winter it makes noises like popping and the fan blows and she starts shaking and crying and wants to be held like a baby! What can we do to help. The furnace pops randomly throughout the day so we never know when it will happen. Thunderstorms are also one of those things that scares her to death What to do??

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