Scared Dogs


One of the most pervasive and damaging myths that plague dogs is that one should not comfort a scared dog for fear of reinforcing the fearful behavior. Luckily, there is a plethora of scientific studies in animal behavior that shows this is not the case. As Clothier explains, “In the moment, when an animal says, ‘I’m afraid,’ either get him out of the situation or comfort him – anything else is inhumane.”

However, note that all dogs are different and some prefer to be on their own. In such cases you need to honor that as well. Moreover, the dog’s behavior may change over time. Perhaps you have a new dog who has not yet bonded to you and prefers to be alone, but as you build trust they come to you. We regularly see this as fosters to frightened dogs and that initial trust is essential for a trusting relationship.


Special guest trainer tip from Train Your Best Friend, LLC Jeni Grant
"Training Tip for Fearful Dog - Always spend lots of time building a great association with training skills, activity toys, chews, mats where the dog feels the most relaxed and safe long before using it where the dog may be a little stressed. An example would be using the same dog blanket/rubber backed bathmat and making a game of finding treats on that particular blanket/mat. You could also capture a relaxed down on that blanket/mat. After you have built a fantastic association with fun things with this blanket over time, you could bring that blanket/mat to places the dog may be a bit stressed such as on trips or to the vet. The blanket/mat will be something familiar and something the dog feels good about. This may help the dog feel more comfortable in that situation." 

For more information on scared dogs:
Myth of Reinforcing Fear
Suzanne Clothier: Relationship Centred Training
Train Your Best Friend

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DC SIR is a non-profit, volunteer-run network of foster homes in the Washington, DC area.

DC SIR does not have a shelter facility. To meet our adoptable dogs, interested adopters can attend one of our monthly adoption events.