Tips For Fearful or Anxious Dogs

· September 18, 2017 Like

There is evidence that many aggressive dog behaviors are a result of fears and insecurities. Preventing aggression in our fearful anxious dogs is do-able if you know what to look for.


On a pretty regular basis folks come in to the dog school with problem behaviors in their dogs that stem from insecurities, anxiety or just downright fear! While this is not the fault of the owners or the dogs, it is something requiring attention.

It is especially relevant to note that these dogs are typically born predisposed to this type of reaction to the world in which we live and not catching it in time can have challenging consequences.

Often early behaviors go unnoticed, but the opposite can be almost worse. If we try to soothe our insecure dog by accelerating our petting, and chitter-chatter the message you may be sending is encouragement for the unwanted behavior! Over-coddling them just because we feel sorry for them rarely makes things better. And just like our human children, it is best that we make an effort to treat them normally, while acquiring the tools to best support them and build confidence through training.

Enter dog training! There are a great many number of benefits to putting in place reliable obedience with our fearful or anxious dogs.

  1. Your dog will be focusing his attention on your interaction instead of the scary thing.
    Practicing obedience leaves little energy for concerns about external events that may normally make him anxious.
  2. It establishes a relationship with your dog that he can rely on.
    People may assume they already have a relationship with their dog if for example their pet responds to, or initiates affection. This is not necessarily the case. Your dog needs to realize by virtue of many, many repetitions that YOU are in control of the scary situation and you won’t let him down.
  3. Practicing obedience helps you become a better handler.
    It improves and maintains your awareness and timing, keeping you alert and pro-active in keeping him safe.
  4. It provides you tools to manage situations.
    Teaching heel, sit, down, stay, and leave-it in particular can help your dog through a tough situation. Mann’s Best Friend has an entire lesson on “Leave it” which is the essential first step in helping your dog through his insecurities by keeping his mind on something else.


Create a circular boundary around your dog that is off limits to others.

Among other things, ask that they can help by allowing your dog to warm up on their own.


Avoid people wearing hats, sunglasses or carrying items such as canes, groceries, umbrellas, pushing carts, strollers and such.

If your dog reacts negatively by barking, lunging, or bolting it is too late to reward him. Since you always want to leave on a good note, so your goal is to manipulate the situation so that he realizes the red motorcycle is not a dog eating monster, but in fact a Bologna dispenser before departing the scene. This leaves a good and calm memory for your dog, which will ultimately become muscle-memory with lots of repetition. Let us teach you how!

This last point is no less important. Addressing a fear after your dog has reacted is too late! Master your timing! Become proactive in warding off scary things by redirecting and replacing behaviors as described above before they occur. Like aggressive behaviors, fearful behaviors can and do become habitual. By breaking the cycle that leads to an addictive adrenaline rush, you are keeping the pooch “on-the-wagon” so to speak, long enough to re-train his or her muscle-memory to stay calm.

In conclusion, this may not have been what you signed up for when getting your new puppy, but the work you do now to build up his or her confidence will pay off in spades! Good luck!

Jennifer Mann

Known by her clients and friends as their ‘doggie-guru’, Jennifer Mann is a credentialed Certified Professional Dog Trainer. She has been working in dog and puppy training, obedience, socialization and behavior modification for over 20 years.

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