Dogs get scared for various reasons, such as sudden loud noises, unfamiliar environments, or encountering strange people or other animals. This fear is typically a survival mechanism triggered by their instinctual response to perceive these elements as potential threats. The signs of fear can include behaviors like whimpering, shaking, hiding, or even aggression.
Tips to Make Your Dog Feel More Secure and Safe
Dogs thrive on predictability. A regular schedule for meals walks, and playtime can provide a sense of security. For example, taking your dog for a walk every morning at the same time will give them something familiar to look forward to.
Create Safe Spaces
Give your dog a secure and comfortable space to retreat when anxious. This could be a specific room, a crate, or a bed with their favorite toys. For instance, if thunderstorms scare your dog, they might feel safer in a quiet, windowless room.
Gradual Exposure to Fears
If your dog is scared of specific things, like loud noises or new people, gradual exposure can help. This means slowly getting them used to these experiences in a controlled way. For example, if your dog fears strangers, start with a friend standing far off, then gradually let them come closer over several sessions.
Training and Socialization
Training and socializing your dog can help them feel more secure. The more situations, people, and other animals they’re familiar with, the less likely they are to be scared. A dog who’s been properly socialized won’t view an approaching stranger or new dog as a threat.
React consistently to your dog’s fears. If you satisfy your dog when they’re scared, they may start to think there’s something to be scared of. Instead, act calm and collected. For example, during a thunderstorm, stay relaxed and carry on as usual to show your dog there’s no danger.
Provide Physical Comfort
Like humans, dogs can benefit from physical contact when scared. Petting your dog gently or giving them a comforting hug can help. Some dogs may also find pressure wraps (like a “ThunderShirt”) soothing.
If your dog is scared, try to distract them with something they love. This could be a favorite toy, a treat, or a game. For example, if your dog gets scared during fireworks, you could play fetch indoors or give them a puzzle toy to distract them.
Play Calming Music
Studies have shown that certain types of music can have a calming effect on dogs. Try playing soft classical music or specially designed dog-calming music during times of stress.
Regular exercise can help reduce overall anxiety by burning off excess energy and producing endorphins. A long walk or a vigorous game of fetch before an expected stressful event, like a vet visit, can help your dog stay calm.
Consult a Professional
If your dog’s fears seem severe or aren’t improving, consider getting help from a professional. A veterinary behaviorist or a certified dog trainer can provide personalized strategies. For example, they may recommend behavior modification techniques or, in severe cases, anxiety medication.
Identifying the Triggers
Monitor Your Dog’s Behavior: Pay attention to your dog’s behavior and body language. Look for signs of fear such as shaking, quivering, pacing, excessive panting, drooling, attempting to escape, hiding, or showing aggressive behavior.
Identify Patterns: Try to recognize any patterns or common situations when your dog exhibits these behaviors. Is it when there are loud noises? When strangers visit your home? During car rides? Or when they encounter other dogs or certain objects?
Keep a Journal: Maintaining a journal of your dog’s behavior might be helpful. Note the circumstances, time, and place when your dog becomes fearful. Over time, this record can help identify triggers.
Consider the Environment: Be aware of the environment around your dog when they display fearful behavior. Are there certain noises, smells, or sights that seem to coincide with their fear?
Experiment with Controlled Situations: Once you guess what might be causing your dog’s fear, you can create controlled situations to confirm. For example, if you suspect your dog is afraid of loud noises, try playing a recording of the noise at a very low volume and see how your dog reacts. Gradually increase the volume to confirm the trigger.
Consult a Professional: If you’re having trouble identifying your dog’s triggers or if your dog’s fear seems severe or harmful, consider consulting a professional, such as a veterinary behaviorist or a certified animal behaviorist. They have the expertise to help you understand your dog’s behavior and can offer strategies to address it.
Signs that Show a Dog is Afraid or Unsecure
- Whimpering or whining
- Shaking or trembling
- Tucking tail between legs
- Pacing or restlessness
- Excessive panting or drooling
- Attempting to escape or hide
- Cowering or hunching over
- Avoidance or disinterest in food
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive barking or howling
- Dilated pupils
- Showing the whites of their eyes (“whale eye”)
- Flattening ears against the head
- Yawning or licking lips excessively
- Raised fur along the back (hackles up)
- Submissive urination
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I calm my dog instantly?
Quick calming strategies may include gentle petting, speaking in a soothing voice, offering a favorite toy or treat, or creating a quiet and comfortable space for them. You can also use a product like a ThunderShirt that applies gentle, constant pressure to comfort your dog.
How to calm my dog during car rides?
Familiarize your dog with the car in a non-threatening way. Let them explore the car while it’s parked, then gradually progress to short rides. Ensure they’re securely fastened in a doggy seatbelt or crate during the ride. Offering treats, toys, or a familiar blanket can help them associate car rides with positive experiences.
How to calm my dog during thunderstorms or fireworks?
Create a safe space for your dog in a quiet, insulated part of your home. Distract them with toys or calming music. Pressure wraps, or ThunderShirts can also be helpful. In severe cases, speak to a vet about anti-anxiety medication.
How long does it take to make a dog feel secure in a new place?
Each dog is unique, but generally, it can take anywhere from a few days to several months for a dog to feel secure in a new place. Patience, consistency, and routine establishment can help speed up the process.
How to get a dog to trust you?
Consistent, gentle interactions are key. Spend time with them, play with them, feed them regularly, and be patient. Avoid sudden movements or loud noises that could startle them. Reward positive behavior with treats and praise to reinforce trust.
How to build confidence in dogs?
Confidence is built through positive experiences. Training, socialization, and exposing your dog to new situations in a controlled manner can help build confidence. Reward them for their bravery in new situations and provide positive reinforcement.
Is it easier to make rescue dogs feel safe in your home?
This largely depends on the dog’s past experiences. Some rescue dogs, especially those with traumatic pasts, may need extra time and patience to feel safe. It’s essential to provide a calm, consistent environment and work on building trust slowly.
What is the best age to build confidence in dogs?
Confidence building should ideally start from puppyhood, around 3-12 weeks, when they are most receptive to socialization. However, confidence can and should be built at any age through positive reinforcement, regular training, and consistent, positive experiences.