Overcoming the fear factor phase & helping a nervous pup

It’s not unusual to feel afraid. We all do, sometimes.

But for all of our budding young canine citizens of the world, things can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. All manner of new, unfamiliar surroundings and experiences can trigger a sense of worry.

All dogs have their own personality traits, with some slightly more prone to feeling nervous, anxious or panicky. Let’s touch on a few of the most common reasons why puppies may be fearful.

Signs that my dog is scared

There are a number of tell-tale signs that your dog is a bit frightened.

  • Shaking
  • Pacing
  • Attempting to hide
  • Suppressed appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Growling and aggression
  • Bizarre, hyperactive behaviour
  • Going to the toilet in the wrong place

What’s causing the problem?

Our dog’s emotions are complex, so getting to the bottom of what’s causing the fear is essential. There can be a number of causes, but separation anxiety, loud noises and unfamiliar people and things are usually some of the most common.

Separation anxiety

Just like us, dogs are very social creatures that crave contact. If they miss you, you might notice scratching at the door, howling, chewing, barking and other aggressive or destructive behaviours.

Separation anxiety is one of most deep-seated — but common — behavioural problems a dog can have, tracing its roots back to the very first day that your dog enters the home. As such, the old adage applies — prevention is better than cure.

As we discussed in a previous Puppy Club blog post, your pooch needs to be familiar with being left alone, and this starts on the very first night. As difficult as it may be, giving your dog some ‘alone’ time will prevent their world crashing around them whenever you’re not around.

Over time, the amount of time they’re by themselves will slowly be built up. For an adult dog who already has separation anxiety, things can become very challenging. You’ll need to start from the basics — enlisting the help of a behavioural specialist might also be required.

Loud noises

Like us, dogs are creatures that have evolved to be frightened and alarmed by extremely loud, unpredictable noises. All dog owners — indeed, anyone who’s ever owned any pet — will be familiar with the horrifying spectre of fireworks night. 

So, on 5 November, New Year’s Eve or any other event associated with big bangs, having a rather nervous dog on your hands is a problem many owners are familiar with. To help a frightened pooch to cope…

  • Acclimatise them from a young age — perhaps by playing loud noises through speakers, and teaching them that they’re nothing to be worried about.
  • As their beloved best friend, your dog will respond to your own behaviour. When the fireworks commence, be friendly, reassuring and calm. The magic of a tasty treat can help to take the edge off any scary noise!
  • Consider attempting to drown out the unpredictable, loud bangs by having the television on a louder-than-normal volume. Keeping curtains drawn and windows shut will further help to muffle the noise.

A fear of unfamiliar things

Whether a new person or strange scenario, dogs (again, like us) are hard-wired to be afraid of novel things.

A puppy who is well socialised will be more confident in such situations, handling unfamiliar sounds, scents, sights and other experiences with more resilience and confidence. Make sure you follow our top tips we laid out in another blog post for socialisation.

If your dog is older and still struggling, even after the socialisation period, it could be worth contacting a behaviourist, who will work on some counter-conditioning and desensitisation techniques. They’ll gradually expose your furry friend to the thing they’re scared of, laying out a plan to combat the fear.

Again, for any particularly complex issues to do with anxiety, it’s worth consulting your vet and possibly a specialist.