Fearful dogs: Expert, Bettina Specht, tells you what to do

13 August 2018

Just like humans, dogs can be fearful, shy and anxious. Fear and anxiety can be...

Fearful dogs:  Expert, Bettina Specht, tells you what to do

Just like humans, dogs can be fearful, shy and anxious. Fear and anxiety can be caused by many different reasons, but fearful behavior in dogs is most often caused by an early traumatic experience. How do I know if my dog suffers from severe anxiety and fear? What are the signs and signals of fear, and what can I do when my dog feels frightened and panics? We had a talk with the “Fearful Dogs” expert, Bettina Specht, who gave us great information about fearful dogs.

Fearful dogs

Fear is a natural instinct that protects us by signaling danger. Normal fear has a protective function and keeps us safe and secure by making us wary of any potential threat that might come our way. However, fears can be a problem when they become so severe that they cause tremendous anxiety and interfere with your normal life. In this case, we are talking about anxiety disorders seen not only in humans, but in dogs as well. Extreme fear and anxiety can occur in dogs for many different reasons. Loud noises, storms, fire, and unfamiliar people and places may trigger fear and anxiety. Fears may also be caused by bad experiences, like trips to the veterinarian or time spend in boarding kennels.

How to recognize signs of fear in dogs?

Signs that show fear in dogs:

  • Shaking, barking, whining, or howling
  • Eyes wide open and dilated pupils
  • Tail tucked between the hind legs
  • Attempting to “escape” a room or crate to the point of self-injury
  • Ears are pinned back
  • Body Positions, e.g. crouching or slinking and the body posture is in general directed backwards

Fear-related behaviors:

  • Freeze
  • Flee
  • Faint
  • Fight
  • Fooling around

…also known as the 5 F’s of fear. Destruction and escaping are also often associated with a scared dog. Fear aggression in dogs can often be misinterpreted and some people equate dog aggression as “bad behavior” which certainly deserves punishment. This will make the dog more fearful and aggressive than he/she were before the punishment. Of course curbing a dog’s behavior is important when he/she become aggressive, but punishment is not the proper method of dealing with it.

What to do if my dog panics?

Panic disorders are anxiety attacks usually occur suddenly and without warning. There are no specific triggers so it’s quite unpredictable. A panic attack normally lasts for about 30 minutes. During this time, the dog isn’t approachable. All you can do is try to be near him/her and make sure nobody else gets hurt by the fearful, an maybe aggressive, behavior. If you touch a dog during a panic attack, he might snap and bite. It is actually quite similar to humans. If a person is drowning, he or she may also react by attacking the lifeguard. A leash is a good way to protect your dog as he/she feels close to you and secure with you. If a fearful dog breaks out, a GPS Tracker can be lifesaving.

Useful solutions for panic and anxiety

To cope with a fearful dog it is necessary to understand what happens in the head and in the body of the dog. You have to understand what anxiety is, before you can develop a solutions and new training ideas. Since every dog and every reaction is different, there is no fix solution. It’s important to pay attention to exactly which options are comforting to your dog — and which aren’t. To treat a fearful dog requries lots of time, creativity, patience and empathy.

What to do when a fearful dog is running away?

  • Inform your vet, the police, the local animal shelters and your neighbors
  • Inform the national pet register (where your pet is registered)
  • Leave garden door and house door open in case your dog manages to come back himself.

In case you dogs runs away a Facebook post might be helpful as you can reach a lot of people within a short period of time. Here it’s important, though, that people are aware that they shouldn’t scare the dog or try to catch it. You, as owner, should be contacted and only you should try to approach the dog.  Whether you are helping someone find a lost dog or trying to calm a fearful dog, or just trying to approach an animal on the street to offer it assistance, knowing the signs of a frightened dog and how to approach it safely can make a world of difference.

How can I prevent my dog from running away

Despite all precautions, it can happen that a scared dog escapes from the house. Even with leash, safety harness and training, you can’t be 100% sure that your dog won’t escape. A GPS tracker is recommended for dogs with fear and anxiety attacks. With a GPS tracker the dog can be found quickly. 

Is a GPS tracker useful?

Yes it is! With a GPS tracker you can find your four-legged friend anytime, anywhere, and long, nerve-racking search actions can be avoided. Fearful dogs should never be left without a Tractive GPS tracker.


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