7 Supportive Tips to Help a Puppy Afraid of Dogs

by | Apr 7, 2022 | Puppies | 0 comments

Contrary to popular belief, puppies don’t always want to play with others. Some precious pups can develop a fear of other dogs that can make walks and trips to the dog park an unpleasant experience for them. If your puppy is afraid of dogs, you’ll be glad to know there are steps you can take to help them relax in canine company. This article outlines some signs that your dog might be afraid and provides tips to help you reduce your puppy’s fear of dogs.

Signs your puppy is afraid of dogs

If your puppy is afraid of dogs, it’s likely to show this fear through some obvious behaviours. Behaviours might look a little cute at first glance, like your puppy hiding behind a hedge on sight of another canine or desperately running away when you call ‘walkies’. But the experience is probably a lot less than cute to your pup. Fear is a powerful emotion and survival mechanism that triggers unpleasant biochemical reactions in humans and dogs alike. Signs your puppy may be experiencing fear include:

  • backing away
  • bolting away
  • tucking its tail between its legs
  • shaking or trembling
  • showing the whites of its eyes
  • lifting a paw
  • cowering or adopting a low body posture
  • hiding
  • panting
  • freezing
  • urinating
  • looking to you for comfort
  • refusing treats

Related: The 10 Most Important Commands to Teach Your Dog

7 tips to help your puppy overcome its fear of dogs

Helping your puppy overcome its fear of dogs can be done with persistence, kindness, desensitisation and counter-conditioning. Desensitisation involves exposing your puppy to other dogs at an extremely low level and gradually increasing the exposure as your dog’s signs of fear reduce. Counter-conditioning means training or conditioning your puppy to associate other dogs with a positive reward rather than fear. Here are 7 tips that use these techniques to help your puppy build a bank of positive experiences to draw confidence from and reduce fear:

1. Comfort your puppy when it’s scared

The first step to help your pup become less fearful is to give it a safe-haven in your arms. Cuddles, pats and reassurances give your puppy a sense of safety and a reason to trust that all is well. Your pup is learning that you provide food, shelter and protection so by giving them an anchor from which they can safely explore the world, you help set them up to have confidence. You needn’t worry about reinforcing fearful behaviour with rewards and praise. Fearful behaviour is very different from naughty behaviour; it needs to be soothed rather than disciplined.

2. Prevent negative interactions with dogs

If you’ve identified that your puppy is experiencing fear around other dogs, it’s important not to reinforce that fear with negative experiences. Boisterous, large or aggressive dogs can easily scare timid young pups and lead them to associate dogs with discomfort. Your puppy is entering its formative years and the memories built now can affect your pup’s fear responses for life. So that means trips to the off-leash dog park are currently off-limits. You should only introduce your puppy to other dogs in controlled environments, where you can remove him or her if it causes discomfort. Desensitisation therapy is not shock therapy, but rather, it involves very small exposures to dogs. Just seeing a dog across the street might be enough of a challenge to start with.

Related: How to Stop a Puppy Jumping Up on You

3. Observe your dog’s tolerance of other dogs

You can quantify your puppy’s fear of dogs or tolerance level by observing how far away your dog can be from another dog before he or she displays signs of fear. Will she back away and hide at the sight of a dog halfway down the street or is her comfort threshold a few metres away? By identifying the distance at which she displays discomfort, you can establish a starting point for desensitisation therapy. Your aim is to slowly reduce the distance at which she can comfortably withstand being around another dog.

4. Teach your puppy to associate dogs with rewards

Teaching your puppy that being around other dogs can be a positive experience is the next step. This involves some very tasty treats that you will use to counter-condition your pup. When you are walking and see a dog at a tolerable distance from your pup, reward your pup with a treat. By doing this repetitiously, you can trigger a positive emotional response from your puppy at the sight of a dog. You can keep giving your puppy treats until the other dog is out of sight. In time, these positive associations can become stronger than the dog’s fear.

5. Gradually get closer to other dogs

Once your puppy appears calmer when there is another dog insight, it may be time to reduce the distance between your pup and its future potential playmate. When your puppy is afraid of dogs, it’s best to start this form of desensitisation with gentle dogs who are similar in size to your dog or smaller. Each time you decrease the distance, practice the same treat routine until your dog stops showing signs of fear. This is the sign that it’s ok to reduce the distance once again.

6. Allow your dog to interact with others at its own pace

Forcing your dog to interact with other dogs when it’s scared can be counterproductive and work to increase your pup’s fear. Your dog is likely to gain the most out of its interactions with other dogs when it’s calm. If your puppy is scared of dogs, comfort your pup and let it know you’ll keep it safe. You may need to slow down your desensitisation efforts and ramp up the counter-conditioning with treats to find a pace that works for your dog. Don’t be concerned by well-meaning comments from others that you should ‘throw your pup in the deep end’ with lots of high energy exposure to dogs. This might work for dogs that aren’t anxious but it’s the opposite of what a sensitive dog needs.

7. Adjust your expectations

It’s natural to want to see your dog happily romping in the park with canine playmates. But not every dog is interested in dog park rough and tumble. More than anything, your dog may simply want to enjoy yours and your family’s company and that’s ok. It’s great if your pup comes out of desensitisation and counter-conditioning training with a newfound love of doggy playtime, but a different goal might be better suit some dog. Ultimately, if you can get your dog to a place where they can go out walking confidently and without fear, you’ve succeeded in your training. By reducing your puppy’s fear, you also help them become a good canine citizen, making them less likely to bite out of fear.

Related: How to Stop a Puppy Biting in 7 Quick Steps

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