Most Skittish Dog Breeds
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Fear is one of the most basic emotions that dogs can experience, since it is a deeply rooted defense mechanism. In the face of imminent danger, fear enables the body to prepare itself either to flee or to defend itself. However, excessively fearful behavior crosses the boundaries of what is "natural and expected" in dogs and is often related to three factors: lived experience, the dog's socialization, and their genetic heritage.
In the following AnimalWised article, you will learn why some dogs are more fearful than others and which are the most skittish dog breeds in the world.
Why are some dogs more skittish than others?
Fear is a survival instinct in dogs in response to dangerous situations. However, sometimes dogs show disproportionate fear responses to circumstances that pose no real danger, and this can be caused by several factors:
- Lack of early socialization
- Genetic factors
- Negative experiences
A dog's fears and phobias can manifest in the following symptoms:
- Destructive behavior
A study conducted by the College of Helsinki (Finland) 1 evaluated the behavior of about 13,700 dogs of 22 different breeds before the four most important environmental factors for non-social anxiety in dogs. These are:
- Fear of the Unknown or Strangers
Researchers emphasized the importance of socialization, the company of other individuals, age, physical activity and a positive environment for the development of the dog's self-confidence. According to the results obtained, body composition and especially size play a key role in determining the manifestations of fear in dogs of different breeds. In general, small dogs have shown a greater predisposition to fear than large ones.
Below, we explain in more detail which are the most skittish dog breeds and what they are generally most afraid of.
You may be interested in this other article, where we explain why some dogs are afraid of other dogs.
The Cairn Terrier is a terrier breed that originated in the Scottish Highlands and is considered one of the oldest working dogs in Scotland. A Cairn presents as a small, shaggy, alert dog with an erect head, tail and ears. Cairn Terriers are known to be very sensitive to loud noises and can develop anxiety easily. They are easily fearful of fireworks and thunder. Early socialization and puppy training are recommended and will help the dog develop into a well-balanced, well-behaved companion.
You may also be interested in this other article where we describe the types of terrier dogs with a list of terrier breeds around the world.
Originally, the Rough Collie was used as a herding dog in Scotland and northern England. This breed is easily recognized by their beautiful, multicolored coat with a long, rough texture. They are highly intelligent, but also sensitive dogs. They usually get along well with children, but are not comfortable in a noisy household with a lot of noise and commotion. The Rough Collie needs a lot of attention and tends to be fearful without socialization.
The Lagotto Romagnolo is an Italian dog breed that was traditionally used as a hunting dog, especially as a water retriever. Dogs, like humans, are emotionally complex and can react to their situations as differently as humans. It is common for all dogs, regardless of breed, to be afraid of thunder, and Lagotto Romagnolos are no exception.
They can also be afraid of noise from other sources, such as loud vehicles, gunshots, and even loud music.
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi is a breed of herding dog that originated in Wales. They are famous as the preferred breed of Queen Elizabeth II, who owned more than 30 royal corgis during her reign. These dogs are extremely sociable and hate to be left alone. Therefore, they are one of the breeds most at risk of developing separation anxiety when you leave the house. As for predisposition to fear, studies have shown that the Pembroke Welsh Corgi is among the three dog breeds most afraid of pyrotechnics and among the five most likely to be afraid of thunder. On the other hand, its adaptability to heights and surfaces seems to be quite acceptable.
The Chihuahua is a Mexican breed of toy dog. Chihuahuas possess loyalty, charm, and the attitude of a large dog. Even small dogs need to be trained, and without training they can take control of your household. Despite the fact that they are usually quite fearless when facing other larger dogs, especially when they feel the need to protect their guardians, Chihuahuas tend to be afraid of heights and loud noises.
It is likely that this behavior is related to its small size and low muscle density. However, the fear may also be rooted in the Chihuahua's genes and reinforced by their upbringing and experiences with other people and dogs. In a Chihuahua, which is genetically a very social dog, the fear may be due to abuse, neglect, and lack of socialization.
The Miniature Schnauzer is a small breed of Schnauzer-type dog that originated in Germany in the mid to late 19th century. The smallest members of the Schnauzer family also have one of the most significant predispositions to fear heights. Schnauzers also have a very strong character and require good socialization to avoid overly fearful behavior as well as jealous and/or possessive behavior towards their caregivers.
Spanish Water Dog
The Spanish Water Dog is a breed used in Spain as a herding dog and guard dog. It is sometimes used as a hunting dog and is good at retrieving from water. Although the Spanish Water Dog responds quite well to loud noises (about 12%), it is one of the dog breeds that is most fearful of unfamiliar people and/or completely new situations. Almost 30% of the animals of this breed show fearful behavior patterns when confronted with an unknown situation. This underlines the importance of early socialization in this breed to avoid behavioral problems in adulthood.
The Shetland Sheepdog or simply "Sheltie" is on the "podium" of the most fearful dog breeds towards strangers, together with the Spanish Water Dog, which according to studies is the case with almost one in four individuals of this breed. Shyness is one of the most characteristic traits of the Shetland Sheepdog, which usually develops extreme loyalty to its caregivers, but tends to be suspicious or even uncomfortable in the presence of strangers. For this reason, good socialization and a high level of physical exercise and mental stimulation are essential to achieve a balanced behavior in this breed.
Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier
The Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier is a terrier that originated in Ireland. This ancient breed was used for hunting burrowing animals and herding. It is one of the largest and easiest terriers to socialize and is less prone to aggression, which is one of the most serious behavior problems in these dogs.
In fact, the Irish Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier is one of the bravest and friendliest dog breeds when it comes to interacting with people and new stimuli. On the other hand, there is a significant predisposition to fear loud noises, especially thunder and lightning.
The Labrador Retriever or simply Labrador is a British retriever dog breed. Although the Labrador Retriever is one of the best dogs for children due to its playful nature, it suffers the most from fear of heights, closely followed by its close relative, the Golden Retriever. Remember that just because they are naturally sociable and friendly does not mean they do not need to be socialized.
In fact, both physical activity and mental stimulation, as well as proper socialization, are essential to avoid problems when interacting with other dogs, as Labrador Retrievers tend to be boisterous and overstimulated. This behavior can be misinterpreted by other dogs and cause a negative reaction.
What can I do to help my skittish dog?
Lastly, we would like to remind you that even if your dog is one of the most skittish breeds, there are many ways to help them gain confidence to handle their own emotions and the multiple stimuli around them.
The most effective way to train your dog is through proper socialization and positive reinforcement. You must avoid practices that lead to trauma and phobias, such as inappropriate yelling, punishment, confinement and any form of violence.
For more information on how to properly socialize a dog, see our guide to socializing puppies and adult dogs.
If you want to read similar articles to Most Skittish Dog Breeds, we recommend you visit our Comparisons category.
- Hakanen, E., Mikkola, S., Salonen, M. et al. (2020). Active and social life is associated with lower non-social fearfulness in pet dogs . Sci Rep 10, 13774. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-70722-7