Behavioral problems

My Dog is Afraid of People

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: February 22, 2018
My Dog is Afraid of People

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Introducing our dog to friends and family is something that every owner should be able to do, however, some dogs can show insecurity and even fear when they approach unknown people and even people they have previously seen.

If this is your case, it will be important to consider going to a specialist to perform therapy for scared dogs. However, in this AnimalWised article we will give you some tips you can apply to know what to do if your dog is afraid of people. Do not forget that this is a long process, but with patience you can discover how to put them at ease.

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  1. Why is my dog afraid of people?
  2. How to help a fearful dog gain confidence
  3. Therapies for dogs scared of people

Why is my dog afraid of people?

Fear is an emotion that appears at the end of the puppy socialization process. Before that time comes, it is essential to present and accustom our dog to all kinds of people, animals, objects and environments, if not, fears and phobias will appear.

Although this fear is usually related to poor socialization, there are other reasons that can cause fear in a dog, such as:

  • Lack of regular contact with people.
  • Traumatic experiences related to people.
  • Due to genetics (son / daughter of fearful parents).
  • Use of punishment on the dog and / or aversive techniques.
  • Contact with little variety of people throughout their life.
  • Aging (cognitive dysfunction syndrome).
  • Diseases and exposure to toxic substances.

Occasionally some dogs may show fear of men and not of women, this is usually due to all of the above mentioned but related to men only. In addition, people of the male gender tend to have a stronger voice, are usually taller and have facial hair, characteristics that usually scare a dog more.

It can also happen that the dog is afraid of very specific people (for example, fear of veterinarians or people in uniform) or that fear is widespread.

How to differentiate fear from phobia in dogs?

We must remember that fear is an adaptive emotion that allows them to survive, while phobia is a disproportionate emotion. If our dog is fearful we will observe that they try to escape, to move, to remain still and even to attack. Whereas if the dog has a phobia they will act totally uncontrollable and we will observe panic attacks and anxiety.

In any case it will be interesting to go to a specialist, but in the case of phobia it is imperative, as it is much more complicated to work with and pathological problems should be ruled out. It may also be related to sensory deprivation syndrome.

My Dog is Afraid of People - Why is my dog afraid of people?

How to help a fearful dog gain confidence

Before we consider any kind of therapy it will be fundamental to learn the dog language, that is, calming signals, physical signs that will help us understand if our dog is calm or if they are uncomfortable. Understanding our dog is key to helping them overcome their fears.

The next step will be to identify the stimuli that trigger fear. Are they scared of all people equally or only to men? Are they afraid only when they are spoken to and / or approached or even from a distance?

Once we are clear about these concepts we must control interactions between the dog and people. It is very important that our fearful dog does not suddenly find them-self in a crowd or before people trying to touch or caress them, we must try to make them feel safe at all times (observing them and noting the calm signals they may show). That will help them gain confidence and feel better together with us.

If our dog feels good it will be easier for them to begin to overcome their fears. We will always keep a reasonable distance from other people and if they try to get closer we can drive them away by warning that our dog bites, for example. Even if it is not true, it is to prevent our dog from trying to flee or react. The idea is that, whenever the dog is with us, they know that nothing bad will happen.

Therapies for dogs scared of people

If we go to a professional, they will probably recommend approaching therapies in a controlled work camp, in which the educator will participate and some extras who will represent random people from the street. Positive reinforcement will always be used to encourage the dog and help to associate people with something good (food or toys, for example).

Going to a professional is key to treating fear in the dog, although there is always the possibility of a relapse if the guidelines are not followed, do not forget. Here are things you should never do:

  • Allow other people to approach the dog directly, try to touch or pet them if they shows signs of appeasement.
  • Punish them, force them or make them do something they do not want. The dog should be free to express their emotions and leave if they wish. An imposition can mean that the dog ends up attacking the person who corners them or forces them to do something.
  • Scold your dog if they bare their teeth. In this case the dog can proceed to attack directly without showing this warning signal. If the dog begins to show aggression from fear we should go to a specialist as soon as possible, to prevent the behavior from getting worse.

On the contrary, if your dog is only afraid (without aggression), you can introduce interactions with trusted people in your home, always following these tips:

  1. Explain to people that they should not stare at the dog, try to touch or caress them. Neither will they lean over or attempt to initiate the first contact.
  2. People must maintain a relaxed body posture and ignore the dog, without looking or talking. They should act normally.
  3. We will let the dog get used to the presence of people in the home, probably the first few times they will not want to approach, but over time they will show interest for those who visit your home.
  4. We will ask people who, whenever the dog approaches them, to reward them with a tasty treat (a piece of frankfurt, for example). After giving them it, they should continue to ignore the dog.
  5. We will repeat this exercise with the same people and once they tolerate their presence and take the prizes normally, repeat the exercise with other people.
  6. Once the dog practices this exercise and shows confidence at home, do the same exercises outside the home, in parks and streets.

Remember that this is a long process and to observe an obvious and faster improvement, therapies will be necessary. In addition, the professional who works with us will be able to identify more effectively the dog's emotions and other behavioral problems that they may have.

My Dog is Afraid of People - Therapies for dogs scared of people

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog is Afraid of People, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.

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What did you think of this article?
i liked the bullet points that you have given above. hoping and struggling with my
Administrador AnimalWised

We're glad we could help, hope it all works out for you and your pal!
Kathleen Powell
We found a yorkie 3 months ago and she is still scared of us, my husband and myself. We believe she has been abused. We love her but she runs from us and we can't pick her up. What can we do?
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Kathleen,

It's a very tricky one. A scared dog needs time, patience and, most of all, love. However, their trauma can be so severe they cannot connect and eternally frightened. We provide some advice in the following article:

However, if the case is acute, the best thing you can do is bring in a professional ethologist or similar canine education professional. Good luck!
i have a problem my dog is scared of me and that is affecting other dogs in side the yard
Administrador AnimalWised

Here we have some more information which might be useful to you:
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My Dog is Afraid of People