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Is My Dog Scared of Me? Signs to Look For - PawSafe
Dog Behavior

Is My Dog Scared of Me? Signs to Look For

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

is my dog scared of me

Many dog owners have found themselves wondering whether their dog is scared of them. It’s a common concern, especially if the dog seems to shy away or cower in their presence. While there are many reasons why a dog may exhibit fearful behavior, it’s important to address the issue to ensure a healthy and happy relationship between dog and owner.

If you’re concerned that your dog may be scared of you, there are steps you can take to help alleviate their fears. Providing a quiet, safe space for them to retreat to can be helpful, as can offering a soothing dog bed for them to sleep on. Additionally, working with a professional trainer or behaviorist can help identify the root cause of the fear and develop a plan to address it.

To give the best possible advice on how to know if your dog is scared of you, we will refer to Dr. Bonnie Beaver, DVM to look at some of the more subtle signs of fear in dogs.

Studies show that humans aren’t always that good at seeing fear in dogs, especially if they don’t have a lot of experience.

If a dog avoids eye contact or cowers when its owner approaches, it could be a sign that it is scared. Similarly, if the dog tucks its tail between its legs or flattens its ears, it could be feeling anxious or afraid.

Another sign to look out for is if the dog becomes aggressive or defensive when the owner tries to approach or touch it. This could be a sign that the dog is scared and trying to protect itself. Small dog owners are some of the worst culprits when it comes to ignoring these signs that the dog wants to be left alone.

It’s important to note that there could be other reasons why a dog is displaying these behaviors, such as illness or past trauma. Therefore, it’s always best to consult with a veterinarian or animal behaviorist to determine the root cause of the behavior.

In summary, if a dog is displaying signs of fear or anxiety around its owner, it could be scared. It’s important to observe the dog’s behavior and seek professional help if necessary to ensure the dog’s well-being.

Signs Your Dog Might Be Scared You

If you’re wondering whether your dog is scared of you, there are several signs you can look for. 

As dog owners, it’s essential to understand these signs of fear because it helps us know when our furry friends aren’t feeling their best. If you notice any of these behaviors, try to create a safe and reassuring environment for them. 

Maybe give them some space and let them come to you when they feel more relaxed. Being there for our dogs when they’re scared can make a huge difference in their happiness and trust in us.

Here are some of the most common:

1.Running Away

One of the most obvious signs that your dog might be scared of you is if they run away from you when you approach. This could be because they’re afraid of you or because they’re afraid of something else in the environment.

2. Hiding

Another common sign of fear in dogs is hiding. If your dog disappears when you enter the room or goes to a spot where they feel safe, like hiding under a bed,  it could be a sign that they’re scared of you.

3. Lowering Head or Body (Cowering)

Dogs who are scared may also lower their head or body, cower, or cringe when you approach. This is a sign that they’re trying to make themselves smaller and less threatening.

4. Not Coming When Called

If your dog doesn’t come when you call them, it could be a sign that they’re scared of you. They may be afraid of what will happen when they come to you.

5. Submissive Peeing

Dogs who are scared may also exhibit submissive behaviors, such as peeing when you approach or touch them. This is a sign that they’re trying to show you that they’re not a threat.

6. Displacement Behavior

Dogs who are scared may also exhibit displacement behaviors, such as licking their paws or scratching themselves excessively. They may wonder of and pretend to ignore you by sniffing random bits of dirt. This is a sign that they’re trying to cope with their fear in a non-threatening way.

There are many kinds of displacement behavior that show that a dog is uncertain over something or has some kind of inner conflict, including stretching.

7. Tail Tucking & stress wagging

Another common sign of fear in dogs is tail tucking. If your dog tucks their tail between their legs when you approach, it could be a sign that they’re scared of you. These dogs may still wag their tails, but it is usually only the tip of the tail that wags, and it wags tightly, instead with the whole body. Remember, a happy dog will wag their tail in giant swings, with a relaxed body.

9. Lip Licking and Yawning

Dogs who are scared may also lick their lips or yawn excessively. This is a nervous sign that they’re trying to calm themselves down and avoid confrontation. Also see our article on why dog’s stick their tongue out.

9. Panting and tight mouths

Dogs who are very scared may also start panting rapidly when you approach and may even foam at the mouth. Their lips will be pulled back and their mouths will be tight rather than relaxed.

10. Pinned back ears

A sure sign that a dog is scared or stressed are ears that are pinned back close to the head. This is another signal that people often miss.

11. Shaking or Tremors

If your dog is shaking or trembling when you approach, it could be a sign that they’re scared of you. They may be afraid of what you’ll do to them.

12. Aggressive Reactions

Sometimes, dogs who are scared may also exhibit aggressive behaviors, such as growling or biting. This is a sign that they’re trying to protect themselves from what they perceive as a threat.

13. Physical Symptoms

In addition to these behavioral signs, there may also be physical symptoms that indicate your dog is scared, such as dilated pupils, a rapid heartbeat, or heavy panting.

14. Presenting their Belly

Finally, dogs who are scared may also present their belly to you. This is a sign that they’re trying to show you that they’re not a threat and that they’re submitting to you.

Overall, if you’re concerned that your dog is scared of you, it’s important to take steps to address their fear. This may involve working with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist to help your dog overcome their fear and build trust with you.

15. Side eye or whale eye

Another sign of fear is when your dog gives you that side-eye, you know, that subtle glance from the corner of their eye. You will always see the whites of the eye. It’s like they’re being sneaky, trying not to draw attention to their unease. They might even avert their gaze from you, like they’re avoiding direct eye contact. All these behaviors are their way of saying, “I’m feeling a bit uneasy here, please don’t make me uncomfortable.”

A side eye can be a bad sign in dogs. It often means that they are ramping up to snarl, snap, or even bite you to get you out of their space. Parents need to be especially aware of the side eye if they let their young children play with a dog.

Understanding fawning when dog’s are afraid of you

Alright, imagine you’re hanging out with your dog, and suddenly, they start acting all clingy and affectionate, trying to lick your face like there’s no tomorrow, and their tail is wagging super tightly. Well, that might actually be a sign that they’re feeling afraid.

See, dogs have this survival response called “fawning,” which is like their way of trying to make everything seem cool and happy to avoid any confrontation. It’s like they’re saying, “Hey, I’m all chill and friendly, no need to worry!” But in reality, deep down, they’re feeling scared or anxious about something.

Reasons Your Dog Might Fear You

Past Trauma

Dogs who have experienced past trauma may develop a fear of their owners. This could be due to abuse or neglect from a previous owner or traumatic experiences such as being attacked by another dog. These experiences can leave a lasting impact on a dog’s behavior and make them fearful of humans, including their owners.

Also our article on why a dog may be distant.

Inconsistent Training

Inconsistent training can also cause a dog to fear its owner. If the owner is inconsistent with their commands or punishments, the dog may become confused and anxious. For example, if the owner allows the dog to jump on them one day but punishes them for it the next, the dog may not understand what is expected of them and become fearful of their owner’s reactions.

Negative Reactions

Negative reactions from an owner can also cause a dog to become fearful. If an owner yells at their dog or physically punishes them, the dog may associate their owner with negative experiences and become afraid of them. Additionally, if an owner is overly aggressive or intimidating, the dog may become fearful of their presence and actions.

See more on this in our article on if your dog will forgive you for hitting them and how to discipline dogs appropriately.

Overall, there are many reasons why a dog may fear their owner. It is important for owners to be consistent with their training and interactions with their dogs and to avoid negative reactions or behaviors that could cause fear or anxiety in their pets. By creating a positive and safe environment for their dogs, owners can help build trust and strengthen their bond with their furry companions.

How to Address Your Dog’s Fear & Build Trust If They Are Scared Of You

A study on behavioral treatment for fearful dogs outlined some fantastic ways to stop your dog being afraid of you. Here are the key points.

Desensitization and Counterconditioning

Desensitization involves gradually exposing the dog to the fear-inducing stimuli (which is you) in a controlled and safe manner, starting with a very low intensity and gradually increasing it over time. The goal is to reduce the dog’s fear response by helping them get used to the trigger without overwhelming them.

This means that it’s best not to flood a dog with your presence if they are scared of you. Rather stay away from your dog as much as possible and gradually increase the time you are with them. Start by just being in the same room for a moment while they eat, the gradually increase how long you are with them, and how close you come to them.

Counterconditioning aims to change the dog’s emotional response to the thing that causes fear. It involves pairing the fear-inducing stimuli with something positive or pleasant to create a positive association, thereby replacing fear with a positive emotion.

Example: Let’s say a dog is afraid of loud household sounds, like the vacuum cleaner. To desensitize and counter condition the dog, you can start by playing the sound at a very low volume while giving the dog treats or engaging them with a favorite toy. Gradually, over several sessions, increase the volume of the sound while continuing to provide positive rewards. This helps the dog associate the scary sound with something good, reducing their fear over time.

Operant Conditioning & Positive Reinforcement

Operant conditioning focuses on shaping a dog’s behavior through positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement to increase desired behaviors or decrease unwanted behaviors.

Tip: create a “Zen Time,” where the goal is to help dogs acclimate to household sounds, operant conditioning could be used to reward calm behavior during the hour. If a dog remains calm and relaxed while the household sounds are playing, they can receive treats or other rewards. 

This positive reinforcement encourages the dog to associate the presence of household sounds with relaxation and rewards, helping them become more comfortable with those sounds over time. Likewise, make sure they get chew toys or other high value items when they are near you.

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for addressing your dog’s fear. This involves rewarding your dog for exhibiting positive behavior and ignoring negative behavior. Here are some ways to use positive reinforcement:

  • Reward good behavior: When your dog exhibits positive behavior, such as approaching you without fear, reward them with treats or praise.
  • Ignore bad behavior: If your dog exhibits negative behavior, such as growling or hiding, ignore it. This will help prevent your dog from associating fear with you.
  • Be consistent: Consistency is key when using positive reinforcement. Make sure everyone in your household is on the same page and using the same techniques.

Building Trust

To help your dog overcome their fear, it’s important to build trust. This can be done by being consistent in your actions and showing your dog that you are a safe and reliable source of comfort. Here are some ways to build trust:

  • Spend quality time with your dog: Engage in activities that your dog enjoys, such as playing fetch or going for walks. This will help your dog associate positive experiences with you.
  • Use positive body language: Avoid making sudden movements or loud noises that might startle your dog. Instead, use calm and reassuring body language to show your dog that you are not a threat.
  • Give treats: Reward your dog with treats when they exhibit positive behavior. This will help reinforce good habits and build a positive association with you.

Professional Help

If your dog’s fear is severe or persistent, it may be necessary to seek professional help. A veterinarian or animal behaviorist can help diagnose the cause of your dog’s fear and provide guidance on how to address it. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Consult with a professional: Before seeking professional help, do some research to find a reputable veterinarian or animal behaviorist in your area.
  • Follow their advice: Once you’ve found a professional, make sure to follow their advice closely. They may recommend medication or training techniques to help your dog overcome their fear.
  • Be patient: Overcoming fear takes time and patience. Don’t expect overnight results, and be prepared to put in the effort to help your dog feel safe and comfortable.

By building trust, using positive reinforcement, and seeking professional help if necessary, you can help your dog overcome their fear and build a stronger bond with you.

How Can I Get a Scared Dog to Trust Me?

Building trust with a scared dog can be a slow process, but it is possible. Here are a few tips to help a dog feel more comfortable around you:

1. Give the Dog Space

When a dog is scared, it’s important to give them space and time to calm down. Don’t force them to interact with you or try to pick them up if they don’t want to be touched. Instead, sit or stand near the dog and let them approach you on their own terms.

2. Use Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement can help a scared dog associate you with good things. Offer treats, toys, or praise when the dog approaches you or shows signs of relaxation. This will help them learn that you are a source of good things.

3. Be Calm and Confident

Dogs can pick up on human emotions, so it’s important to remain calm and confident around a scared dog. Speak in a soft, soothing tone and avoid sudden movements or loud noises that could startle the dog.

4. Respect the Dog’s Boundaries

It’s important to respect a scared dog’s boundaries and not push them too far too fast. If the dog seems uncomfortable or starts to back away, give them space and try again later.

5. Seek Professional Help

If a dog is severely scared or has a history of abuse, it may be best to seek the help of a professional dog trainer or behaviorist. They can provide guidance on how to build trust with the dog and help them overcome their fears.

Preventing Future Fear

To prevent future fear in a dog, it is important to establish a positive and consistent relationship with them. This means providing them with proper care, attention, and training. Here are some tips to prevent future fear in your dog:

  • Socialization: Socializing your dog with other dogs, people, and environments can help them feel more comfortable and confident in new situations. Start socializing your dog at a young age and continue throughout their life.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement training techniques, such as giving treats or praise, to encourage good behavior. Avoid using punishment or negative reinforcement, which can cause fear and anxiety.
  • Consistency: Be consistent with your dog’s training, routine, and expectations. This will help them feel secure and confident in their environment.
  • Body Language: Pay attention to your dog’s body language and avoid actions or behaviors that may scare them, such as approaching them too quickly or making sudden movements.
  • Professional Help: If your dog is exhibiting signs of fear or anxiety, seek professional help from a veterinarian or dog behaviorist. They can provide guidance and support to help your dog overcome their fears.

By following these tips, pet owners can help prevent future fear in their dogs and create a positive and happy relationship with their furry friend.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my dog scared of me suddenly?

There could be several reasons why your dog is suddenly scared of you. It could be due to a traumatic experience, a change in their environment, or a medical issue. It’s important to observe your dog’s behavior and try to identify any potential triggers for their fear. If the behavior persists, it’s recommended to consult with a veterinarian or a professional dog trainer.

My dog is scared of me because I beat him – what can I do?

Physical abuse towards a dog is never acceptable and can cause long-term damage to their physical and emotional well-being. If you have been physically abusive towards your dog, it’s important to seek professional help immediately. A veterinarian or a professional dog trainer can help you develop a plan to rebuild trust with your dog and address any underlying behavioral issues.

How can I get my dog to stop being scared of me?

Rebuilding trust with a scared dog can take time and patience. It’s important to create a positive and safe environment for your dog, and to avoid any actions or behaviors that may trigger their fear. Consistency and positive reinforcement training can also help your dog feel more comfortable and confident around you.

Why is my dog scared of me when I get home?

If your dog is scared of you when you get home, it could be due to a lack of socialization or separation anxiety. It’s important to create a positive association with your arrival by offering treats or engaging in playtime. Gradually increasing the time you spend away from your dog can also help them feel more comfortable when you return.

What does it mean if my dog is scared of me?

If your dog is scared of you, it could be a sign of an underlying issue such as fear, anxiety, or trauma. It’s important to observe your dog’s behavior and try to identify any potential triggers for their fear. Seeking professional help from a veterinarian or a professional dog trainer can help you address any underlying issues and create a positive and safe environment for your dog.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, it is important for dog owners to understand the signs of fear in their pets. While some dogs may naturally be more timid than others, it is crucial to create a safe and comfortable environment for them.

If a dog is exhibiting signs of fear or anxiety, owners should try to identify the source of the issue and work to address it. This can include desensitization training, positive reinforcement, and seeking the help of a professional trainer or veterinarian.

It is also important to remember that a dog’s behavior is not a reflection of their love for their owner. Fearful behavior towards their owner can stem from past trauma or negative experiences.

Overall, building a strong bond with a dog takes time, patience, and understanding. By providing a safe and nurturing environment, owners can help their pets feel more comfortable and confident in their presence.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.