8 Tips to Remember When Bonding with a Scared Dog


In my past 12 years of experience with training dogs, I have encountered a number of dogs who defy the stereotype like greeting with wagging tails, but are fearful and shy. While these traits may be challenging to bond with your cute canine, it is not impossible.

To bond with a scared dog, you need to understand the reasons why your dog is afraid. Once you understand the reasons, you can use treats, toys, or any form of positive experience with your dog to build a lasting friendship.

In this blog, I am going to give you my expert opinion of why your dog may be scared and how you can bond with it in 8 effective ways. Let’s discuss.

Why is Your Pet Dog Scared of You?

As humans project different personality traits, dogs are no different. They can be independent, affectionate, bold, energetic, or even timid and bashful. While playful dogs may adopt your home quite easily, a fearful dog will need extra help from you.

The first step to help a scared dog feel relaxed at your home is to understand the reason behind its fear. In general, there are 6 reasons a dog may be afraid of you and its new surroundings. They are:

Past Trauma

Some dogs, especially strays, may have had bad experiences with humans in the past. They may have been abused or beaten around in their past homes. This may be affecting your relationship with your dog no matter how understanding and loving you are to it.

Unfamiliar with Human Behaviors

If a dog is not socialized during its puppy state, it can cultivate fear of human behavior. Due to a lack of socialization, any action of a human may trigger its fear response and the dog may show signs of fear. 

Additionally, children are often unpredictable, noisy, and fast. They are often oblivious to the body language of a pet, which could make a dog scared of children and avoid connecting with them.

Harsh Discipline

Some dog owners train their pets to guard their homes and perform complex tricks. To make a dog learn these skills, owners often take harsh disciplinary measures. This can make the dog fearful of their owner and scared of any human they encounter.

Sensitive Issues with Sudden Movements

Dogs have more sensitive hearing and can even hear sounds that are not registered in human ears. Thus, a dog that is genetically timid or shy may show fear signs when anything moves suddenly around it.

Tired or Health Condition

Underlying medical conditions can be a huge reason for your dog to be scared of its surroundings. As a dog grows older, it may get tired or develop health conditions like arthritis. In such cases, that dog may not be willing to touch and develop fear due to its natural instincts.

Changing Environment

This is a very common occurrence for shy lost dogs who have to live in shelters for longer or multiple times. These poor pets had been plucked out from their homes multiple times and had to endure the lack of care in shelters. This made them fear their surroundings no matter how loving the new home they were put in.

How Do Dogs Feel When They Get Afraid?

Each dog has its unique traits and therefore, they exhibit different stress signs and body language when they are afraid. Here are some common fear indicators to look for:

Body Language: 

  • A dog may tense its body when afraid. Meaning will stiffen its body and crouch low to the ground
  • Tucking the tail between the legs or keeping it low is a clear sign of fear
  • A scared dog may avoid eye contact and move away from the source of fear


  • Some dogs whine or whimper when scared
  • Growling and barking are some of the ways dogs express their discomfort

Physical Signs:

  • Anxious pups breathe rapidly when scared
  • Fear can cause your dog’s pupils to dilate
  • Like humans, dogs may tremble when exposed to a source of fear

Behavioral Changes:

  • Hiding is a very common sign that your dog is afraid
  • Some dogs may get aggressive when afraid
  • Excessive licking and yawning are obvious signals of stress

With proper behavioral training, you can make your dog comfortable around you. However, if the dog has a severe case of fear and anxiety, you may need to consult a professional trainer or a veterinarian.

How Do You Build a Friendship with Scared Dogs?

Now that you know the reasons for your dog to be scared and can detect the signs, you can start training your dog to feel comfortable around you. So, how do you achieve it? Here are my 8 expert solutions:

1. Understanding Dogs Body Language

Whenever your dog is scared or anxious, it will show signs. As its primary caregiver, you will need to detect these signs and calm your good boy accordingly.

I have explained most of the signs in the previous section. Other than that, you may notice your dog staying still and trying to hear something, or it’s far from the shoulder trembling. 

Once you notice such signs, you should take preventive measures to destress the situation. 

2. Treats and Toys

The best way to train a scared dog is to associate yourself with positive memories. Treats and toys can go a long way in this manner.

Throw treats to your dog every now and then and leave it alone while the dog eats. This allows the dog to know that you got treats and are not forcing it to do something uncomfortable. After repeating this several times, try staying close when your dog is eating the treat.

Once your dog is comfortable eating around you, you can gradually decrease distance and eventually offer treats from your hand. This will help the dog be less scared of you and form a bond with you.

If your pup is less interested in food, you can give it toys to play with. Try several toys as they might not like the first one that you bought. If the dog does not play with the toys now, try again after a few weeks. They may be more interested in the toy that they ignored in the first place.

3. Maintain a Consistent Routine

Routine maintenance can work amazingly for a dog. When you are consistent in giving your dog food, taking it for walks, and playing with it, the pet will get accustomed to you and form a strong bond with your dog.

Being consistent helps your dog build confidence and resolve fear triggers. This helps the dog to feel at home and acknowledge you as its protector. Therefore, your furry friend will be more relaxed around you.

4. Gentle Interaction

A traumatized dog may see fear signs even if there is none and keep its guard up. To resolve such incidents, you will need to interact with your dog as gently as possible.

Talking in a low voice and avoiding sudden movements is a great start to building a gentle interaction. You may need to modify your behavior accordingly to accommodate your pet in the new environment they are in.

5. Establishing Trust

Building trust with a dog may take time, but it will help the pet get accustomed to you and stay relaxed around you. Treats, toys, and gentle interactions are the way to establish trust with your beloved pet.

Give your pet lots of treats. Don’t force it to get the treat from your hand, rather leave the space if the pet shows signs of discomfort. With time, your pet will associate good memories with you and start to trust you.

6. Create a Safe Zone

The primary reason for a dog to be scared is it does not feel safe in its surroundings. Therefore, as its owner, you need to create a safe zone for it.

Setting up a quiet spot for your dog helps significantly in this manner. Providing a safe space where the pup can retreat without getting forced to interact is crucial for trust-building.

Steer clear of negative reactions around your dog. Shouting or punishing a fearful dog only heightens its fear and distrust. This will hinder the progress significantly.

7. Avoid Surprising and Talk Less

Any dog can get startled when surprised or yelled at, which can be devastating for a scared dog. So, avoid any sudden movements when you are around your scared dog. Subtly get the dog’s attention before standing up or reaching for something to prevent surprising it.

Additionally, avoid direct eye contact so the dog does not perceive you as a threat. Kneel with your side or back to assure the dog you are not a threat to it. With patience, you will go a long way in gaining your dog’s trust.

8. Involve Your Dogs in Exercises

Building trust with a stray requires confidence-building in which exercising plays an important role. Simple shaping exercises like a game of hot-and-cold can make the dog more approachable and comfortable around you.

In this game, you start with simple tasks and reward your dog with treats when it performs correctly. Reward it whenever it looks or gets closer in the right direction. Finally, when it accomplishes the goal, throw a handful of treats as a jackpot.

Make sure to start with simple tasks and slowly move on to challenging ones. Practice these exercises for a few minutes at a time. If they are struggling with the cues, they may not be ready for the exercise yet. Try simpler exercises for better results.

Final Words

Dogs can be the best friend that you ever have and protect you from harm’s way. However, friendship with fearful dogs may need time and significant patience. You will need to know the reasons behind its fears, notice the fear signs, and train it properly to be comfortable around you.

Once you bond with a scared rescue dog, it will last for a lifetime. However, to achieve that, you will need to build trust with the shy dog and protect it with all your might. Thus, the dog will start loving you and will protect you with its life.


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