It can be heartbreaking when your dog seems to be scared of you. Whether it’s a dog you just got or one you’ve had for a while already, it can be saddening and a bit worrisome when they’re scared of you. It can make you question whether you’re fit to be a pet owner or suitable for that specific dog.
If your pup is refusing eye contact with you, has their tail between their legs around you, or is refusing treats from you, they may be afraid of you. They may also leave the room you’re in or track your movements. If the hair on the back of their neck rises when you get close, that can also be a red flag indicating fear.
If your dog is scared of you, especially if you just brought them home, one thing to remember is not to take it too personally. They often don’t understand that you don’t mean harm until they’ve had a chance to see it for themselves enough times.
Sometimes a dog is traumatized from their previous life or something you did intentionally or unintentionally, and they need time and reassurance to recognize you as someone they can trust.
There are many things that may be making a dog scared of a human, especially if they’re in a new home.
Bad Experiences From Previous Home or Shelter
If you’ve just brought a dog home with you, try not to feel too hurt if they’re scared of you at first. We often have no way of knowing what they’ve been through before coming to our home, and sometimes they have traumatic experiences ingrained into them.
Previous owners may have beaten them, making them scared of any human. It can be even harder if you look or act anything like their previous owner. It’s not your fault, but it’s not their fault either. It’s hard to differentiate between you and the person who hurt them at first.
For example, my family got a Beagle from a rescue many years back. He was a sweetheart, but he was scared of all of the men in the house. He would cringe any time they went to pet him like he expected to be hit. Our new companion was fine with the girls petting him, it was just the men he was scared of. While we never knew for sure, we suspected that his last owner beat him.
If this is the problem, it should naturally resolve as your dog spends more time with you and has positive experiences. You can help by playing with them as much as possible and just loving them. Give them time to see you as you.
Bad experiences in a previous home or shelter may make a dog afraid of their new human at first.
It’s also possible that shelter life wasn’t easy on your pup before they came to you. Shelters may be full of aggressive dogs or scary situations. Shelters do their best, but it can be scary and stressful for a dog. They may just be naturally fearful after a bad experience in the shelter.
Bad Experience With You
If you’ve had your pup for a while and they start acting fearful of you, it might help to look back at anything that’s happened recently. It may not even be something you did intentionally or it may be something you didn’t think much of at the time, but it may have had a major effect on your companion.
Sometimes accidents like stepping on their tail or paw can make them fearful of you for a bit. In my experience though they usually get over it pretty quickly, especially when you’re immediately crying and apologizing.
It could be something that you have no control over, like a behavior that your pup’s not used to.
When we first brought my Pekingese puppy home, she was a bit weary of my mother at first. She didn’t hate her, but my mom’s coughing scared her at first, and she would sometimes run away from her. It wasn’t anything personal and as she got used to it she came to love my mom. It just took some extra treats and spending time together.
If you’ve been yelling at them or just generally been acting angry, your companion can sense those scary, negative emotions and may be scared of you as a result. Make sure you’re not taking anything out on your pup and set some time aside to cool off before interacting with them.
Dogs can be scared because of something their human did, intentionally or unintentionally.
Hitting or screaming at your companion is a quick way to make them fear you. It’s also really not as productive as you may think it is. In fact, it can increase both fear and aggression in your pup in the long run.
If you have been physically or verbally punishing your pup, that may be why they’re scared of you. Dogs are forgiving creatures, but that doesn’t they’ll just forget when you hurt them or scare them.
If you’ve been using physical or verbal punishments to control your dog, it’s time to look into different training methods, for both of your sakes. Practice positive reinforcement training and start building a bond of trust with your companion instead of fear.
How to Help Your Fearful Dog
Whether you just got your scared puppy or you’ve had them for a while, you want to build that bond of trust as quickly as possible. You don’t want your pup living life afraid of you.
There are a few ways to start building that bond and helping your pup open up. They aren’t immediate solutions, but these things take time.
If your companion is scared of you for any reason, you want to start building (or rebuilding) a bond of trust as soon as possible.
Patience is key in getting your friend over their fear. You can’t try to rush it, no matter how much you want them to love you. Your pup isn’t going to get over their fears in a day. If you try to rush things or get impatient and upset, it could just make things worse.
Take it day by day, play session by play session. Don’t rush them or try to invade their space. Let them come to you. As you keep giving them positive experiences, they’ll slowly open up.
Give Them a Safe Space
Make sure your companion has a safe spot they can go to unwind and relax without fear. This can be a crate or any special area that’s theirs and only theirs. Having an assured safe space can be reassuring for them and may allow them to feel less stressed.
Once you have a safe space for them, give them that space. Don’t bother them or invade that safe space unless there’s an emergency and you absolutely have to. Invading your pup’s personal space when they want to be left alone isn’t going to get them to like you any faster.
Interact with Them
Make sure you’re spending a lot of time with your dog, even if they’re scared of you at first. Keep building positive experiences for them so they can see that you’re someone they can trust. Give them treats, play with them, and pet them if they’ll allow it.
It’s especially important during puppyhood to build as many of these positive experiences as possible so they associate you with good experiences early on.
It’s more difficult if your scared companion is an adult and those traumatic experiences are heavily ingrained, but giving them happy experiences is still an important start.
Work on giving your pup positive experiences with you to help them get over any fears they have.
Control Your Own Emotions
Make sure you’re not taking anything out on your pup. They can sense emotions and can tell when you’re upset or angry. If you’re too upset, take a break somewhere away from them until you’ve calmed down.
Again, be patient with them. If they do something wrong, gently correct them and give treats for good behavior for positive reinforcement. Never let yourself lose control or hit or otherwise hurt your companion.
If you find yourself frustrated with them, take a deep breath and walk away for a bit, and calm down. Whatever you do, do not lash out at them. If they’re not scared of you already, they may be if you blow up on them.
Stay on a Consistent Schedule
Structure and consistency in a schedule can help make your pup feel more at ease. They know what’s going to happen each day and how it’s going to happen. And if it’s you keeping up the consistent walks and feeding times, they’ll appreciate it and be more comfortable with you as time goes on.
Manage Their Anxiety
If your pup seems to be anxious in general, consider calming aids or other anxiety-reducing products to help calm them. Managing their general anxiety from past experiences can help them become more comfortable with you.
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If you suspect that their anxiety is affecting their health and day-to-day life, it may help to consult a vet or a trainer to find solutions.
Give Your Dog a Chance to Like You
If your dog is scared of you, try not to take it personally and give them time. They may be recovering from a bad experience at a previous home or shelter, and they may associate you with that bad experience because they don’t know better yet. It takes time and training to help them overcome their fears.
Make sure you’re controlling your own emotions and holding yourself accountable for any actions you take that may make them fear you.
Don’t take it personally if your dog is scared of you, instead work to alleviate their fears and give them a chance to trust you.
Remember that hitting or screaming at them when they do something wrong will not help your relationship in the long run and it’s best to train them with positive reinforcement instead. You want to build a relationship based on trust, not fear.
Be patient with your pup and give them positive experiences with you to override the bad experiences they may have had. As you give them more positive interactions and show them how much you love them, they’ll gradually open up and accept you. Don’t give up on them, and they will realize you can be trusted.
If you just can’t get your dog past their fear on your own, you may want to consult a veterinarian or a trainer to help find a solution.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.