Published: January 7, 2020  

Last updated: July 2, 2020  

Each week of 2020, I will be choosing a question from a Rescue Dogs 101 community member. Here is our first question of the Asking for My Dog series to kick off the new year!

[Q&A] #AskingForMyDog

“Billy was adopted last February from a shelter. He is afraid of a lot. If our house cracks, he runs to the bedroom to hide. 

Fireworks and thunderstorms and gunshots are a nightmare. If we are out walking, he goes into flight mode and since he is always on a leash, we have to run home.

On the flip side, he also decides when he is not moving forward in a walk. He stops and digs in his heels and that is it, we have to change direction. 

He was like this when we brought him home, but he got better for a while, now the behavior is back. He doesn’t want to go up the driveway, but once we get to a certain point, he comes along just fine, or runs up the driveway because of the fear issues above.”

– Rhonda

dog hiding and afraid of loud noises

My initial thoughts are that your dog, Billy, was not properly socialized as a puppy. 

First, I recommend reading Adopting a fearful dog and how to help.

You didn’t mention how old he is, but puppies go through several fear periods. If a puppy is not exposed to these situations in a positive manner during his formable months, he will become fearful of them. It’s the unknown that is scary.

You never want to force him to face his fears, so I would avoid being outside during thunderstorms, fireworks or around gunshots. 

Calming products for fearful dogs

I suggest trying natural calming products such as compression vests, supplements, essential oils, and DAP. Every dog is unique, so what works for one dog may not work another. So you will need to experiment with what works with Billy. Here is my entire list of recommended products on Amazon.

Desensitization and counter-conditioning

In your situation, you need to work on desensitization and counter-conditioning Billy.

Desensitization means to gradually expose your dog to the thing he is afraid of. Starting at a low level and building up to the scary thing very slowly. At every interval, your dog should be comfortable.

Fireworks, thunderstorms, and gunshots, oh my!

For example, your dog, Billy, is afraid of fireworks. Find a sound recording of fireworks. Start by playing the sounds at a very low volume, a volume that he does not react to. You can use this time to relax with your dog, play or even train him.

Gradually turn the volume up a notch, while always making sure your dog is comfortable. Over time, Billy will learn the sounds of fireworks mean nothing more than maybe a few treats or playtime.

You can read more in detail about desensitization and counter-conditioning on Companion Animal Psychology. 

Read How to help dogs with firework anxiety

Your dog refuses to walk

In Billy’s situation, he is refusing to walk because of his fears. I gather that once you get him past his fears using the desensitization techniques above, the walks will get better. 

But obviously, you still need to take your dog for walks and desensitization can take months. So I recommend trying to reinforce, using treats and a lot of exciting praise, the moment he moves forward. 

You can toss a treat a few feet away so he has to move forward, if that’s too far, move only a few inches… just enough that he has to move one leg… and keep moving forward. 

Do NOT take him for walks during times you know fearful activity is happening. Always make the walks positive, make them fun in any way possible. 

In conclusion

I truly hope this helps Billy become a more confident pup! Please remember to always be patient with your dog. It takes time to overcome our fears.

If at anytime you become frustrated because you aren’t seeing progress, think about something you are afraid of… maybe it’s spiders or heights… what would it take for you to overcome that fear?

Put yourself in your dogs paws, think about how he feels. Even if it seems irrational to you, it doesn’t feel that way to him.

If you and your dog have struggled with fear like Billy’s, please let me know in the comments below. Share how you have helped your dog overcome his fears, it could help someone else in a similar situation. 

Have a question of your own? Email me with the subject line #AskingForMyDog and I may choose to feature it in our next Q&A!

About the Author

Debi McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

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  1. I cannot stress enough the difference obedience training — and always working on them — even after learned — has made the biggest difference in my fearful dog — i would never have believed it – but I am witnessing it every day — we have been working for a year and a half and every day she amazes me with what she will conquer. She wasn’t socialized as a puppy at all — and thunderstorms and guns still scare her but it isn’t as bad as it was before — giving them that job to do – like heel through something or past something that scares them builds that confidence.

  2. I noticed an article about dogs barking,cirst thing Dont shout at rhem, its only comes across to them as you’re arguing, I know it sounds ridicules but think, if you’re on a walk they bark and use body language to other dogs you should be the Alpha of your pack. try turning your back until they shut up they dont like being ignored, or walk out of the room, when they’re quiet lots of praise, try not to get into a treat cycle, they are far from stupid, they will end up doing it to get a treat, cheeky monkeys. If ours kick off when the lead comes out ready for a walk, it gets put back and they get ignored until they behave, they will still try, its their nature.But please dont get drwn into a shouting match with them your throat will get sore before theirs. lol

  3. personally I wouldnt bother with any of the DAP “calmers” they dont worl, being a breeder & dog trainer for many years I have come across this many times ive yet to meet anyone whise dog reacts ti its and its not a long term answer you still have to go out. The biggest problem I have found is that when a dog is from a shelter you dont know the full history behind the poor dog. I always have made sure that every litter I’ve had has been well socialised, and used to noise, I have a CD I can use if one of them appears to be fretful of noises, it covers everything from fireworks,aircraft, doors banging etc you can start at a very low volume and really praise your dog each time they dont react and very slowly increase the volume Slightly ONCE you know your dog is comfortable. it will take time but it is so worth it. we take all our pups out to Gardens centres, supermarkets, anywhere, also let them into the kitchen usually the noisiest room in the house, clanging pots, dropped trays etc etc. our pups sleep rhrough anything, unless its theirfood bowls being filled , which are metal then they start playing with them clanging around making a hell of a din. then nust flop fat and full for a sleep. Just please persevere it will be worth it and very very rewarding.

  4. Our dog is also afraid of loud noises, and flashing lights. When he becomes afraid, he tends to run to the closet to hide. We created a safe space for him, with blankets and toys so that he can feel safe while he is there. We also use anxiety treats for him, and give him the recommended dose each day, and then if we know there will be loud noises (i.e. 4th of july, etc) we may give him an extra half. Hope this helps!

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