How do I help my dog not be afraid of people, cars, loud noises… it’s a question I hear every single day.

It’s not uncommon for a rescue dog to be scared of everything around him. The first thought that will come to mind is that the dog was abused in his past life. But in reality, it’s more likely that the dog was not socialized as a puppy.

Genetics also play into why your dog is so fearful. If your dogs parents were fearful, it’s likely your dog will be too.

Fear comes in many shapes and forms. What is scary for your dog may not be for another.

fearful and anxious dog hiding under bed

Puppies go through fear periods, which if not addressed correctly, can result in a fearful dog. Many puppies and dogs that are in the shelter or rescue were born on the street, a kennel or maybe a home that had an oops litter. 

This is the reason you see fewer purebred dogs that are fearful; because a responsible breeder will ensure to breed only healthy and confident dogs. And their puppies are thoroughly socialized while in their care. 

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My dog is scared of everything

Have you adopted a puppy that you felt sorry for because he looked so sad in the shelter or a puppy mill dog that never lived outside of a cage?  

And now that you’ve brought him home, you’re realizing that love alone will not fix your anxious, fearful, scared dog?

My dog is scared of everything what can I do? All you want to do is make him feel safe, right?

Your rescue dog may be afraid of your husband, loud noises, the vacuum, sudden movements of any kind… rest assure that whatever it is, he can overcome his fear. 

Your scared dog needs to learn that her environment is safe and secure. But how? 

Be patient, take it slow, offer a safe environment and learn to read your dog’s body language. 

How to help a timid rescue dog

Below are several ways to help your fearful dog to become more confident: 

1. TIME & SPACE: Has your dog had enough time to adjust?

If you recently adopted your dog, say less than 3 months ago, then you need to give him more time to adjust. The first few days after adoption is going to be stressful for any dog. 

Give your dog the time and space he needs to adjust on his own terms. Rushing this process will only backfire. 

Please read our 3-3-3 rule to understand the transitioning period all rescue dogs go through. Be patient, give your dog time to get to know you and her new home. 

2. HEALTH: Is your dog healthy and not in pain?

Make sure your dog is healthy and there are no medical reasons for her to be fearful. If a dog is in pain he will appear to be anxious, when in fact, he is in so much pain he is afraid to walk or be touched.  

Make sure your dog is eating quality food. Have you ever eaten junk food all day and felt like crap the next day? If your dog is eating junky food, then changing is diet will make a remarkable difference in his inner and outer appearance. 

3. BODY LANGUAGE: Understanding your dog’s body language is key to a healthy relationship

Dogs use their bodies to speak to us. Very subtle signals are used to tell us when they are scared, want to be left alone, or happy. Learn what your dog is trying to tell you by reading How to Talk to Dogs.

4. CALMING PRODUCTS: Natural options to help achieve balance

There are many products available to help our dogs feel calmer, such as compression vests, supplements, essential oils, and DAP. Click here to see my entire list of recommended products on Amazon.

5. TRAINING: Training creates confidence

When a dog understands what’s expected from him, he can become confident in his space. 

Think about this, if you start a new job and have no idea what to do or what your boss expects of you, how would you feel? 

Find what motives your dog, whether it be food, toys or praise, make training fun. Spend 5-10 minutes a day training basic commands or even tricks. Not only will you be creating a stronger bond with your dog, but he will become more confident with himself. 

6. SAFETY: Make your fearful dog feel safe

Making your dog feel safe at all times is important. If your dog is afraid of strangers, don’t allow them to pet your dog. Get a “dog in training” vest to help deter people from asking to pet your pup. 

You need to be your dogs advocate. Show him he can trust you to keep him safe.

Your dog should choose to approach a person, not the other way around. Allow your dog to decide to move forward in a scary situation.

The best way to approach a fearful dog is to sit on the floor, facing sideways and softly talk to the dog. Don’t extend a hand or move toward the dog. Allow the dog to move toward you and when the dog is comfortable, pet him under the chest/neck or shoulder, never over the top of his head. 

If he is afraid of an object, don’t force him to face the fear. You will need to work on desensitization and counter-conditioning.

Forcing a dog can result in fear aggression, which is an unfair situation for the dog to be in. 

7. RELATIONSHIP: Bond with your dog so she can trust you

Forming a strong bond takes time. You wouldn’t trust someone with your life you just met, right? Especially if your past has been unstable and past friends haven’t been so nice.

Here Are 8 Very Simple Steps to Start Bonding and Earning Your Dog’s Trust

8. RESEARCH: Knowledge is the key to success

Talk to a hundred vets and dog trainers, and you will get a hundred different answers on how to cure a fearful dog. This is because everyone has their own belief systems and every dog is unique. What works for one dog will not work for another. 

You need to be your dog’s advocate and choose the path that is right for both of you. The more you learn, the better chance you have finding the key to your success. Here is a list of books about how to help fearful dogs you can buy on Amazon or find at your local library.

9. PROFESSIONAL HELP: Finding the right trainer to help your dog

Again, talk to multiple behaviorist trainers because you will get a hundred different answers to how to help a fearful dog. You need to find the right trainer you and your dog will feel comfortable with. 

Ask friends and family for recommendations, check references for each dog trainer you are interested in. Visit the trainer if possible, look for online reviews, ask for a consultation before committing. 

Dog training rehabilitation programs can be very expensive, be prepared to be sticker shocked. 

If you have an extreme case, then I recommend reading this article by The Collard Scholar: The Sky Isn’t Falling: Teaching bravery to a fearful dog

Should I adopt a dog that is afraid of everything?

Don’t adopt a fearful dog unless you are willing and able to put in the time and money for trainers and rehabilitation. It is going to take a lot of patience and time to help a dog that is so fearful. Love alone does not cure fear.

So before you decide to adopt that adorable, but scared-to-death dog, ask yourself if you can provide a home that will help this type of dog thrive. Not every family will be a perfect match for every dog. 

A fearful dog needs a patient, strong leader so he can slowly learn to become confident. If you have a full house of kids and other dogs, adopting a fearful dog may not be the best fit. 

As sorry as you feel for that dog, you won’t be doing him any justice adopting him into an environment like that. 

In conclusion

Time, patience, love and education can help your fearful dog develop into a more confident dog.

The level of severity of fearfulness is as unique as your dog’s. Listen to your dog, let him go at his own pace, stay calm and be patient. One day you will look back at all the hard work you both put into his rehabilitation and smile.  

Please share your story in the comments below. You will help someone else going through the same struggles. Rescue Dogs 101 is all about community, so let’s help each other out!

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About the Author

Debi McKee is a mom of three kids, three dogs and the creator of Rescue Dogs 101... where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She also volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society.

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  1. Thanks for this insight. We adopted a rescue almost 4 months ago. She was found in a cage with 5 other dogs in a parking lot in texas. She is afraid of everything. She is still as fearful as when we got her. Only differnce is that she doesn't try to run away anymore. She mostly goes potty outside. She doesn't alert very well and sometimes we miss it. But she runs from anyone who comes near. She likes to lay on the couch and is fine, as long as you don't look at her or try to touch her. She hunches her back when she's scared and looks like a flea!! Poor girl. Anyway, we want the best for her, which is hard, as you have said, when she runs from everything. No one taought her to walk on a leash, and she has heartworm and is just coming off her activity restriction. Thanks for these words. We will keep on trying to help her.

  2. Thank you for all the helpful information Iwe are starting a new journey with a German shepherd mix and I’ll let you know how Jackson’s progresses goes. I will take all your suggestions and read those books I look forward to helping Jackson reach his full potential.

  3. I got a collie pup at 3 months old, she hadn’t been socialised and was living in dirty conditions. She is scared of people and noise. As she is getting older she is getting worse. Have to take her in the car to country roads for walks were it is quiet. She has started lately to bark more at anything she hears. She is 3 years old now. I thought as she got older she would of improved. I feel she might come on better in a new home living in the country ?

  4. Hi there,

    I adopted a 5mo puppy from a shelter about a week ago. The shelter didn’t have much on his background other than he was left on the side of the road somewhere with his siblings. He is afraid of everything. I read your 3/3/3 article, but I’m afraid I’ve already done some things the wrong way already. He won’t eat unless I sit next to his food bowl and dip my hand in his food and lead him to the bowl. He seems afraid of the bowl. I’ve booked an evaluation for a trainer on Friday. I didn’t get a crate because I thought he’d be too fearful of it, but now after reading your article I’m afraid that was a mistake. I’m so worried he isn’t happy. Sometimes he acts like he likes me and wants to be where I’m at and other times he seems scared of me. I don’t know what to do. Any advice you have will be great!

    1. Heather he’s only been with you a week. Mistakes are learning experiences and dogs are resilient. Take what you learn from our blog posts and from the trainer and go from there. Don’t be afraid, but confident and your confidence will shine upon the puppy. You both need time together, it will all be okay!

  5. Hi,
    I have adopted a rescue pup, Felix, he has been with us 5 months now and he is 1 year old.
    He was found in a box at 2 weeks old and has lived in kennels until he was 7 months with his 2 siblings.
    He is fearful of people, noises, cars, shadows, everything! He regularly wees himself when he’s scared which is incredibly sad to see.
    He is booked in to be neutered in 3 weeks and I am wondering if that will make him worse.
    Should I wait and see if he gets more trusting of people with time?
    With the new regulations, you are supposed to wait in the car park for the vet to collect your pet and I know he will totally freak out. I am really worried that this will traumatise him and that it will reinforce his distrust in people.
    What would you recommand please?

    1. From everything he has been through so far, not convinced that having him neutered now is going to make it any worse. I would tend to recommend to get it done now and start rehabilitation full force once he is healed. He is going to need a lot of time and work on your part to help him trust again. Explain the situation to the vet and the person picking him up from you so they can make sure to make everything as positive as possible.

  6. I adopted a beautiful, very fearful dog, I have had him 3 weeks and feel like a failure. My dog just gets more anxious and stays away he doesnt want to be touched, I give him a lot of space and do not try to rush him, I have however put my hand out to him, I know now not to do that. I want to keep him comfortable and safe, what works?

  7. I am fostering to adopt a daschund mix female dog about a year and a half old. She was rescued from the euthanasia list at a Texas shelter. I have no information about her background. She was brought up to PA either by car or plane. The Rescue Group here had her vetted and spayed. Someone was interested when they saw her photo on the website, so she did not go to a foster, but to the adopter. She was there about 2 months and returned to the Rescue Group. The woman wanted her money back. That was the reason I was given as to why she was returned. The first hour I had her, I realized that she most likely has not been socialized as is fearful of everything in my home. She is very noise sensitive, and did not eat for 3 days after I brought her home. She growled at men, never took her tail out from under her, and would not look at any of us. Into our 5th week now, and she is snuggled next to me on the sofa. If I sit, she always comes up by me. But if I get up, and she jumps down, she backs away from my approach. She is not food motivated. She walks very well with the leash—right by my side. My big question is: I go to our home in Maine for the summer. The Rescue Group said I could take her there, but I want to make that transition the least stressful I can for her. Should I use a crate when we drive? Any other suggestions for introducing her to yet another house?? I am grateful for any advice.

  8. We rescued a year old husky mix about two weeks ago. She’s warmed up to me but she’s still very timid with my husband. Won’t even let him put the leash on her without peeing. Any advice on helping her fear? He’s been nothing but loving and gentle with her

  9. I had 2 greyhounds adopted from the track. One was afraid of many things, coffee cups, brooms, human touch. It was 5 years before he would take food from my hand. They were both anxious about thunder storms. We lived in Virginia where storms are frequent and loud. At first I crated them during storms. That helped some. One time a storm came up very suddenly and the power went out. I lit my oil lamps, sat down in my chair and read a book.I said nothing to the dogs. Amazingly they curled up on their beds relaxed and at peace. From then on in any stressful situation I just lit the oil lamps. It worked every time. No special oil scent or anything like that.

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