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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. 

>> Sign up Now for the Rescue Dogs 101: Roadmap to Adopting Your Perfect Dog >>

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!

About the Author

Debi@RescueDogs101

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. Great article. I rescued a Jindo without any knowledge of the breed or history. He is extremely fearful. Although he has made tremendous progress the past almost 3 years, he still is fearful especially when inside. Outside he's a lot more trusting. He lives inside. Unfortunately I am a novice but have made the commitment to provide a home for him. Perhaps not as enjoyable as a golden or lab, but rewarding. I guess I need to focus on training which is not my string suit. Thank you for the information.

  2. Two years ago, my wife and I (retired teachers and long time rescue dog owners) adopted a mixed breed adult rescue (probably shepherd/collie/hound mix) who had a few issues but was generally affectionate. The only information the rescue agency had was that her owner had died. It was obvious that she had had a recent litter, but the agency arranged for spaying, and she came through surgery and recovery with flying colours, leaving her stitches alone on command and not worrying the wound. We noted that she had some serious leash aggression toward other adult dogs, but loved to meet puppies and people, often approaching strangers, and especially children, and trying to nuzzle them. At home, she loved attention, often sidling up to a bed or cupboard and just leaning until someone came and pressed her into it, which she loved. She would also engage in brief bouts of wrestling with me on the floor, but showed zero interest in toys, fetching or other play.

    Over the first year we gave her two to three long walks a day and worked on training. Initially the only command she semed to know was "sit", but we added "stay", "come", "wait", ""cross" and "leave", and worked on the leash aggression with at least modest success. She was very treat motivated, and her attention, at first very distracted, improved noticeably. About 14 months after we got her, we suddenly noticed that she began to balk occasionally on certain woodland trails, although she had always loved exploring. On one trail that we walked once or twice a month she refused to go past a certain point, and once was so panicked that she managed to pull out of her sturdy, well-fitted harness and run away, ending up waiting for me on a bridge near busy traffic. Once I got her back on the leash without much resistance (not the harness) she was happy and energetic on her way back to the van. Another time on a trail that we had walked weekly, she balked after 200m going west and refused to go further. When we turned and started going east, she happily completed a 5 km walk, so fatigue or pain did not seem to be factors.

    About 6 months ago, there was a sudden change in her behaviour. One morning, while sleeping on the end of our bed (a morning greet behaviour but not an overnight habit), she inadvertently rolled over and fell off, falling about a meter to a hardwood floor and landing on her back, where she stayed stunned for about half a minute but then got up and seemed okay. She was very subdued for the rest of the day, but the next day she became skittish and hid in the basement from our adult son, who was a familiar friend and was babysitting her for a few hours while we were out. He was unable to get her harness or leash on or get her out for a walk. Thereafter, she became reluctant to put on the harness, which she had previously run to and tried to put her nose through when we said "walk". She also became frightened by members of the family and neighbours whom she had always run to for treats and affection. Within a few days, she became fearful of me as well. Note that I was not present at the time of her fall.

    Over the past couple of months she has become progressively worse, walking toward her human friends but quickly retreating in fear if they move toward her even slightly. By August it became impossible to get her harness on her, often eliciting a fearful squeal and flight behaviour when we reached to fasten or unfasten the buckles. We had to resort to putting the leash directly on her collar to take her for walks, a process that could take anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour. Then a few weeks ago it became equally difficult to get her leash off at the end of the walk. In between, she happily takes her usual neighbourhood walks as if nothing had happened. We have consulted remotely with our vet, because the chances of getting her successfully to an office and conducting any kind of physical examination are essentially zero. She has been on Trazadone for anxiety and Gabapentin to see whether pain relief was a factor for several weeks, switching to Fluoxetine instead of Trazadone when the former had little effect. While she is more sedate, her general behaviours have improved only marginally if at all. Her fear of touch and the leash has become even greater, and her blood-curdling screams sometimes sound like she has been hit by a car or physically abused. We have had no success with attempts to reward appropriate behaviours, as she is reluctant to take rewards from us. The only notable change is that she seems disinterested in other dogs on our walks.

    We are at our whits' end, and do not know where to go next, when handling, transporting, and actively training desired behaviours are not physically possible

    1. I’m so sorry you are struggling with pup. Reading all the details, my first reaction is to have the dog physically examined by your vet and maybe even have X-rays done. It sounds like the dog may be in physical pain. At least rule out the probability of it being physical. Then you can focus 100% on the mental side of her issues.

  3. Hi Debi, my husband and I recently adopted a 4 year old mini aussie that was rescued from a puppy mill just shy of two months ago. His name is Hamish. He showed zero aggression at the rescue which we thought was an awesome sign and we think he will be perfect in our family, we currently have two cats and a 1.5 year old toy aussie. Coming from being a stud at a puppy mill, Hamish really knows nothing about being a “normal dog”. He isn’t potty trained, though in the 3 days we’ve had him he’s only had one accident on the first day. He has no idea what collars and leashes are, but he seems to be fine wearing a collar, just itches his neck more often when we have it on. When we put a leash on him he freezes, so we haven’t done anything there. He just started eating treats on day two, but he will only take them in his space (our basement currently) so we can’t reward him for positive behavior when it happens outside or anywhere else. He’s slowly becoming more comfortable, but he’s still pretty shy when we come in the room. When we’re not there, we watch him on a blink camera and he plays with the toys he has and chews on his bone which I think is a great sign! We’ve introduced him to our resident dog, but only in our backyard and it went good except Hamish is just very shy and doesn’t interact much. I guess my main questions are how do we transition him from our smaller basement room to our upstairs area and being around the resident dog. Do we go it in short spurts then put him back downstairs? We’re on day 3 and Hamish is already acting like he wants more freedom, like whining at the baby gate that keeps him in his area when we’re upstairs. Also, any suggestion on how to teach him what is and isn’t okay to chew on? One of the dog beds we put in his room he’s chewed on a few times, nothing torn apart but if left unsupervised I’m sure he would. Finally, how to introduce the idea of walking on a leash. Sorry this was kind of sporadic, but there’s just so much he has to learn and we want to make sure we’re doing it all in the right way for him. Thank you!

  4. I am seriously considering rescuing a beagle from the 4,000 beagles who were bred for experiments at the Envigo Facility in Virginia. I feel I have a calling to do this, but I am so concerned that I will be not be qualified to help socialize a dog like this. I am 74 years old, my husband 76. This will probably be our "last" dog. Over the years, we have adopted a min pin, a cocker spaniel at 10 years old, 3 ex-racing greyhounds (one at a time), and when I was a child we had a boxer. I have no experience with beagles and do not know what I am getting into. I love to go on walks. That will be a win-win, because I understand that beagles need a lot of exercise. I seriously don't want to spend 3 years of my life mopping up pee in my house. My house is finally clean and hair free since my last greyhound passed away. My life has been empty since we lost him, but there is a chance that my two little grandchildren may move to our city. I just don't know what to do. Our vet always said that whatever dog comes to us is a lucky dog. We take exceptionally great care of their needs. What do you suggest? I want a walking buddy, but there's a lot more involved than walking when a dog is adopted. Am I willing to give up my "freedom" to rescue yet another dog? I'm such a great dog mama, and I have so much love in my heart. I just don't know what to do!

    1. So glad you are here Susan. I saw that article about the beagles and instantly feared that people would want to rescue these poor dogs without considering all the issues that are going to come along with these dogs. They are certainly going to have a long road to recovery and it won’t be easy by any means. Only you can answer if you are up to the task. There are many dogs that need to be rescued that could be a bit easier for you, but of course you already know, no dog comes with a guarantee.

  5. We have a ex breading puppy farm bitch she was 4 years old when we got her she is now 7 and her anxiety is getting worse .if we raise our voices for any reason she shakes and hides ,it is getting really bad.we love her very much but this is upsetting us . What can we do

    1. Have there been any other changes in your lives? Even the smallest change in schedule could throw off a sensitive dog. I would also consult your vet and get a clean bill of health. If she’s in any discomforted, it could cause anxiety.

  6. Thanks for this. I just brought a rescue home. An 8month old goldendoodle who is more skiddish than I’ve ever seen a dog be. I did read a lot of your stuff before bringing him home so I was mentally prepared for everything I thought & o knew it would be a very stressful time for him. My hope was to take him on a long walk before bringing him into the house like you mention in an article but it quickly became apparent that was not an option. So I let him into the back yard and let him do him. I left the sliding glass door open bcuz I wanted him to kniw it was his home to from day 1. He does have a good appetite when I put food in a bowl but won’t take treat from me I tried 3 different flavors. But I’ve mostly left him alone. He has sniffed back of my ankles a number of times when he does I just stand still not acknowledging him or the sniffing just want to let him do whatever is needed to build some trust. I ended up setting up a bed for me on the living room floor last night and he slept in a cozy shelter about 10ft away. He finally got enough confidence to come in the house I I’ve living room blocked off so that’s only room he has access to and I very gently asked my longtime live in girlfriend to try and stay out of his sight and not to acknowledge him. Don’t know if that is the rt thing but I just felt he’s obviously overwhelmed adding another strange human to the mix not even 24 hrs in did t seem smart or most importantly fair to him. So right or wrong I’m standing by the call i this circumstance anyway. My hope is I’ll let him come to me on his terms however long that takes and once there is some trust there we can slowly introduce her into the mix and I can play role of protector and hopefully show him that I’ve got his back and he can count on me to shield and protect him on every level. As o type this I’ve folded my bed up to a floor pad I’m sitting with legs stretched out on the floor obviously and I plan on this being the spot I’ll stay in most of the time. In the last 2 hours since being in this position he has come in and spent about 6 minutes smelling my thick wool slipper socks. I again didn’t acknowledge it or him I’m hoping it means a little progress all be it small. Sorry for long long comment I hope I’m not overstepping using this area to write this short story lol. If so please educate me a more appropriate place or way to post or vent maybe more accurate. I would sure appreciate some critique or tips on things I’m doing rt especially tell me what I’m doing wrong and ya that’s it I guess. Lastly I’m committed to this dog now and I am willing and able to put in the required work and time for him. I know every dog situation etc is different & trying to put a timeframe on something like this is impossible that being said I’m gonna ask anyway. How long do you think it will take him to trust enough come to me and him make contact with me. Not even talking about letting me run his chest just him confident enough to sit near me. I know impossible to know but In your experience what’s realistic expectations just do I need to be aware of if that makes sense. And lastly promise this is last thing thank you 🙏 thank you for your contributing to this community wgat you do is making a difference.

  7. I adopted a mix from the local shelter 2 weeks ago. The shelter papers say she was found on a walking trail, but the vet listed as seeing her by the person who found her said she was found on the freeway. She’s about 5 years old and was afraid of everything when we’d walk or run together often switching sides and almost tripping me. She’d also walk forward while looking back apparently afraid of something scary coming up behind her. I just keep taking her out and verbally encouraging her that everything’s okay and she’s getting so much better. The part that’s hard is she doesn’t like to be left alone at home. I’ve made it a point to go out for short periods without her every day but I can tell she gets separation anxiety. I haven’t gotten a crate yet but I guess that I need to do that to give her a place to feel safe? She waits by the door until I get back so I know that must be stressful. I always walk the house with her when I get back to make sure no accidents because she did have one on day#2 then I give her a treat and a hug. Do you think a crate is the answer or time? She’s fine in the house otherwise.

  8. I adopted a dog two weeks ago. He is a 1.5-year-old lab/coonhound mix. He was a stray before staying in a foster home for about five weeks. He growled at me the whole first day after I brought him home and he went potty in the house for the first several days. He's calmed down quite a bit very quickly. He now licks me and wants me to pet him and spend a lot of time with him. He also goes potty outside. My dilemma is that he is very fearful of many things. He won't get into my car, won't enter buildings (he's afraid of doorways), and he is highly energetic. He's also afraid of people. I walk him at least 1.5 hours per day. He is very demanding of my time. Luckily, I am working from home right now but this may change soon. I've read the 3,3,3 guideline but I'm worried that he may never really change. I'm sure his energy level will remain high but the other things are concerning. I'm just trying to decide if this dog is a fit for me. It's hard to know!

    1. Hi Tom, Sometimes you have to trust your gut in these situations. Two weeks is very early in your relationship and it sounds like he’s made a lot of progress already. I recommend giving it a few more weeks and then decide. Talk with the rescue you adopted him from, they may have some additional resources to help you.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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 ?

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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?

  15. 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.

  16. 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

  17. 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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