Approaching Fearful Dogs

Neither of my dogs are fearful dogs in the traditional sense of the classification.  I say this because I think any dog faced with a new situation can be a little fearful.  Remember the pallet incident at the Mellow Mutt?

My point is I have no real experience dealing with fearful dogs.

Oh sure I’ve read about them.  In fact, I even follow some bloggers who have fearful dogs, but that doesn’t mean I know how to deal with them.

Which is why when I saw this posted on the Bringing up Bella facebook page yesterday I thought it would be good to share with others who may be in a similar position as myself. (FYI, Leslie was quoting Debbie Jacobs at

“Words of good advice for anyone entering our home…

Meeting a shy dog?  Ignore them.  If a shy dog comes up to you for a sniff…ignore them.  Want to feed a shy dog a treat?  Drop it and ignore them.

First impressions matter.  If your first interaction with a dog does not create a fearful reaction you won’t have to put the time and effort into changing it.”

I wouldn’t have known this.  Yes, I would certainly know to let the dog approach me, but once a dog has sniffed me my instinct is to reach out to pet them.

How many of you have the same instinct?  Would you know not to reach out and pet the pup?

Our current house has a screened porch off the back door.  Shortly after we moved in Hubby changed the hinges so the door will swing either in or out.

During the nicer months, the back door (while we’re home) remains open so the dogs can go in or out as they please.  During the colder months, all we have to do is open the back door to let them out.

We’re lazy, what can I say.

When we first modified the door, both dogs, especially Delilah were afraid to push it open themselves.  We had to go out and open the door for them.

But after a week or so adjusting to the door swinging behind them, they realized it wasn’t THAT scary and they could push it open for themselves.

If we hadn’t been patient and let them adjust to it at their own pace, we could have dogs terrified of that door.  They’ve even learned timing when coming in one behind the other. :-)

"Pssst....Hey Bob"

You’re right, it’s not that scary.

Do you have a fearful dog?  If so, how do you deal with the situation when introducing new people/experiences.  If you don’t have a fearful dog, did you know the proper way to greet them?


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  1. says

    Great post Jodi. It is very very hard to stop people from trying to pet Meadow. It seems to me, the more shy the dog is, the more some people are “insistent” on making friends with the dog…no matter how many times the owner asks them otherwise.

    We run into this time and time again with Meadow, and what happens is if the person ignores our request not to reach for her and does it anyway, she ducks away from their hand. So at least she is not rewarding their behavior by putting up with the petting, which would probably make them want to do it even more.

    At least, it works for most people. There have been a few people we have had to insist that they stop.

  2. says

    We aren’t real fearful dogs but we do know that when there is something that is new and scary, mom just has to leave us alone to figure it out on our own and then it will all work out for us.

  3. Sue @ The Golden Life says

    Great post, Jodi!! You made me stop and think about this issue. After several years of watching “The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan”, I know that “No touch, No talk, No eye contact” is indeed the best way to deal with a shy or fearful dog. But when I was a child, my instincts were to pet any dog I saw…in fact, my mother usually had to grab my hand to make sure I didn’t approach strange dogs (or any other animal for that matter). I was a fearless child, what can I say? :-) At times, I still have to be aware of and curb those childhood instincts when it comes to dogs. But at least now I ask the owner first if I can pet their pooch. And with Ducky being so territorial, I pretty much have to ask people to keep a good distance away from her…at least until I get her calmed down substantially.

  4. says


    My rules are: Assume every dog is shy. Don’t walk directly toward a dog. If you have to meet them, try as hard as possible to curve your path. Turn slightly sideways to a dog who walks up to you. Give the dog time to sniff you. Don’t reach for the dog if they aren’t looking at you. Offer the back side of your hand, not the palm, and not too close to their head. Most dogs who want to be petted will, at that point, nudge your hand. If there is no nudge, just let it go.

    It sounds like a lot, but it’s really a 15 second greeting with most dogs. I can’t tell you the number of people who have said, “Wow, she doesn’t usually like people this much!”

  5. says

    I’ve never had a truly fearful dog, but it seems every dog I’ve gotten as an adult had some sort of illogical neurosis that I had to help overcome. When it is just one fear it is relatively easy to train them out of it. I do admire people who have to help dogs who are fearful of the world.

  6. says

    I’m always amazed that people will try to pet the top of Cali’s head instead of holding out their hand for a sniff and giving her a little scratch. She always ducks out of the way (so rude!).

    I think your screen door idea is brilliant!!

  7. Carol Bondy says

    All of the above is true…I have two gsd…one is extremely fearful. I put them behind a gate I. The kitchen when strangers come in where they can see them…very important not to lock away…if they belong in my house I invite them in, chat a few minutes in site f the dogs, throw the dogs a treat. Then invite my guest to sit at our table and completely ignore them…after five minutes..if they are calm…they come out, sniff the guests and walk away. It works for me. On walks I NEVER let anyone approach them….better to be safe than sorry

  8. says

    A few months ago, my sister and I photographed a sweet family. One dog is fearful and doesn’t adjust well to strangers in the house. The solution: we met them outside and introduced the cameras slowly and with treats. Later when we went inside the home, the dogs were comfortable with us. It was a great shoot and both dogs seemed at ease.

  9. says

    Cupcake is afraid of a lot of things, but not people. Sometimes from a distance, she will freeze up and be unsure of new people and dogs, but as we get closer, she gets excited and happy. Street signs, balloons, and ladders are another story, and I sometimes have to pick her up and carry her past these “scary” things.

  10. says

    Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve stopped greeting all dogs in public. It just about kills me. But I’ve become much more sensitive to the varieties of dog behavior and don’t want to cause problems for a fearful dog.

    Honey is a good dog with mild fears. But it would take some work to get her to push through a door. That’s why I’m always surprised when we have a foster dog who surprises me by pushing her way into the bathroom.

    I don’t want Honey to be scared. But I have to admit peeing in private is pretty nice. :)

  11. says

    Are they talking about a dog whose owner is not present? I find the tip of dropping a treat odd if the owner is present. I would not allow that. The dog will take nicely from hand or not at all. I would worry about reinforcing a behavior I don’t want.


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