Why is my dog afraid of other dogs?

December 17, 2019

Why is my dog afraid of other dogs?


The first step to making positive changes in your dog's behavior is to understand why your dog is afraid of other dogs.

There are a couple of reasons why some dogs fear other dogs. In most cases, dogs with limited exposure to other dogs are fearful and anxious when other dogs come near them. This behavior has nothing to do with the other dog, rather the lack of exposure of your dog.

Some dogs are naturally more submissive than others — often, they're more fearful than others. Perhaps it was because they were lowest in the pecking order of their litter. Runts of the litter go in one of two ways. They grow up to be the alpha, or they cower from dogs larger than them.

In other cases, trauma fuels a sense of uncertainty that can lead to aggression in some dogs. In others, it creates panic. Either way, trauma will elicit an adverse reaction from your fearful, anxious dog.


Lack of socialization

Dogs may develop a fear of others because of their lack of socialization. The importance of weening a puppy from its mother at the right time comes out in these situations. Normally, this behavior occurs in dogs that were prematurely separated from their siblings early on, making it difficult for them to associate with the other dogs in their new families.  Training an adult dog to socialize can be done, but it's a lot more complicated than training a puppy. Proper socialization and monitoring of all your dog’s interactions with unknown dogs will prevent your dog from being frightened of other dogs. Their breeders should properly socialize puppies both with other dogs and with people.


Fear deriving from a traumatic experience

Dogs that spook easily could be an accumulation of unfortunate experiences that can encourage this fear and even turn it into a phobia. What may be seemingly minute to you could be traumatizing to your dog. If, for example, a large and energetic dog comes up to your small, easily-scared dog and play with it a little too rough, the instance is enough to traumatize them. 

Puppies that go through a traumatic experience could later behave aggressive towards other dogs that it will encounter. Instances such as this one are possible in large dogs. Usually, this fear spawns from attacks from other dogs.


Fear reinforced by the owners

Most people believe that the best way to calm your dog down is to stroke their fur and soothingly talk to them. However, doing so worsens the problem. By doing this, you're giving the dog confirmation that he is right. Inversely, forcing your dog to be among the other dogs isn't the best idea. In fact, it could worsen your relationship with your dog.



How to tell when your dog is growing anxious


Your dog isn't capable of verbally expressing their fear, so it's essential to watch for signs of stress when your dog is put in a compromising position. It's also a good idea to read up on how to read a dog's body language. Knowing when your dog is starting to feel scared could help you prevent a full-blown panic-attack.


Body Language and Fear in Dogs 

We all know that dogs communicate via body language. Indications like a wagging tail or bared teeth are just some of the obvious ways that dogs communicate. However, some of a dog's body language is more subtle; we sometimes miss it. Here are some signs to look out for in determining when your dog feels fear or anxiety

  • Flattened ears
  • Wagging tail
  • Tail tucked between the hind legs
  • Cowering
  • Lip licking
  • Scratching self frequently (when he was not previously itchy)
  • Avoiding eye contact/averting the eyes
  • Raised hair on the back of the neck


Behaviors of a Fearful Dog 

Aside from dogs showing their fear through body language, some dogs exhibit specific actions when they're scared of other dogs. Here are some behaviors and symptoms of a dog that's feeling fearful and anxious because of another dog:

  • Whining
  • Pacing
  • Clinginess to owner
  • Barking
  • Submissive urination
  • Growling
  • Destructiveness
  • Biting


Physical Symptoms of Fear in Dogs 

Fearful dogs may exhibit physical signs that they are unable to control. Sometimes, these actions are involuntary.

  • Drooling
  • Loss of control over bowels or bladder
  • Panting
  • Dilated pupils or seeing the whites of a dog's eyes
  • Trembling



Dealing with your dog’s anxiety


The first move in bettering your dog is to manifest confident, calm, predictable behavior. Dogs have better olfactory sense than us; they possess over 300 million olfactory receptors compared to about six million in us — proportionally speaking, 40 times greater than ours. There's a part of a dog’s brain that can analyze and break down scents. Dogs' noses also function differently than ours. They can literally smell fear.

Lucky for you, with these tips, you can set your dog up for success!


Keep away from public dog parks — for the time being, that is — especially ones where dogs are permitted to play off-leash. If your dog is the type to be overcome by terror when they're off-leash, this fear could cause them to run away and escape with strange dogs. Should this happen, create an alert with a local lost pet register.


Watch out for other dogs within proximity — while you're walking, make a safety bubble between your pet and the oncoming stranger. Do things like cross to the other side of the street, stay behind a parked car, use a park bench as a barrier, or go in a different way, if possible.


Inform touchy passersby —  if a friendly stranger walks up to your dog to say hello, inform them that your dog is anxious and politely walk away. The majority of people are usually sympathetic when you quickly but calmly let them know that your dog is afraid of their dog. No need to worry about fellow dog owners. You basically have telepathy.


Don't shout at your dog — it's counter-intuitive to make your dog feel uneasy. It will either fuel their behavior or make them resent you. Remain calm, staying in a relaxed state will show your dog that everything is alright.


Helping your dog combat their anxiety


Desensitization takes time — it is, however, a good strategy for most dogs. This method operates by progressively increasing your dog's self-confidence. Your dog will eventually feel better about interacting and meeting other dogs. The next time you want to introduce your dog to another dog, it's best that you expose them to a handler and dog with a phlegmatic temperate. Ones that won't panic when your dog is agitated. Take note that you'll want to do this process over numerous sessions, slowly closing the distance.


Keep your dog's favorite treats inside your bag — you can get away with keeping whole treats for small dogs, but you'll need to break up bigger dogs treats into nibble-sized pieces. The more high-quality the treat, the better. Bring something your dog absolutely can't resist, one that they'll run after you and tackle you for.


Allow your dog to see the other dog from a safe distance — You are the best judge of your dog's threshold. For some it’s 10 feet and for others it’s ten yards. Stay at a distance that your dog is comfortable with until they stop acting out.  As you increasingly close the distance, watch out for the first signs of agitation – you'll notice a revealing yawn or some lip-licking before other indications of distress come up. Stay there, and don't let your dog get any closer until the next step.


Back off and walk around — distract your dog until they're back in their calm, normal state. Go back in the course of your friends and keep the treats coming while you close the distance. Continue giving your dog treats as you get closer to the other dog. The idea is to 'Pavlov' your dog into associating getting  treats with meeting another dog. Keep on giving your dog treats and continuously walk away until the other dog is out their line of sight. You can stop giving him or her treats when your dog can't see the other dog. Keep repeating this process until your dog understands that seeing your friend's dog means getting treats.


Give your dog a breather — between play date sessions with your friend's dog, take your dog for short walks to give them space and continue the treating process when they encounter another dog, beginning when they come into view and stopping when they can't be seen anymore. Keep on tossing your dog’s treats until you and the other dog owner have walked passed one another.


Shorten the threshold — gradually decrease the gap between your dog and other dogs as your dog increases their confidence. If his original safety zone was 25 feet, try 15 or 10 feet. And so on and so forth. It's easy to tell when your dog gets stressed out because they will tell you. When your pet calmly observes other dogs approaching and looks to you for treats, you'll know that you did your job right.


Seek professional advice — not everyone has access to a friend with a phlegmatic, well-trained dog. Find a professional handler that will teach your dog to overcome their anxiety. There's only so much that dog owners can do for their dogs, most of them, including you, are not trained to handle these situations. In fact, you may see your dog progress faster with sociability than he or she did with you. A dog behaviorist can cost between anywhere between $100 and $300 per hour, depending on where you live and the level of experience. Majority of dog behaviorists will start by doing an evaluation that may take 45 minutes to an hour and a half. Some behaviorists will conduct an assessment for free. Clarify with them before your sessions begin. Meanwhile, a professional dog trainer will cost you anywhere from $50 to $200 per session. Most sessions last about an hour. Some trainers will offer group classes at a decreased rate.



Dogs are like us. They have individual personalities that give them their charm. If you notice signs of anxiety in your dog, comfort them and don’t be afraid to ask for help from professionals. All your dogs need is a boost of confidence and a little more love!

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