Dogs have two ways to deal with fear: fight or flight. When I first met Kaani, he was leashed—he chose fight because he couldn’t get away. He never hurt me, but wanted me to know he meant business.
Once I got him into a larger area, he chose flight. He would run away and cower in a corner somewhere. His favorite place was his crate—his safe place.
When I opened his crate to take him on potty breaks, he varied between the two. Sometimes, he would squish to the back of the crate, and other times he’d lunge toward the door.
Interestingly, he always let me hold his leash without a problem. I just had to leave the crate door open for 5–10 minutes while I waited for him to come out into the room. I think that once we got outside, I was less terrifying than his surroundings.
How to identify a scared dog
There are a lot of very obvious signs that a dog is uncomfortable—like tail tucking or flat ears and ducking away. But then there are some less obvious signs:
- whale eyes (the whites of their eyes shows)
- stiffened or tense posture
- raised hackles
- large pupils
- exaggerated yawning
Tips for gaining trust
I can’t say this enough—take it slow. Everything needs to be done on the dog’s time. Assume everything is new to the dog. Something so simple, like a large hat, could spook the dog because he wasn’t socialized to it. We’re always eager to show the dog we’re safe, and sometimes the best way to do that is by giving them plenty of space.
Related: How to Muzzle Train Your Dog
Give the dog a safe place
I’m a big fan of crates, especially for nervous dogs (check out my favorite giant breed crate here). Before bringing Kaani home, I put a crate in the corner of our bedroom. This way, he was away from the bed and had his own area.
Then, I put some towels over the crate to block out stimuli so that he could get as relaxed as possible. I left the front of the crate uncovered because I still wanted him to see me at times. I wasn’t in his normal view, but if I walked in or out of the room he could see me, and I wouldn’t surprise him.
After potty breaks, he’d sprint back upstairs and crawl into his crate to relax.
Ignore the dog
This is so, so important. Eye contact can be seen as threatening for any dog, but especially a fearful one. Pretend like he’s not around and let him come to you.
Even when we took potty breaks, I wouldn’t look at or acknowledge Kaani for the first few days. He would occasionally sniff my leg or rub against me, but I let him figure me out on his own.
Remember, the crate is a no touch, no eye contact place for your fearful dog. You don’t want him to feel threatened in any way while he’s crated.
At this point, Kaani doesn’t mind me reaching into his crate when he’s in there (to refill his water bowl or something similar), but he cowers if Nick tries to. So Nick makes sure to give him plenty of space.
Keep things positive
Never, ever punish a dog for growling. Growling is a dog’s warning sign before a more serious warning or potential bite. If you punish growling, the dog will eventually skip that step and go straight to a more severe fear response.
Talk in soft, happy tones—this is typically easier for women than men—and try to keep the environment as relaxed as possible.
Treats, treats, and more treats
To gain Kaani’s trust, I started by casually walking by Kaani’s crate a tossing a few treats in. Every time I was going to be near his crate, he got a treat. Don’t stick your fingers in (especially if you’re worried about a fight fear response). With slow, swift movements, gently toss the treat and keep walking.
After a day, he would come out of his crate to check me out while I was sitting on the bed.
Same thing. Toss treats his way without making eye contact. The next day, he was taking treats from my hand, again without eye contact (I may have lured him with cheesy fries and bacon).
Obviously, I couldn’t make cheesy fries and bacon the main treat I offered Kaani to work on trust. But no regular treat was going to do the trick. He snubbed his nose at every training treat I had in the house.
Dr. Marty Nature’s Blend
Dr. Marty’s Nature’s Blend is technically a balanced meal, but I prefer to use it as a topper or high-value treat. The floofs go absolutely crazy for this freeze-dried raw food! I love that it can go either way, depending on your dog’s needs and your budget.
Quick facts about Nature’s Blend:
- made with 77% raw beef, raw turkey, raw game, and raw organ meats
- free of artificial preservatives and fillers
- supports higher energy levels, easier digestion, joint and coat support, and strong brain health
- contains high levels of EPA/DHA for optimum canine health
Try Nature’s Blend for a pretty great discount here!
Don’t forget gut health
Kaani had a lot of stomach issues when we first got him. There were two nights that he suddenly pooped all over his crate and needed a backyard hose down. Poor guy just started softly whimpering after it happened.
Dr. Marty sent us some ProPower Plus—a blend of 14 different health and digestive ingredients designed to optimize your dog’s body.
This instantly made a difference in his gut health (no more runny poops!), and I’ve started using it for Atka as well—who also has tummy issues sometimes.