Dogs have an affinity with people and their emotional states. If you feel down, your dog will understand, as every breed of woofer can feel depressed or insecure at times. Check out the local shelter and you’re bound to see precious pups shrinking in the corner of their pen, afraid and lonely.
Like people who are low in self-esteem, some dogs lack confidence, making them fearful of their surroundings. They may have seen a darker side of life where being alone and neglected was all they ever knew. People also have it hard trying to compete in this world. "Will I get the job?" or "Does my partner love me?" are thoughts racing through the mind of an insecure soul. We align with pooches in so many ways and insecurity is a huge issue for both humans and dogs
Signs a Dog Can Feel Insecure
You wanted a dog but also had a desire to help a pup that had been abandoned or mistreated. You bring home Jasper, a handsome Mastiff mix who was so quiet in the car ride, you had to keep checking to see if he was okay. Once you get him inside, he instantly urinates on the floor. The shock of a new environment was more than he could bear. The volunteers told you he would need a ton of love, as his former life was on a chain in the backyard. Jasper has not been socialized, so he is shaking as you pet his head.
His ears drop as you lead him to his pet bed and show him where he will sleep.Jasper's feeling insecure and his tail is hung low in fear. You’re up for the challenge and know it will take time to get him rockin' his Mastiff mojo.
You take him off his leash and he starts pacing up and down, drooling and panting, not knowing which way to turn. “You’ll be alright, boy,” you say calmly, hoping to make him feel safe - but Jasper's insecurities are about to get worse.
He howls so sadly and then barks at shadows on the wall. A low growl is evolving and that has you concerned. Jasper's in guard mode over the toys you’ve left in his bed. That’s not surprising for a dog left to fend for itself. Your new pup is showing the whites of his eyes and body-freezing as you approach. This is a warning not to approach him just yet. You walk away and leave him. It’s a patience game, and you’re determined to win.
When a dog is insecure, it can be four seasons of behavior in one day - from crying to snarling or hiding behind the door. An insecure pup is a myriad of emotion and it takes understanding to re-build their trust.
History of Insecurity in Dogs
Historically, dogs have been at the brunt of humans behaving badly and thanks to the compassionate souls who rescue and run non-profit shelters; many of them can be re-homed. The caring folks at these shelters see dogs with broken spirits, yelping or growling as they try to understand what humans want.
Wolves, who are the ancient matriarch of the family mutt, live in packs with mother, father, and children, whereas dogs are part of a human clan. If the atmosphere at home is tense or anxious - you can guarantee your dog will feel insecure. Studies show they pick up on the family dynamics and, like kids, internalize the parent messaging until it comes out in a tantrum or a fearful attitude. The world is a scary place for the child and dog, who have no control over the situation.
When early man made a pact with wolves, they probably had no idea how it would all pan out. As dogs were selectively bred for hunting, herding, and to look a certain way, the genetics were slowly changed. Dogs now lived up-close-and-personal with people and their personalities. One pup from a litter might have landed on their paws with a well-adjusted family who is confident and kind. The other pup might not have been so lucky, becoming a novel item for the kids to play with. In this home, there could be arguing and general unrest. Two pups from the same litter could grow up to be very different dogs, with the first being a self-assured, adult mutt while the other is insecure and snaps like the pet-dad does at the kids.
All animals in captivity can feel insecure, as they rely on humans for food and shelter.
The Science of Insecure Dogs
An insecure dog can’t bear to be alone and will suffer "separation anxiety" every time their guardian leaves home. They can cause mayhem, as they take their frustrations out on anything in their path. A confident, self-assured pup won’t love their pet-dad going to work, but will deal with it, knowing they are coming back.
A dog with insecurity issues can become easily hyper-attached. They’ll cling to one person in the home, holding court over their pet-mom or dad. They really are terrified of the world they live in and hold onto their guardian for comfort.
Drop them off at doggy day-care and you’re likely to get a call. Your pup has howled the center down - making it depressing for the other dogs.
If you’re taking on a dog with no confidence, be aware! They could get aggressive and turn on you at any time. Telling them off for being scared is not the way to go, as it will fuel the insecure fire and then they might attack. This dog needs an owner whose vision is super-cool. A person with confidence and a peaceful persona is perfect for this mixed up pup.
They need to be inspired by the world, instead of petrified all the time. Positive reinforcement is the way to keep them calm with an everyday routine they can slowly embrace. Your job as their owner is to introduce them to a life of peace, where going to the dog park is all about fun times with other mutts.
An insecure dog has no concept of a self-assured life. Some may have been abused while others never were socialized. There are owners who get a dog but don’t take them for walks, vet checks, or teach them how to interact with other dogs. Some mutts will snap at other pooches, getting you a bad rep at the dog park
Dog Trainer, Victoria Stilwell, sees insecure dogs every day but points out the influence of their owners plays a monumental part. She believes obedience training is a great help, but not as much as their guardian’s attitude.
Training Tips for Insecure Dogs
An insecure pup needs positive encouragement so every day is paw-some and they can’t wait to go for a walk. According to Victoria Stilwell, any kind of punishment will make matters worse as your insecure pup may have been physically abused.
A person with a blatant fear of flying will not do well if the air hostess is abusing her for trembling in her chair. The fear of being in a plane is now magnified by the pain of being yelled at.
The same goes for dogs that get smacked for cowering or peeing on the floor. This endorses their belief that being afraid is going to attract more fear. Even if they show signs of aggression, the feeling in the background is PANIC!
The best way to inspire confidence in an insecure pup is to take the spotlight away from anything frightening and onto something wonderful and fun. It’s all about creating courage where a nervous woofer walks through the fear, without whining or looking to run and hide. These shy dogs can be easily overwhelmed, so steady-as-she-goes gets the hero pup who loves new things and trusts their pet owner implicitly.
Fear aggression is common in rescue dogs with a shambolic past life. They are scared to death but come out guns blazing in full flight ready to take on that scary dog or person. It could also be lack of socialization, as a dog has no idea how to behave in the real world.
If a pooch can’t run, they’ll put on a horror movie face, with teeth bared and ears flattened back. That’s enough to make people or animals in the vicinity take off. For a dog with fear aggression, that would be a job done or a visit to the shelter, as the owner just can’t cope. There is hope for this precarious pup, but it will involve desensitization techniques to curb that temper.
Victoria Stilwell is a seasoned dog trainer who offers ideas to help insecure dogs. If a dog is afraid of people who come to your home, when they arrive, take your pooch on a lead outside so they can see them. Have a pre-arranged bag of treats ready for a friend to hold. Take a walk with the friend but at this point, there should be no interaction with the dog.
Go back into your house with your friend and once inside, get your pooch to sit or stay. This takes their mind of what that spooky stranger coming through the door is doing. Let the friend put a treat on the floor and step back. The dog can have the treat or toy while still on the leash. Spend time with the friend while the dog enjoys their reward.
Once they have finished playing or eating, take them to another room or space. A baby gate is a great way to keep your dog contained while letting them see there's nothing to fear. If this exercise can be repeated, your dog might forget the fear and equate people coming to your home as a good thing. You can get creative, making up different scenarios for things your pup is afraid of.
Insecure dogs have a chaotic style of thinking, with a panic button always ready to be pressed. With love and a secure environment, nervy woofers can become confident canines who live for the next adventure.
By a Japanese Chin lover Linda Cole
Published: 03/29/2018, edited: 04/06/2020