When we think of dogs, we often think of our family protectors. A dog will bark to keep people away from your home if they are not supposed to be there. A dog will put themselves between an unknown person and a family member. Dogs are often thought of as tough, offering their humans security and safety. But many of us have dogs who react in other ways to loud noises or even to people they do not know. Some dogs will run away or whine if they see something new on their people like a hat, gloves, or eyeglasses. Like humans who jump at loud noises or don’t want to experience an event that leaves them fearful, do dogs go through those same emotions around fear?
Can Dogs Get Scared?
If you’ve ever been around a little dog whose bark is bigger than their bite, you have experienced a dog who is scared. New experiences, new people, new environments, storms, loud noises, and so much more could scare your pup. Dogs might not feel everything people feel when we feel fear. They might not have the same adrenaline rush as people, but it’s likely they do experience something similar. And they most definitely get scared.
Does My Dog Have Fear?
You might be familiar with fear if your dog runs and hides when the doorbell rings. Dogs who are not used to loud noises might not be able to control their urine. Some dogs will hide behind or under furniture. It’s not always simple to tell what your dog may be afraid of, but if you’ve experienced behaviors such as trembling, cowering, barking at sounds or people, destruction, or aggression, your dog could be afraid of a variety of things. Some dogs will urinate on the spot if they are scared. Some will try to get away from the source of fear as quickly as they can. This could mean finding your dog hiding under your bed or running through the neighborhood to get away from whatever might be scaring them.
Dogs don’t often understand or have control of their environment, so when things happen to scare them, they are unsure of what is happening, whether they are safe, or how to handle the situation. All dogs handle fear in different ways.
For more details on some causes of fear, visit our guide to Fear of Noises in Dogs.
How Do I Treat My Dog’s Fear?
You can help train your dog to ease their tension during these times of fear. With love and patience, you can show your dog they are safe. Some owners offer treats during times of loud noises such as thunder or fireworks. These treats should have a unique name your dog may recognize. This works well if the area where you live is prone to thunderstorms often enough for your dog to know the name and be prepared for what’s to come with their special treat.
You can also talk to your veterinarian about medications for stress, anxiety, and fear. In pet stores, you can find thunder vests or stress vests to put on your dog during times you know your dog may feel fear for better coping.
Owners who are versed in essential oils diffuse calming oils such as lavender in their home during these times of new or scary experiences for their dogs. If you use a crate for your dog, they will feel safe inside the crate during these scary moments as well. If the doors are left open, you might find your dog hiding in their crate when they are scared.
If your dog becomes aggressive when they are scared, you can read more about fear aggression and learn about the issues your dog faces.
How is Fear Similar in Dogs and Humans?
Fight or flight is a natural instinct across species. We are all prone to protecting ourselves when we are scared. Dogs may bark just as we might scream. Dogs might run and hide or cower behind something just as humans and other animals might. Fear manifests in similar ways, and we tend to handle fear in similar ways. Dogs, other animals, and people also tend to fear the same things such as new experiences, new people, loud noises, and tense situations.
How is Fear Different in Dogs and Humans?
People tend to have more control over their environment and their behaviors. A dog might not know what the loud sound of fireworks is as their owners choose to set them off, or listen and watch a nearby show. Parents can prepare their children, but it’s difficult to get a dog to understand a series of loud noises will occur, and that everyone will be okay.
Animals are known for running away from fear, so be sure to watch your pet if you know they are going to experience a scary situation. People tend to flock together during fear. We huddle together for comfort. You can try this with your dog. They may feel more comfortable knowing you are okay while they are feeling scared.
A rescued dog who was adopted feared every noise and every person who came into his new home. He jumped at noises. He trembled at the sight of new people. And he ran behind the couch to pee on the bottom of the curtain every time the doorbell rang. The owners, distraught and not sure how to help their new dog, bought a crate, a new dog bed, and a thunder vest for their new family member. The crate was placed in a bedroom on the main floor with the door left open. The owners used friends and neighbors to help train their dog to run into the crate each time the doorbell rang. For the first few days, a family member would carry the dog to the crate, close the door, and stay with the dog.
Over time, the dog ran into the bedroom every time he heard the doorbell. With the crate door left open, he was able to come out when he was ready and willing to meet their guests. For moments when the owners knew their fearful dog would be scared, they used the thunder vest for comfort and stayed close to their dog. If the dog was scared despite being close to his owners, he would go into his crate for comfort and security. All of this training took about a month to complete.