Like a baby, the world is a brand-new place to a puppy. There are new people to meet, new places to see, new sounds to hear … and much more. But sometimes these introductions don’t go so well and you’re left with a very scared puppy.
When I first brought Cooper, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy for a walk, I thought he would never want to go on one again. He feared other people, dogs and noises to the point where he would turn around and scratch at my legs until I’d pick him up.
This behavior wouldn’t just happen on walks but in other situations like during a storm or meeting new people. I worried that Cooper wouldn’t be able to overcome his fears (luckily, after getting the proper help, he’s turned into one confident pup).
The good news is, you can train your scared puppy to overcome his fears. So, how do you tell if you have a scared puppy in the first place? And what are the right steps to take to help a scared puppy? Let’s find out.
First, what are the signs of a scared puppy?
Your puppy’s behavior is new to you — so you might not know how to determine if you have a scared puppy or not.
“Puppies show fear by any one or all of these simultaneously: hiding, rounded body, tail tucked, lip licking, yawning, whining, air snapping, raised upper lip (like they are smiling), blinking, urinating, sniffing out of context, running away and jumping into your lap for safety,” explains dog trainer Jill Breitner, creator of the Dog Decoder app.
What scares puppies?
A puppy often fears situations that make him feel alone and species and sounds he is not accustomed to. By recognizing what scares your puppy, you can focus in on what to do next to help your scared puppy overcome his fears. Different fears call for different assistance.
Jill lists the following common puppy fears:
- New dogs
- Animals of different species
- Being left alone too soon, which creates separation anxiety
- Getting left in a crate if not trained properly
- Sounds that startle them
- Riding in the car
- Meeting new people
- Trips to the vet
“It is possible [that] when approached slowly, puppies can overcome fears quickly and easily,” says Jill. “But if they show any of the signs mentioned earlier, then we need to go in short sessions and not move faster than the puppy is comfortable with.”
What are fear periods and what do they have to do with your scared puppy?
Dogs are susceptible to fear regardless of whether they’re puppies or not. However, there are a few critical fear periods for puppies. It is important to recognize these periods to know how to handle them.
“[The] first fear period is between eight to 11 weeks, and again between six to four months,” Jill explains. “[Puppies] can have a few periods of fear where their flight instinct is prevalent. They can fear something that they previously didn’t fear and they can be things that appear silly to us, but we need to take care to reintroduce or even desensitize them.”
Got a scared puppy? What to do next.
Got a scared puppy on your hands and know what’s scaring him? Now it’s time to help your scared puppy.
The next time a scared puppy faces his fears, Jill suggests to, “slowly reintroduce [him], making sure to pay attention to his body language and that the association to the feared object, person, etc. is changed to an association that is positive.”
Help your scared puppy during this new introduction by offering him treats or toys. “This changes the association of fear to fun,” says Jill. “Using high-value treats for anything feared goes a long way to changing the association to one of joy or excitement instead of something to fear.”
It is important to make sure you pay attention to a puppy’s emotional state every step on the way. “The key is to properly socialize puppies without flooding them [with access] to their environment,” Jill explains. “Keep sessions short, three to five minutes maximum, [when exposing] to anything new. Spending short sessions in any new situation and adding duration slowly over a few days helps keep pups engaged, enthused, and [it gives them] enough energy to deal with anything new.”
How I helped my scared puppy
As for my own scared puppy, I realized the walks were too long and overwhelming. So, I cut down the time of the walking sessions so that Cooper was not as overwhelmed with introductions. Eventually, those shorter sessions would get longer each time. Cooper got accustomed to new things on his walks and no longer turned around to jump into my arms.
Remember, you have the potential to help your scared puppy overcome his fears. Be patient and affectionate with you puppy while helping him during this time.
Seek professional help any time your puppy continues to show signs of fear for a prolonged period of time and if helping him yourself isn’t working.
A positive reinforcement-based trainer, your veterinarian and/or a veterinary behaviorist will be able to support you with understanding and helping your scared puppy. To find a veterinary behaviorist in your area, check out the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB). These experts will evaluate your puppy’s specific situation and support you in deciding what to do next.
Thumbnail: Photography Ashleigh Wells Photography/Thinkstock.
Tell us: How would you help a scared puppy? What do you think scares puppies the most?
8 thoughts on “Do You Have Scared Puppy? What to Look For — and How to Help Him”
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I got a puppy about 2 weeks ago that is already 6 months old. I’m pretty sure, by the looks of the place he came from, he was left outside in a kennel and doesn’t know much about humans. He seems pretty happy when we take him outside, but he then he runs and hides under out cat’s tree whenever he comes back inside. He will stay like this for hours. We try playing with him, sitting down on the floor beside him and talking to him and petting him. He wants nothing to do with us. He will occasionally run around and play for a couple of minutes with our other dog, but then he’s right back under the cat tree. I know it’s only been a couple of weeks, but I’m just not sure what else I should be doing. It’s hard to believe he’s a puppy, because he doesn’t want to play. He’s terrified of everything!
I got my puppy 4 weeks ago! She’s super happy and okay with my other dog but when I go outside she freaks out and hides! She won’t come to me at all! I hold her and give her love but it doesn’t matter how long I’m holding her for she’ll be completely scared and shaky. How can I make her trust me? I’ve given her treats, love, and nothing seems to work!
Give her time and space and a lot of patience. My puppy is here two weeks now and has finally come to sit by my feet and take treats from my hand. Plenty of toys that squeek. I actually ignore her while I go about my routine. She gets curious. I praise her alot. The first week I couldn’t get her to come out from underneath the living room chair and I would bet her. Then I just let her be. I figured she would eventually get thirsty or hungry. She did. It’s a slow go, but she is comingaround. Good luck. Let her come to you. I hope
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Some great points on here – thank you
Great thanks to Michaela Conlon for sharing this article. My sister has a puppy always staying in a scary mood. This is really helpful to me.