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Approaching a Scared Dog

Approaching a Scared Dog
Photo credit: latteda / Flickr

As long as you are mindful of when it’s better to walk away, you can approach a scared dog by maintaining a calm demeanor. Even the best trained and most calm dogs can behave unpredictably, if threatened or scared. In all situations, it’s best to ask the owner for permission to greet the dog and let the dog be the one to approach you.

Why are Dogs Scared of People?

Understanding why a dog is scared and what it is afraid of is essential to understanding how to and if you should approach the animal. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the ASPCA, dogs tend to fear people because of inadequate socialization as a puppy, a genetic predisposition towards fear, memories from a traumatic event and medical reasons.

Sometimes, dogs can be scared for no clear reason at all. While dogs usually resort to flight or fight, response, they may resort to aggressive, dangerous behavior when scared, according to the ASPCA.

Look for the Signs

Aside from how the dog is acting, do not attempt to approach or connect with a dog that makes you feel unsafe. Before approaching the dog, gauge behavior signs to see how scared the dog is. A scared dog may try to escape, avoid eye contact, urinate, tremble, cower, show teeth, growl, snap or bite, as covered by Rescue Me Dog. It’s better to walk away if the dog exhibits extreme signs of fear.

Approaching a Scared Dog

According to Rescue Me Dog, the key to approaching a scared dog is not to approach the dog yourself, but to let the dog calm down and approach you instead. Whenever encountering a new dog, do not assume that it is comfortable with strangers, advises Fearful Dogs.

If the dog’s owner is present, ask for permission before interacting with the dog, the same source reports. However, Fearful Dogs also says that you shouldn’t approach a tied-up or leashed scared dog. If the dog can’t flee, it can only defend itself.

The Do’s of Approaching a Scared Dog

Keep your movements slow and speak calmly when approaching a scared dog advises the ASPCA. Your body language and tone can make the difference between a dog feeling save and threatened. If you have permission from the owner, outstretch your palm facing up a few feet away from the dog so it can approach and sniff you, the same source reports. However, only extend your palm to dogs you can confirm are well socialized, suggests Fearful dogs.

According to Paw-Rescu, it may also help to crouch down, as opposed to leaning over, and avoid making direct eye contact when greeting a new dog. Veterinarian and low stress animal handling expert Dr. Sophia Yin recommends remaining a safe distance from the dog and standing sideways to coax calm behavior. If the dog approaches you and feels comfortable, only touch it on the chest or chin, as further explains Rescue Me Dog.

The Don’ts of Approaching a Scared Dog

According to Fearful Dogs, if the dog appears timid or upset, do not approach it as any attempt to connect with the dog may backfire. Do not feel like you need to approach every dog you meet.

Also, according to the same source:

  • Do not put your face near the dog or hug the dog, they may interpret the behavior as aggression;
  • Do not touch a dog that has rolled over;
  • Do not stare at a dog;
  • Do not walk directly at a scared dog.

Dealing with Scared Stray Dogs

According to Cesar’s Way, you should not approach a scared stray dog. Stray dogs are potentially more dangerous because you can’t confirm the animal’s behavior with a person. However, if the stray dog does not seem scared or has calmed down from being scared, be as calm as possible when approaching the animal. If the dog responds to common commands and approaches you safely, you can take the animal to a shelter, as further explains Cesar’s Way.

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