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Approaching a fearful canine can be an intimidating experience for both you and the dog. Whether it’s your own pup that is fearful or a dog you just met in the neighborhood, approaching a fearful dog requires attentive awareness and an understanding of the dog’s behavior.

If you’re unsure how to approach a fearful dog, you have come to the right place. Today, we’ll cover the details on how to help a fearful dog gain trust in you and how to stay safe in the process. We’ll also share a helpful video from Cesar that explains how to approach a fearful dog by engaging the dog’s curiosity and taking him for walks.

Ready to learn how to approach a fearful dog and boost his confidence? Let’s get started!

Read the Fearful Dog’s Body Language

The first step to approaching a frightened dog is to understand fearful dog body language. Because dogs communicate with humans and other pets through body language and certain behaviors, it is important to be able to understand the meaning behind the fearful dog’s actions.

There are many reasons a dog may act fearful towards you or other humans. New environments, lack of socialization, and new people are just a few factors that can cause anxiety and fear in dogs. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to realize that fearful dogs will have different behaviors than non-fearful dogs. You should always be aware of the dog’s movements and be prepared for aggressive behavior.

As you approach a fearful dog, be on the lookout for the following behaviors:

  • Standing completely still 
  • Staring directly at you
  • Lowering or raising the head while looking away from you
  • Growling
  • Snapping
  • Lunging toward you
  • Tucking his tail between his legs
  • Trembling

As you approach the dog, be alert of any aggressive behaviors the dog may show. Growling, snapping, and lunging are a few signs a dog may be acting aggressively. In these cases, be extremely cautious and do not suddenly approach the dog.

Be Careful of Your Body Position

Approaching a fearful dog requires you to be aware not only of the dog’s body language but your body position as well. If you notice the dog cowering as you approach him, immediately make yourself “smaller” by either kneeling down or bending over.

If you’re approaching an extremely fearful or shy dog, you may need to build up his confidence and trust before you may continue approaching him. Rather than walking towards him, sit down next to him, keeping your body turned slightly sideways to show him you’re not a threat.

As you gently approach the dog, remember to continue being aware of the dog’s behavior. If the dog is lunging at you or showing signs of aggression, remain standing up and do not get too close to him. If you feel uncomfortable approaching the dog, seek expert help from an animal behaviorist or trainer.

Avoid Direct Eye Contact with the Fearful Dog

The key to approaching a fearful dog is to gain his confidence and trust in you. In order for this to work, you need to appear less intimidating to the fearful dog. Because direct eye contact can appear threatening to dogs, it’s important to avert your gaze as you slowly approach him.

In addition to avoiding direct eye contact, you may turn your body slightly sideways and lean away from the dog. Remember to continue reading the dog’s body language even as you glance away from the dog’s location. 

Don’t Force Anything

Patience is the key to gaining a fearful dog’s trust. If your dog is fearful of new people, slowly introduce him to friends and family members in an area he feels comfortable being in. Never force your dog to meet someone by holding his collar or keeping him still. Once your dog becomes comfortable around individuals, continue socializing him by going to dog parks and walking him around the neighborhood. 

This method can also be used when introducing your dog to particular environments. Many dogs, especially fearful ones, can become frightened when in a new location. If your dog is afraid of a new environment, use positive body language and rewards to assure your dog the environment is safe. Continue this process for several days until your dog becomes more confident in that particular setting.

Use Positive Reinforcement with the Fearful Dog

Just as your body language influences your dog’s behavior, positive reinforcement can help your dog overcome his fears and become comfortable in frightening situations. 

There are many ways to use positive reinforcement to comfort and reward your dog. One way is to praise your dog each time he becomes less fearful and more confident in the situation he’s in. Remember to maintain a quiet yet cheerful voice that does not startle or frighten the dog in any way. 

Another way to reward your dog is through treats. Every time the dog reacts positively toward you, hand him a savory treat he is attracted to. Be careful feeding a fearful dog from your hand, as some dogs may become aggressive and snap at you. If the dog appears aggressive in any way, withhold the treats and use only verbal praise. 

Cesar’s Advice for Approaching a Fearful Dog

Are you still seeking expert advice on how to approach a fearful dog? No worries! Recently, Cesar hosted a group of veterinarians for a day of training at the Dog Psychology Center. In this video, he teaches them how to approach a fearful dog through certain tips and tricks. Whether you’re interested in how to walk a fearful dog or how to help a fearful dog regain confidence, this training video covers all the topics on how to approach a fearful or shy dog.

We hope this article helped you gain a better understanding of how to approach a fearful dog. Remember, gaining a fearful dog’s trust can only be done through time and patience. Once you earn his trust, both you and your dog can live life with confidence and excitement.


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