How to Help Your Dog Overcome Fears and Phobias: 13 Useful Tips

Updated on: Apr 28, 2023
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How to Help Your Dog Overcome Fears and Phobias: 13 Useful Tips

Did you know that dogs can experience fears and phobias just like humans? 

Unfortunately, these fears can impact their lives, making them anxious and stressed. Thankfully, there are things you can do to help manage them. 

Here are the 13 tips for dealing with your dog's fear and phobia symptoms!

Understand the cause of your dog's fear or phobia.

Understanding the root cause of your dog's fear or phobia is important to devise a plan to manage it effectively. A dog might develop anxiety or phobia for many reasons, like:

  • past traumatic experiences
  • genetics
  • or breed tendencies.

Breeds like German Shepherds or Border Collies are more prone to developing noise phobias as compared to other breeds. 

Don't reinforce the fear by giving your dog attention or treats when exhibiting fear-related behavior.

This simply means that when your dog shows signs of fear,  do not give them attention or treats. Rewarding your dog when they are scared can worsen its fear over time.

If your dog is scared of thunder and they hide every time they hear it, do not give them treats or cuddles so they come out,  because they may associate the hiding with your positive attention.

Instead, staying calm and offering your dog reassurance without reinforcing its fear by being present and speaking to your dog in a calming tone is crucial

Over time, your dog may learn to feel less anxious and become more comfortable with these situations.

Gradually desensitize your dog to the trigger of its fear.

Gradual desensitization is a pretty simple process involving exposing your dog to the trigger of their fear in a controlled and gradual way.

You could start by playing a recording of thunder at a low volume while also providing your dog with treats or engaging them in play to create a positive association with the sound. 

Then, over several days or weeks, you would gradually increase the volume of the thunder recording, depending on your dog's comfort level. Once your dog is comfortable with the sound of thunder at a higher volume, you could try playing the recording during a mild thunderstorm. 

If your dog shows signs of fear during the mild thunderstorm, you would go back to the previous step and gradually increase the volume of the thunder recording until your dog is comfortable.

You would repeat this process, gradually exposing your dog to more intense thunderstorms until they are no longer afraid. The key to successful gradual desensitization is to work at a comfortable pace for your dog and always provide positive reinforcement through treats, playtime, or praise.

Use counter-conditioning technique.

Did you know that counter-conditioning is a technique that can help change your dog's negative association with something into a positive one? 

Identify the trigger that causes your dog to feel afraid or anxious. This could be anything from loud noises to meeting strangers.

Next, you can introduce a positive association for your dog. This could be something like their favorite treats, toys, or playtime.

When the trigger occurs, give your dog a positive association immediately. If your dog is scared of thunder, give them a treat or play a game whenever they hear it. This will help create a positive association with the sound.

Repeat the process consistently over time, gradually increasing the intensity of the trigger. Be patient and do not rush the process because it may take time for your dog to associate the stimulus with something positive.

Consider consulting a professional dog trainer or behaviorist.

A professional dog trainer or behaviorist can be helpful because they have experience in dealing with various dog behaviors, including fear and anxiety. They can also: 

  • help you develop a customized plan to manage your dog's specific fear or phobia
  • guide you on techniques like gradual desensitization and counter-conditioning
  • help effectively reduce your dog's fear and anxiety
  • suggest appropriate medications or calming aids
  • help you better understand your dog's behavior
  • and provide the skills and knowledge to continue training your dog in the long term.

Exercise your dog to help reduce anxiety and stress in your dogs.

Exercise is crucial for dogs because it can: 

  • help improve their physical and mental health
  • reduce anxiety and stress caused by fears or phobias.
  • help them feel happier and healthier

Of course, how much exercise your dog needs depends on its breed and age. If your dog already shows signs of fear or phobias, exercise them to help manage their symptoms

Create a safe space for your dog.

When managing your dog's fear and anxiety, it is crucial to create a safe space for your dog, which is an area in your home where your furry friend can go when they feel overwhelmed or scared. 

A crate can be an excellent option too, but it's not for every dog, so you need to find what works best for your dog. Maybe your pup prefers a specific room or loves snuggling in their bed. 

Once you decide about their safe space, help your dog associate it with positive experiencesTreats, toys, and plenty of praise and affection can all help encourage your dog to spend time in its safe space.

As time passes, they'll see it as a happy and comfortable place, and it will become their go-to spot when they need a break from the world.

Avoid punishing your dog for exhibiting fearful behavior.

Punishing your dog can make them even more anxious and fearful because they might associate the punishment with the trigger of their fear instead of the behavior itself. 

Moreover, punishment can negatively affect the trust and bond between you and your furry friend, making it harder to manage their fear in the long run.

Instead, focusing on positive reinforcement and reward-based training techniques is better. By rewarding your dog for calm and relaxed behavior in the presence of their fear trigger, you can help them build positive associations and feel more comfortable over time.

Punishment may seem like a quick fix, but it doesn't address the root cause of your dog's fear and can worsen the problem in the long run. So, avoid punishing your dog if they are fearful or anxious.  

Medication may sometimes be necessary to manage your dog's fear.

Medication should only be used as a last resort if other methods of managing your dog’s fears haven't worked. Your vet might prescribe different types of medication depending on your dog's specific needs. 

One type of medication often used by vets is called anti-anxiety medication, like SSRIs or TCAs. These medicines regulate your dog's brain chemistry to help lower  their anxiety levels. 

Another type of medication is sedatives, which calm your dog's nervous system and can be helpful in situations where the fear trigger is unavoidable, like during travel or vet visits.

Remember that medication isn't a long-term solution to dealing with your dog’s phobias. You'll still need to work on behavior modification techniques, like gradual desensitization and counter-conditioning, to help your dog overcome their fears. 

And, of course, a vet should always prescribe medication according to their instructions, as misusing it can cause unwanted side effects.

Consider using calming aids to help alleviate anxiety and fear.

There are a bunch of different calming aids that you can consider, such as pheromone sprays, calming supplements, and special collars or vests.

Pheromone sprays work by mimicking the natural calming pheromones that a mother dog produces to soothe her puppies. Use these sprays in your dog's environment, such as the room where they spend most of their time or on their bedding and toys.

On the other hand, calming supplements contain natural ingredients like chamomile, valerian root, or L-tryptophan that can help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation in dogs. They're usually available in the form of treats or chews.

Lastly, some special collars or vests apply pressure to specific points on your dog's body, which can have a calming effect. These products are called anxiety wraps or Thundershirts, and they can be beneficial for dogs with noise phobias or separation anxiety.

Calming aids can be helpful but should not be used as a substitute for behavior modification techniques like gradual desensitization or counter-conditioning. 

Stick to a routine and be patient in your approach.

A consistent routine is essential when helping your dog manage their fears or phobias. Dogs love predictability, so having a consistent routine can help reduce stress and anxiety. 

Try to be consistent in how you manage your dog's fear, including the following: 

  • techniques you use
  • the cues you give
  • and the environment you create for your dog.

For instance, if you're trying to use gradual desensitization to help your dog overcome their fear of other dogs, your approach must be consistent. This means gradually exposing your dog to other dogs in a controlled and positive way every day, using the same techniques and cues each time.

If you're inconsistent in your approach, like skipping days or using different techniques each time, it can confuse your dog and make it more difficult for them to learn and overcome their fear.

Try to avoid exposing your dog to the trigger of their fear altogether.

We suggest that, if possible, you try to avoid exposing your furry friend to the things that trigger their fear. This could be anything from loud noises to strangers or other dogs, so it's best to avoid these triggers as much as possible.

Of course, there are times when avoidance just isn't feasible. For example, you might be unable to control when a thunderstorm hits. In those cases, you could keep your pup inside to minimize their noise exposure.

Avoidance alone might not solve the problem. It could provide temporary relief, but your dog may still have fear or phobia in the long run, so it is helpfult to seek professional help. A trainer or behaviorist can work with you and your dog to find ways to manage the fear and work through it safely and positively.

Be persistent in your efforts and celebrate small victories along the way.

Dealing with fear and phobias in dogs is a gradual process, and your dog needs time to make any progress. Celebrate small victories to build their confidence and reinforce positive behavior.

Like humans, dogs are unique individuals; some may require more time and effort than others to overcome their fears. You can help your dog feel more secure and confident in their environment by staying patient and consistent in your approach.

Note that your own emotions can affect your dog's behavior. When working with your dog on their fears, staying calm and positive is best, as your pup can pick up on your emotions. 

With patience and a positive attitude, you can help your dog feel more comfortable and confident in their surroundings.


Dogs are such vital members of our families, aren't they? 

Sometimes, our furry friends can experience fears and phobias that can impact their quality of life, but you can do plenty of things to help them! 

The tips listed above can give you a good starting point in managing your dog's fears and phobias. With a bit of love, care, and your help, your furry friend can feel more confident and comfortable in their environment!

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