Dogs can become fearful for a whole range of different reasons and dog anxiety is among the most common problems dog owners and behaviourists have to deal with. Once dogs are fearful, they can display an array of symptomatic behaviours including aggression, avoiding, flight, freezing or hiding. The combination of consistent human emotional patterns with this wide symptom range can make dealing with this fearful, anxious energy quite difficult.

There are, however, a few things owners can do to help their nervous, fearful dogs to become more confident. Here are some of them.

Helping Fearful Dogs Become More Confident

If you have a skittish dog, the following suggestions could help to give him more confidence:


  • Try not to mollycoddle him, give him affection or sympathy. He will repeat whatever gets him affection – and you don’t him thinking you like him nervous!  What’s more, in ‘his world’ (and the animal world in general), sympathy is typically decoded as “weakness” and your nervous dog needs to sense your strength, self-assurance and confidence.
  • When your dog displays signs of fear, you should practise what is known as “nurse energy.” Look at it this way: if you had a bad injury and were very afraid, would it relax you if the doctor or nurse went into blind panic upon the sight of your injuries? Unlikely. A balanced, calm and confident nurse/doctor, on the other hand, can easily soothe you with her/his mere presence. Avoid eye contact, don’t use your voice and remember that the only energy likely to help a fearful, nervous dog is calm, confident and patient energy. 
  • Establish a routine (which should be heavy on structure and exercise), because nervous dogs tend to strive with routing. Structure here is basically anything that will prevent movement (and thereby prevents continuation of the ‘flight pattern’), like, for example, ‘anchoring’ your dog to something heavy, or tying him (well, his lead) to your waist.
  • Give your dog plenty of physical exercise, as this can help nervous/anxious dogs.
  • If your dog is not using his nose he is not using his mind. When working with a really nervous dog, you will probably notice that at first, he won’t smell things. Seeing him sniffing and smelling is a first sign of progress. You can try using food to get his nose interested but make sure to only offer treats when he becomes calm.
  • When a nervous dog first approaches you to give you a sniff, ignore him and do not attempt to pet him, because coming up for a sniff does not necessarily mean he wants to be touched. He will approach you and remain within your space when he is ready and willing to be touched/petted. Reaching out to pet your dog before he is ready will erode his trust in you.
  • While it really is best to wait for a nervous dog to approach you, if you must approach him, be very aware of and, if necessary, adjust your body language: on approaching fearful dogs, you should always turn to the side (your shoulders) and really skittish dogs should be approached backwards. Approaching him in this fashion will tell your nervous dog that you understand him.
  • If your nervous pooch does get along with other dogs, give him the opportunity to be with other dogs as often as possible, as this can help – balanced, calm dogs are a great influence on insecure, unstable dogs.
  • You cannot rush anything when you are working with an anxious dog, so be patient and take your time. Success will take as long as it takes. Similarly, a quick body equals a quick mind and if you move too quickly, you will simply overwhelm fear, so slow down.
  • Yesterday cannot fix today, and while figuring out what made your dog fearful in the first place may help to prevent putting him into similar situations in the future, it will not undo the damage already done – so forget the past and stay & work with your dog in the here and now.
  • Food rewards are often useless when dealing with fear, as dogs with fearful energy frequently won’t take food from anyone or eat. If this happens to be the case with your dog, stop using food, because trying to give food to a dog who won’t take food/eat it can erode his trust in you.

Finally, massages are a great method of rewarding a nervous dog when he starts showing more confidence, as it teaches him that he will get a massage if he is calm – and as it will give you both some ‘quality time’ together, this is certainly not a bad trade to go for!

Getting Professional Help for Dog Anxiety

Dog anxiety can at times be deep-rooted, in which case seeking the help of a professional dog behaviourist may become necessary. Using the latest techniques in behaviour management, our behaviourists have years of experience in helping fearful dogs overcome their anxiety. If your dog does not respond to your attempts to improve his confidence and/or becomes aggressive due to his anxiety, get in touch via our contact form or call us on 07776761289 today to get your dog the help he needs.