How To Approach A Scared Dog And Help Them

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This is how to approach a scared dog – Understand fear signs to mindfully approach a scared dog. Maintain distance, stay low, and avoid direct eye contact. Adopt a sideways body posture, speak softly, and offer treats. When the dog accepts, withdraw. Let the dog come to you when they feel relaxed.

A scared dog outside

Dogs can feel fear just like us – they, too, can cower, shiver and hide. According to a study conducted in Finland of 13,715 dogs, they found that 72.5% of the dogs displayed fear or anxiety-related behaviors.

They need patience and understanding, especially when they’re scared.

Dogs also need someone that has the knowledge, skills, and expertise to deal with situations like this.

Fortunately, you’ve found this informative and practical article that shows you how to put a dog at ease and guides you step by step, teaching you how to approach a scared dog safely.                

Recognizing The Signs of Fear in a Scared Dog

It is not uncommon to come across a dog that is scared or anxious.

Whether it is a pet dog or a stray on the street, it is important to be able to read signs of fear in dogs before you approach them.

When you do approach a scared dog, it must be done in a slow, careful way to avoid making the situation worse.


One of the more obvious signs that a dog is scared or anxious is that their body will shake uncontrollably.

This takes the form of trembling legs or quivering all over their body.

If you see a dog with these symptoms, it’s important not to approach them assertively, as this can increase their anxiety further.

Excessive panting and Drooling

When a dog feels threatened, they will often begin panting excessively as a way to calm down.

This will also be accompanied by drooling, another clear sign that indicates the dog is extremely nervous or stressed out.

Cowering and Hiding

A scared dog will also cower or hide when approached by people they don’t know. This behavior should always be respected.

It’s important not to force interaction upon an unwilling animal as this could cause them further distress and potentially lead to more aggressive behavior.


Growling or aggressive posturing are other important indicators of fear in dogs. Do not ignore or take this behavior lightly for your own safety.

These actions are seen when animals feel cornered and without any other options for escape. Do not put the dog into a position where they feel threatened or endangered.

Remember, a scared dog doesn’t necessarily know you are trying to help them. A normally placid dog will become aggressive if they feel there is no other option.

How to approach a scared dog

Approaching a scared dog can be a daunting task, especially if you’re not familiar with canine body language.

Unfortunately, many people make the classic mistake of approaching dogs in a way that can escalate their fear and anxiety, leading to unwanted behaviors such as growling or biting.

Therefore, it’s crucial to approach a scared dog in the right way.

Firstly, every dog is unique and may respond differently to various approaches.

However, some general tips can help make the process smoother.

Here’s a quick targeted table of information, followed by more detailed explanations.

Move SlowlyQuick movements can make a dog more anxious, so it’s important to move slowly and calmly around the dog
Get on the dog’s levelCrouch, or sit on the floor don’t let your face get too close to the dog’s face.                                                                    
Be Aware of the dog’s Body LanguageLook for warning signs like growling, baring teeth, Raised fur, Rigid or defensive body posture, tail tucked, Sclera sighting
Eye contactAvoid Looking the dog in the eye, as a scared dog will interpret that as threatening behavior.
Use a Gentle ToneSpeak in a calm and soothing voice to help the dog feel more at ease.  
Offer TreatsMeaty treats will go a long way to building trust.
Wait for the dog to come to youNever force the dog, always wait for them to decide to approach you.

Avoid Towering Over the Dog

One of the biggest mistakes that people make is looming over the dog. Not only does it send the wrong message to the fearful dog, but it can also be incredibly intimidating and threatening.

A scared dog needs space and time to feel comfortable, and looming over them will do nothing but exacerbate their fear.

No matter how friendly you think you are or how much you love animals when you loom over a scared dog, they will interpret your actions as aggressive and predatory.

They may cower or bark defensively, or worse yet – lash out in fear aggression.

To approach a shy or anxious dog successfully, never lean over them with your face and body above them.

Instead, try getting down on the ground at their level so that they can see that you are not threatening.

Gently coaxing them closer with a soft voice while offering treats is another effective technique for gaining their trust without causing undue stress.

Don’t Be Forceful

Another big mistake people make when trying to approach a frightened dog is being too forceful or insistent with their attempts at interaction.

It’s important to remember that dogs communicate differently than humans do. They read body language much more than words, so coming on too strong can really set back progress in building trust.

Instead of trying to force things by reaching out to touch them or scooping up small dogs for cuddles right away (which can be particularly scary for the dog and backfire massively), take things slowly by giving them plenty of space and letting them come to you gradually instead of vice versa.


If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years of experience working with dogs in shelters and rescues alike, it’s that you need bags of patience when dealing with fearful pooches.

So, give your new furry friend plenty of time to get used to your presence before attempting any physical contact whatsoever.

Watch The Dog Closely

Observing a scared dog can be an essential step in working out how to approach a scared dog.

You need to pay attention to the dog’s body language, which can tell you everything about their mood and how they perceive you.

When approaching a fearful dog, don’t just barge in without checking the situation first.

Observe the environment and look for any signs of distress in the animal.

Some dogs may show signs of anxiety or fear aggression when they encounter new people or situations because they are unsure of what is happening around them.

Scared dog displaying aggression

Some dogs will cower, freeze up, or become aggressive when they feel threatened or cornered.

It’s important to also give them space and time so they can assess the situation before deciding whether they want to engage with you.

Continue to closely watch the dog’s body language for any signs of discomfort, such as a stiff posture or excessive panting.

If you notice that the dog is showing fear and aggression, do not approach them head-on, as this will only escalate matters.

Instead, move slowly and calmly around them while speaking in a gentle tone, as this will help build trust between you and the dog.

Take your time to note any changes in their body language so you are able to adjust your behavior accordingly.

Remember that dogs are sensitive and rely heavily on their instincts.

Therefore, if approached incorrectly, they may react negatively out of fear or defense mechanisms which could lead to injury both for yourself and your dog.

Get Down on the Dog’s Level

Dogs are vulnerable animals who can often be afraid of those who tower over them.

By getting down on a dog’s level, you’re showing them that you’re not a threat to them. So, if you need to build trust with a fearful dog and gain their confidence, make sure to get low.

Now, when I say “get low,” I don’t mean crouching down in a way that is aggressive or overbearing. You want to approach the dog in a calm and gentle manner.

scared dog low down in the bushes

Avoid sudden movements or approach too quickly, as it may make the dog scared even more.

Instead, take your time and move slowly so they have time to adjust to your presence.

Another reason why getting down on the dog’s level is important is because it allows you to read their body language better.

When you’re at eye level with a dog, it’s easier to interpret what they’re feeling and how they might react to your presence.

This will help you understand whether or not they’re comfortable around you and what things might cause them anxiety.  

Adopt a Non-Threatening Sideways Stance

When approaching a scared dog, one of the most crucial things you can do is turn sideways.

This may sound like an odd approach, but it’s incredibly helpful in making the dog feel less threatened and more comfortable.

Turning your body to the side makes your profile appear smaller to the dog, which will make the dog less likely to view you as a threat.

When dogs feel threatened or scared, they tend to react defensively by barking, growling, snarling, or even biting.

Turning sideways can help disarm this reaction because it makes you appear less confrontational and aggressive.

When you approach a scared dog, one must try to be as calm and non-threatening as possible. It’s important to keep in mind that dogs have evolved over thousands of years with instincts that protect them from danger.

Approaching them head-on can trigger these instincts and make them more likely to react defensively.

Turning sideways also allows you to observe their body language more easily. This includes tail wagging or lack thereof; ears forward or back; fur standing up or lying flat; panting or not breathing at all.

Do Not Make Direct Eye Contact

When approaching a scared dog, it’s important to also consider that your body language and eye contact can potentially make or break the situation.

One of the most crucial things to keep in mind is to avert your gaze when approaching a timid dog.

Eye contact can be seen as an aggressive behavior by dogs, especially those who are fearful or anxious.

Looking directly at them can trigger their fight or flight response and make them feel threatened.

By averting your gaze, you’re showing the dog that you’re not a threat and that you mean no harm.

Of course, it’s not just about avoiding eye contact with the dog – you also need to avoid any sudden movements or loud noises that might startle them.

Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to averting your gaze is not staring intensely at the ground either.

While looking at the ground may seem like a harmless way to avoid eye contact with a shy dog, it can actually communicate anxiety or fear on our part, which could make things worse.

Instead of looking down constantly while trying to approach an anxious dog, try looking off into the distance instead.

Use a High-Pitched Tone of Voice

Ah, the power of the voice. It’s amazing how a simple change in tone can make all the difference between a scared dog and a calm one.

Speaking in a high-pitched voice can work wonders for approaching a scared dog. The sound of your voice can convey your intentions and emotions to the dog even before you lay a hand on them.

When we speak in a high-pitched voice, it signals to the dog that we are not aggressive or threatening. Dogs instinctively know that high-pitched tones are associated with playfulness and friendliness.

You want to find that sweet spot where your pitch is slightly higher than your normal speaking voice but still sounds natural. It’s worth noting that some dogs may react differently to high-pitched tones depending on their breed or individual experiences.

Certain breeds, such as German Shepherds, respond better to deeper voices because they associate them with authority and protection.

If you’re unsure about how your voice is being received by the dog, pay attention to their body language as you speak.

Are they slowly starting to relax? Are they wagging their tail?

If so, keep up what you’re doing! But if they seem more anxious or fearful than before, it might be time to try a different approach.

Overall, though, speaking in a high-pitched voice is one of the easiest and most effective ways of approaching a scared dog.

It may take some practice and experimentation with different tones before finding what works best for each individual dog, but once mastered, it will help to smooth over these difficult situations.

Keep The Talking to A Minimum

Talking less is one of the most important things you can do when approaching a scared dog.

In fact, it might be the most important thing. Dogs can pick up on our body language and tone of voice, so if you’re speaking in a low, authoritative voice, it can make them more fearful.

As mentioned earlier, if you’re speaking in a high-pitched, friendly tone of voice, it can help to calm them down.

However, when approaching a shy or scared dog, try to keep your talking to a minimum.

Never Punish a Scared Dog

Let me start by saying that it is absolutely unacceptable to punish a fearful dog.

No matter what the circumstance, using physical or verbal punishment to try and force a scared dog to behave the way you want them to is not only cruel but completely counterproductive.

Punishment will not teach a dog about courage or eliminate their fear; it will only make them more fearful and mistrusting of people.

Punishing a scared dog can have severe consequences, including increased anxiety, aggression, and even the development of phobias.

It’s important to understand that fear is an emotion, and punishing an animal for experiencing an emotion will only serve to make things worse for both you and the dog.

Don’t Pressure the Dog, Wait Until they Approach You

The Wrong Way

If you try to force a scared dog to interact with you or let you pet them, it’s likely that the animal will feel threatened and defensive.

The dog may growl, bark, snap or even bite in an attempt to protect itself.

It’s important not only for your own safety but also for the dog’s well-being that you avoid forcing anything on a scared dog.

The Right Way

Instead of forcing things like trying to pet an anxious dog or get them out of their hiding spot, let the animal come to you at their own pace.

This means giving the dog ample space and time to get comfortable around you without any pressure from your side.

This might take some time – especially if the dog is particularly fearful or anxious – but it’s worth being persistent.

Try sitting down calmly and quietly somewhere nearby where they can see you without feeling threatened.

Once the dog starts approaching you, avoid making any sudden movements or loud noises that could scare them off again.

Keep your body language relaxed and open, and speak in gentle tones so that they feel comfortable around you.

Remember: approaching a scared dog can take time and patience.

But by giving them space and allowing them to come towards you on their own terms, you’ll build trust with them much faster than if you try to force things.

So be patient, stay calm, and let the scared dog approach you when they’re ready!

How to comfort a scared dog

Maintain a Positive Attitude

In the event that you approach a scared dog, one of the most important things you can do is stay positive.

This may seem obvious to some, but it’s surprising how many people approach fearful dogs with a negative attitude or energy.

Dogs are incredibly intuitive creatures and can pick up on our emotions and feelings, so it’s critical that we approach them with positivity and kindness.

Try not to get frustrated if things don’t go as planned right away; remember that every interaction with a fearful animal is an opportunity for growth and learning.

Practice Positive Reinforcement with the Anxious Dog

When it comes to fearful dogs, positive reinforcement is an absolute must.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the term, positive reinforcement involves rewarding good behavior in order to encourage its continuation.

It’s simple, really: if a dog does something good, you give them a treat or praise them. If they do something bad, you don’t reward them.

Reward Your Dog With A Treat

Now, some people might argue that using treats and praise is coddling the dog and making them soft. That couldn’t be further from the truth!

Effective Solution

Positive reinforcement is one of the most effective ways to train a dog of any age or breed.

Dogs respond best to praise and rewards because it incentivizes them to keep doing what they’re doing.

Now, let’s talk about how this applies specifically to fearful dogs.

Approach A Scared Dog / Wait For A Scared Dog To Approach You

When approaching a scared dog, positive reinforcement can be incredibly helpful in building trust between you and the animal.

If a scared dog chooses to approach you out of curiosity or because they’re feeling more comfortable around you, reward that behavior with a treat or verbal praise.

This will help reinforce in their mind that being around humans isn’t always scary.

Of course, positive reinforcement won’t fix everything overnight. Fearful dogs need time and patience in order to overcome their anxiety.

But by using positive reinforcement consistently over time, you can slowly build trust with the animal until they feel comfortable enough to approach without fear.


Additionally, one important thing to remember when using positive reinforcement is that timing is crucial!

You want to make sure that the treat or praise comes immediately after the desired behavior so that your pet understands exactly what they’re being rewarded for.

Final Thoughts

Approaching a scared dog requires empathy, understanding, and a mindful approach.

To make them feel more at ease, maintain distance, stay low, and avoid direct eye contact.

Adopting a non-threatening sideways stance, speaking in a high-pitched, friendly tone, and using positive reinforcement with treats and praise can help build trust.

Scared dog Hiding

Patience is key, allowing the dog to approach on their own terms while respecting their boundaries.

Remember, punishment is never acceptable and can worsen their fear.

By fostering a positive attitude and creating a safe environment, we can make a profound difference in the lives of our vulnerable pets, helping them overcome their fears and become confident, loving companions.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a dog stay scared?

Dogs can grow out of fear with proper training, socialization, and time, but each dog is unique. The process may be quick or gradual.

How long does a dog stay scared?

A dog’s fear can last from minutes to an indefinite period. It varies greatly, depending on the cause and the individual dog’s temperament.

Are scared dogs aggressive?

Not all scared dogs become aggressive. However, fear can sometimes cause defensive aggression if the dog feels cornered or threatened.

Should you ignore a scared dog?

You shouldn’t ignore a scared dog. Ignoring can intensify their fear. Instead, provide calm, supportive presence without forcing interaction.

Is it OK to comfort a scared dog?

Yes, it’s okay to comfort a scared dog. Doing so can help them feel safe. But be careful not to coddle excessively, as this can inadvertently reinforce fearful behavior.


All information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace your veterinarian's advice.
Jen Smart

Jen is the founder of, a leading resource for managing and treating anxiety in dogs. With over a decade of experience in working with rescue dogs, Jen holds diplomas in Understanding Canine Anxiety, Canine Holistic Health & Therapy, CBD Oil for Animals, and Zoopharmacognosy. Her expert insights help dog owners navigate the challenges of anxiety with compassionate, innovative solutions. Follow Jen’s guidance at Anxious Canine for a calmer, happier dog.

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