What to Do When Your Dog Is Afraid of Other Dogs?

16 September, 2020
Walking with a dog that gets frightened easily or becomes aggressive with other dogs can lead to tense situations. Follow these tips to properly address and manage this feeling in your pet.
 

A normal walk in the streets, a park, or the countryside can become a bad experience when your dog is afraid of other dogs or is aggressive towards others of its kind. There are many reasons for this, and bad memory or lack of proper socialization can cause your pet to be mistrustful. The stress that this situation causes the pet owner won’t improve if there’s contact between the dogs.

Dogs and fear

Fear is the result of a stimulus, which can be noise, a certain situation, or, in this case, an encounter with another dog. Obviously, for a social animal such as the dog, this kind of fear isn’t normal and can be a problem in daily activities such as a normal walk or a stroll.

However, the pet owner shouldn’t punish their pet for being afraid or force them to interact with other dogs. Especially if the dog shows clear signs that it doesn’t feel comfortable around them. In these cases, we strongly recommend that you consider seeking the help of a professional educator instead of trying to force any situation upon the animal.

Common signs of fear in dogs

Body language is very important for identifying the state the animal is currently in. If you pay attention to these signs, it’ll be much easier to prevent a negative situation.

Dogs have very extensive body language. Their facial expressions, body postures, and tail positions inform us very clearly about what they’re feeling.

A frightened dog usually has the following behavioral patterns:

 
  • Flattened ears or crouched backward
  • Muscle tension – the animal may even shake
  • Shrunken body
  • The tail goes down, sometimes between the legs
  • Barking and gasping
  • The dog tries to get away from what’s frightening it

When the fear becomes more aggravated, the animal can defecate, urinate, or even perform repetitive movements (stereotypy). This is the result of the stress the situation is causing the dog. In addition, it’s also common to see signs of calmness at these times.

A frightened small dog.
The facial muscles that characterize mammals allow pet owners to easily interpret the dog’s emotions.

Dogs afraid of other dogs: causes

Dogs that are afraid of other dogs often have a motivation behind this feeling, and the most common causes are:

  • Lack of proper socialization. The socialization phase is key for a puppy’s life as it will avoid suffering from phobias as an adult. This phase starts from the first three weeks of life and lasts until they are around three months of age. At that time, it’s essential to provide the puppy with as many stimuli as possible. As a result, it will learn about other dogs, what species are its friends, to be able to control its biting, and to communicate, among other things.
  • Traumatic experiences. Previous negative experiences with other dogs may be enough for the animal to be afraid of another of its kind. Especially if they happened when they were little.
 
  • Owner-reinforced behavior. Dogs easily recognize their owner’s emotions. If the owner is tense when their dog meets other dogs, then these emotions will be transferred to the dog. An example of this is when the pet owner tightens their grip on the leash.
Two dogs smelling each other.

What to do if my dog is afraid of other dogs?

Treating a dog that’s scared of other dogs is no easy task. You have to be aware that it will take time and effort. In addition, you can’t force the dog to interact with others against its will. However, you can help lessen your dog’s reactions when seeing other dogs in the street by following a series of guidelines:

  • Lower the tension. We recommend using a long leash for your dog. Around 9 feet long would be ideal. This will provide quieter walks for the animal without tension on the leash or strong pulls when crossing paths with another dog. In this way, it won’t relate walking to fear.
  • Practice habituation. Keep a considerable distance between your dog and the other dogs. It needs to be at a distance where the dog will feel comfortable enough to stay calm. However, as the owner, you’ll need to keep calm and always use positive reinforcement in these situations. In time, you can try making the distancing shorter and shorter and see how it goes.
 
  • Observe your pet frequently. It’s very important that you pay attention to the animal in order to know its limits and judge its progress. In addition, observing your surroundings is also important. In this way, you can spot dogs in the distance before they get too close to your pet.

In sum

With this kind of training, the fear of other dogs will start to go away. Your dog will gradually be able to start to meet and hang out with other quiet, sociable, and calm dogs. Did you find the guidelines useful? Have you applied any of them before?

 
  • Schönning, B. Guía práctica del comportamiento del perro. Barberádel Valles; Hispano Europea, 2011.
  • Barkyn. Mi perro tiene miedo a otros perros. ¿Qué hago?, 2019.
  • Schwartz, C. El comportamiento del perro. L’Hospitalet, EditorialHispano Europea, 2005.