How to Tell if a Dog is Scared?

Have you ever found yourself in a tough spot with your dog? Don’t know how to tell if a dog is scared? Are you afraid your dog might get aggressive suddenly out of fear? Do you feel insecure when other pets approach you? If so, this is for you.

As a dog owner for many years and having lived amongst dog owners, I know dogs have a lot of different personalities making them each and every one unique. However, just like we humans do, many dogs experience fear. However, since we don’t speak the same language, it may indeed be hard to notice what your dog is afraid of. The problem is that when a dog is scared and you don’t notice it, they can get aggressive quickly and things might derail…it also means that people and other pets might risk being bitten if you are unable to detect these common behaviours!

But no need to panic, we’ve been there too with our old pal Jaeger and we know exactly how to help you! Do you want to know how to tell if a dog is scared? To say it shortly, you must know some basic dog body language to spot fearful dogs. So let’s get started. Keep on reading to learn what are the basics in terms of dog body language this way you can detect when they’re scared. You’ll then be able to notice if a dog is fearful by catching their behaviour changes and signs. Finally, we’ll help you know how to calm down a scared dog. So, let’s get started!

101 Dog Body Language: How to detect a fearful dog?

Nobody likes feeling scared. It’s a terrible feeling for not only humans but for dogs too. Especially since dogs can’t think straight when they are scared. Unfortunately, it might even result in dramatic situations where another pet, someone else or even themselves get hurt. The problem is that as time goes on, dogs might learn that growling and biting ends with a scary situation. This may be seen as a reward for being aggressive once they are frightened. Ultimately, interfering with their positive attitude lessons!

Dogs communicate just like we do but in a different language: they primarily use their body to do so! As you know, wagging their tail, showing their bared teeth or even asking for a tummy rub are the most common ways dogs communicate everyday. Yet, you must keep in mind that there are some more subtle ways dogs communicate with us and their own. As you can see in the picture, there are many signs of fear and anxiety in dogs. So, try and memorise some of these, they might be very useful to detect the first signs of fear and anxiousness on your dog while going out!

Nonetheless, there are also other subtle signs that are important to recognize when your dog is afraid but less well known.

Subtle signs a frightened dog may show:

Look at your dog’s eyes: are they more dilated? Well, if they are less white than usual it may be that they are tense, afraid or aroused. Don’t look at them directly since they may perceive it as an aggression though! Look at them with your eyes’ sides!

Are they avoiding your gaze? Well, they might be afraid of you (but it may also be a sign of respect depending on its posture)

Keep an eye on interrupted, fast panting and whining. When they are doing this with a frequent interruption is a reaction that signals that your dog is afraid. In opposition to steady panting, which is a sign of them being relaxed.

Yet, you have to remember that it is important not to concentrate only on one sign or specific parts. You can use all of your dog’s body language to see if they are fearful. Usually experts pay attention to dog’s ears and people believe that assessing their dog’s face is more useful to perceive when dogs are afraid.

Consider the context: dogs may be afraid of certain situations

Indeed, you might be surprised to learn that some occasions might make your dog apprehensive! Some situations where you can be quite certain that they are nervous is while going to the veterinarian for instance.

Just like when we go to the doctor or dentist! In fact, about 30% of dogs feel stressed during vet consultations, however pet parents aren’t always able to perceive it. Panting, licking, crying, yawning or having low ears are commonly detected signs of your dog feeling frightened.

Another quite standard circumstance is at the fireworks displays. Unfortunately, several people fail to notice that dogs are afraid of those. When I was a kid, during New Year’s Eve, one of our dogs even broke our door looking for us in order to feel assured!

During fireworks, signs commonly observed are trembling, seeking out people, barking and hiding. So keep an eye out on your dog during festive occasions, because they might be scared.

Additionally, people tend to miss dogs when they are nervous or fearful when they interact with small kids. Sadly, many confuse their doggo being calm and confident while in reality they are tensed up…sometimes people let their guard down or mistake some signs the dog is giving off and things may scale up. So keep these in mind next time a kid is playing with dogs, specially unknown ones!

As foretold, it is important to memorise how dogs communicate through their body. They certainly aren’t looking for trouble or doing it on purpose; they are just stressed and scared. However, if you have a very aggressive dog, try going to the behaviourist and the vet, they’ll be your best friends.

How can you help calm your frightened dog?

Just like we do, you should ensure that some of your dog’s fear won’t go away. Yet, this doesn’t mean that you can’t help your dog feel better. If you go to the vet, he may subscribe to drug therapy to relieve them a bit. But that alone won’t cure it all.

By observing what is happening every time your dog is afraid, you can help them avoid them. You might even help them learn newer and more positive associations. For example, to reduce our dog stress while going to the vet, we taught him that going there meant petting and treats, rather than pain, weird smells and scary needles. Moreover, writing down what your dog is afraid of might make you notice a certain pattern, facilitating your task in helping your dog feel at ease.

As the wonderful pet parent you are, you should know that you can indeed help your old pal out. There are quite a few things you can do to avoid dogs being fearful against you, others, and some circumstances.

Tips to calm fearful dogs

Avoid strong eye contact since in their language; it’s a dominant-dog behaviour. Thus, they can be intimated. You should instead glance away while petting shy dogs and even pretend to yawn! This will tell them that you mean no harm since it’s a soothing signal in dogs.

Scared dogs might be apprehensive about being pet, especially if they have been abused in the past. Thus, you should abstain from petting them directly on their heads and rather concentrate on their ears and chest.

If you’ve noticed a dog’s fear triggers, allow them some space from it. For example, if you perceive that your dog doesn’t like it when people have hats on, next time you invite friends over, ask them to not wear them to avoid any complications. Certainly, not all are that easy to avoid. But by avoiding some, your dog will learn to trust furthermore and training them afterwards will be simpler.

Teach them a specific behaviour to help your dog cope with their fears. When they see a known trigger you can teach him to sit or to look at you. Moreover, you should also try to gradually expose your loving doggo to new environments.


It is important to use positive attitudes and show them how brave they are. Little by little they’ll gain confidence all while deepening your relationship. Now that you’ve learned the basics in dog body language and how to tell if a dog is scared, you’ll be able to prevent various unwanted situations and help them through it.

Remember to keep treats with you at all times when you are with your dog. You may even try to have a specific treat for a specific trigger. There are also some objects that proved to be efficient in reducing fear and anxiety, making them more comfortable. For example, our Soothing Donut Plush Bed remembers their mother fur, giving them a sense of security and ease while decreasing their overall apprehension!

Keep in mind that if you have a fearful dog that is aggressive too, don’t hesitate to contact a behaviourist and the vet. They’ll be able to help you in reducing those kinds of undesired behaviours since they need to socialise nonetheless.

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