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Fear is a normal response to some situations, but extreme fear, phobias or anxiety in dogs is a sign of behavior problems. Anxiety related behaviors can become aggressive quickly.

Veterinarians estimate that 50 percent of dogs suffer from some form of fear, anxiety, or phobia, while noise aversion and separation anxiety conditions are prevalent among dogs. These are serious medical issues that require consultation with your veterinarian to identify ways to alleviate stress in your pet.

Canines express or communicate fear in various ways. These dogs may show signs such as fear reactivity, hide, cower, bark, whine, howl, pace, or shake.

With excellent training and behavior modification one may expect to see dramatic improvements in the dog’s behavior, but should also expect to see relapses.

Most forms of management and treatment of dog fears and phobias will be done over the long-term, and could possibly span several years. It generally depends on the duration and intensity of the clinical signs of anxiety. Minimum treatment averages four to six months.

Keep in mind that prescription medications are not right for every pet and are typically implemented only as a last resort in severe instances.

Tips on Managing Fears and Phobias in Dogs

Visit Your Vet

Contacting a vet or vet behaviorist and reporting the behavior to your vet should be the first step. The vet will run blood tests and evaluate the dog for underlying medical issues that may be causing the behavior. Many illnesses can cause fear or aggressive responses, so it’s important to rule those out.


Socialization is the cornerstone to raising a dog that is comfortable with people and animals. Early, frequent, and pleasant encounters with people of all ages and types can help prevent fears later in life.

This exposure must begin before 3 months of age and continue throughout the first year. Exposure should be associated with readily consumed food treats offered to the dog, so the dog makes pleasant associations. Puppies who have had no or limited exposure to people prior to 14 weeks of age behave as if feral (wild).

Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning

Desensitization and counter-conditioning are most effective if the fear, phobia or anxiety is treated early. The goal is to decrease the reaction to a specific stimulus (such as being left alone).

Desensitization is the repeated, controlled exposure to the stimulus that usually causes a fearful or anxious response. It is done at such a low intensity that the dog does not respond with fear or anxiety.

Counter-conditioning is training the dog to perform a positive behavior in place of fear or anxiety.

Behavior Modifications

Behavior modification encompasses dog behavior and owner behavior, too. Owners often contribute unintentionally to their dog’s phobias, reinforcing undesirable behaviors or even instigating them. Retraining yourself and your dog to new behavior patterns takes time and patience, and is best done with the help of a veterinarian or veterinary specialist.

Basic obedience training builds confidence in fearful dogs. It is also a useful tool for redirecting undesirable behavior, like asking a dog to sit, stay, or touch during a potentially triggering situation

Exercise Your Dog

If your dog has separation anxiety, the obvious way to ease their mind is to never leave them alone. That is not a reality for most pet owners, so using exercise as both a bonding time and to tire out your pet is often an easy fix!

Because anxiety can cause an excess of energy, taking your dog out to play ball or on a long walk before you leave can be helpful. 

Music Therapy

Thanks to years of research, there is solid proof that specially-designed bioacoustic music has a calming effect on dogs that are exposed to it, which also calms fearful dogs in any situation, as well as dogs that have phobias to certain noises.

Music has a positive effect when played in environments or situations that a dog might find overwhelming. Places such as in a car, boarding facility, shelter, day-care or at the veterinarian.

Love and Affection

To our dogs, affection is a reward. By comforting a fearful dog, you are rewarding what it’s doing in that moment: being scared.

You cannot explain to a dog why it shouldn’t be scared, frightening thing won’t hurt it. They do not have the cognitive abilities to understand those concepts.

Dogs don’t need love when they’re fearful; they need leadership.


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