Lost Dog Search & Rescue


How to Approach a Shy or Fearful Dog

It's not hard to tell when a dog is afraid. Just read the body language - shivering, cowering, averting eyes, tail tucked between the legs. But did you know that your body language and demeanor is just as important when you are dealing with a fearful dog?

So what should you do when you encounter a lost dog or your own lost dog?


  • Sit down.
  • Turn your body so your back or side is to the dog.
  • Keep your eyes averted and bow your head so as to look non-threatening.
  • Toss tasty treats (hot dogs, chicken, smelly cheese, etc.) behind you or to the side of you.
  • Donít talk.
  • Wait patiently for the dog to approach you. Donít make any sudden movements, but continue to toss treats.
  • Donít grab the dog when they get close, but wait patiently and build trust.
  • Speak softly, but if they back away, stop talking and just continue to toss treats until they trust you enough to come closer.

The following tips will help prevent a dog bite from a fearful dog, and hopefully, help the dog to overcome his fear of you:

Don't Loom

A dog who is already anxious may get even more stressed if you stand facing him with your body looming over him. It's easy to imagine why a fearful dog would feel even more threatened when faced with confronting someone at least twice their size. Remember to think about your body language when you approach a frightened dog.

Get Down on the Dog's Level

A better way to approach a fearful dog is to get down on his level. Don't put yourself directly in his face, but keep in mind that you'll be less threatening if you're not towering above him. You can squat or sit down close to him. For extremely fearful dogs, you may even want to lie down a little distance away to begin making him more comfortable with your presence.

Turn Sideways

Turning with your side facing the dog, perhaps even leaning slightly away from the fearful dog, can also help. At first, this isn't a natural position for most people. For us, good manners usually dictate that we meet others face-to-face and make eye contact. For dogs, however, this sort of behavior is rude, and a fearful dog may perceive someone facing them head-on as a threat.

Avert Your Gaze

Again, while we consider it normal to make direct eye contact with other people, this is considered rude or aggressive to dogs. To make yourself less threatening to a frightened dog, don't make eye contact. Instead, turn your head slightly to the side and keep your eyes averted.

Watch Your Tone of Voice

Deep, low voices can be intimidating to a fearful dog. Try to talk to the dog in a higher pitched, happy tone of voice. Men may have a little trouble with this. If so, try just speaking more quietly. A quiet, reassuring tone of voice can go a long way in making a nervous dog more comfortable.

Never Punish

It may seem obvious, but it must be said. Never scold or punish a fearful dog. You will only succeed in making him more fearful. You may also put yourself in danger because as a dog's anxiety level rises, he becomes more likely to bite.

Don't Force Things

Give dogs a chance to become comfortable and approach the objects of their fear on their own. Never force the interactions. For instance, if a dog is afraid of men, don't hold his collar while a man approaches and pets him. This will only serve to increase the dog's fear, and makes it more likely someone will get bit if the dog feels the need to defend himself.

This doesn't mean that if your dog should be completely isolated from the objects of his fear. Rather, you need to slowly introduce your dog to those things without pushing him past his comfort level too quickly.

Stay Positive

Training can make a big difference in your shy or fearful dog's confidence level. Positive reinforcement dog training has the benefit of allowing you to open the lines of communication with your dog without pushing him beyond his comfort level. You can even start training without asking him to do anything.

Begin by simply offering him praise or gently tossing him a few treats any time he does something you like, such as walking towards an object or person he's afraid of. As a dog begins to better understand what you expect from him, and that he'll be rewarded for doing those things, he will begin to become more confident and offer those behaviors more frequently. If you keep things positive, and move slowly and steadily forward, you will be awarded with the trust of your shy dog.


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