It’s not uncommon to have a shy or easily frightened dog, and it can be a source of sadness for pet owners. Whether your dog is fearful of strangers or everything or exhibits sudden fear without apparent reason, there are ways to provide support and comfort. As a pet owner, you can make a significant difference in helping your scared dog overcome their fears.

In this article, we’ll help you understand why your dog might be scared of things. We’ll go through some common things that many dogs are afraid of, why your dog might suddenly be scared of everything, and what signs to look for in a scared dog. We’ll also help you figure out how to make your dog feel safe and less scared – they’ll thank you for it, that’s for sure! 

Download the Zigzag app today to get your puppy training journey off to the best start you can have. You’ll have access to specific lessons on habituating to get them used to noises like thunderstorms, fireworks…and the dreaded hoover. We’ll also cover how to socialise them with people and other dogs to make their early life experiences as positive as possible. Hence, fears and phobias aren’t even under the radar.

In the app, you’ll also have access to a wonderful team of professional dog trainers who will be delighted to talk to you 24/7 about any worries, struggles or questions about your puppy. Just reach out to them via the phone or chat – they’ll pick up no matter what.

dog looking to the side
Photo by Michelle Tresemer on Unsplash

What makes my dog afraid of things?

Dogs can be afraid of things due to different reasons. It could be a lack of early socialisation, genetics, or prior negative experiences such as trauma, stress or pain. Puppy fear periods and sudden changes in a dog’s daily routine can also trigger them to be scared of everything.

Let’s take a look at why dogs can be scared:

Lack of socialisation

During a puppy’s socialisation period we expose to them all kinds of different people, animals, environments, and sounds to ensure they are well socialised. This period is when they are most receptive to having positive reactions to new experiences. You guessed it; this makes it the perfect time to wisely and gently introduce them to new things. When a dog misses out on early socialisation, they can become fearful of these new experiences, and it can take a lot of time and work to help them overcome their fear.

It’s kind of when you find out about taxes when you’re an adult. Would have been better to ease into them earlier.

A traumatic experience

A traumatic experience doesn’t help anyone get less scared. For example, a bad grooming experience, being forcefully shut in a crate or left alone for too long, can make your dog afraid of these things and become more scared of being repeatedly exposed to them. Contrary to what many people think, dogs don’t get used to scary things by just being more exposed to them.


Pain or discomfort causes anxiety and confusion, which triggers a dog’s fight or flight response. Whether through injury, illness, dominance aversive-based training methods or by associating pain with certain experiences, they can all contribute to a dog feeling scared.

Fear periods

Often overlooked, fear periods are those times when your puppy is suddenly afraid of that carrier bag dancing down the street or a rubbish bin clattering. 

Fear periods are actually quite interesting and worth learning about; our article here will explain it all.

Changes in routine

Dogs thrive on routines and the dependability of knowing what will happen next. Therefore, sudden changes can cause fear and anxiety, causing your dog to become easily scared or worried. If you have a rescue dog, you’ll notice that being in a new home will often be scary as everything has changed for them, and it takes time for them to adjust.


Genetics can also play a role in the development of a dog’s anxiety and fear. Some breeds are predisposed to being slightly more fearful or cautious due to their genetic makeup, like Chihuahuas or German Shepherds, for example. On top of that, certain lines within breeds can be more likely to be naturally more fearful. 

As you see, just like with humans, dogs carry (emotional) baggage. It doesn’t make them less lovable, though.

dog lying down
Photo by Dominik QN on Unsplash

Common things that dogs are scared of

There are common things that dogs, puppies and rescue dogs are typically afraid of. In general, these are things that jump up without warning, they are loud or erratic. 

Fear is a response to something which might harm them and is an important means of survival, so when acting upon it, they’re just doing what comes naturally. So at the end of the day, we could say kudos to them.

Loud noises

Dogs have sensitive hearing and are often scared of loud noises because it activates their startle response.  

A common fear in dogs is fireworks, but other loud noises they can be scared of are thunderstorms, gunshots, and even cars backfiring. Quite frankly, gunshots should startle everybody.


Children can be scary for dogs, they are unpredictable, smell funny, often have sticky fingers and can move in strange ways. Dogs who are not socialised to babies and children from a young age, or who have had a negative experience where a child has been allowed to over-handle or pick them up, can make them scared of them. 

We don’t have anything against children, by the way. But everybody knows they can be a lot sometimes. Just ask your mother.

Other dogs

Other dogs can scare your dog if they’ve had limited or negative experiences with them in their socialisation period. This fear can also extend to being scared of dogs who look very different to them. For example, wolf-shaped dogs like German Shepherds to brachycephalic (fancy word for flat-faced) dogs may seem rather scary. It works the other way around too!

The body language of different dogs can also seem scary. Some breeds are more likely to stare or hold their tail up in a way that can seem threatening to your dog.

Strangers or people who look different

Dogs like familiarity, and it’s for this reason that early socialisation with lots of different-looking people is important. People wearing hats, hi-viz jackets, bicycle helmets, or using a walking stick, can all seem very strange to a dog who has never experienced them before, so it’s important you help them through it.

New environments and surfaces

It’s quite natural for a dog to be cautious in a new environment. When they’re young, you can introduce them to new surfaces, like shiny floors, grass and tiles shiny floors and help them feel less scared in case they’re slippery or rough.

Separation and being alone

It’s no surprise that most dogs don’t like to be alone. They are social creatures, after all, and as puppies are almost programmed to want to be with people as we make them feel safe. Rescue dogs in particular, have had a lot of changes and can also struggle with separation.

We love our dogs and want them to feel as happy as they can be, so we recommend our articles on teaching your puppy to be home alone and separation anxiety in dogs.

dog cuddling up to owner
Photo by Razvan Sassu on Unsplash

Why is my dog scared of everything all of a sudden?

There could be several reasons why your dog is suddenly afraid of things. This can be due to medical issues (hormone, pain, or injury), developmental issues (in the case of puppy fear periods), or because the problem is brewing inside, and they’ve become sensitised through repeated exposure.

Dogs communicate with their body language. This can be subtle or very obvious, depending on the dog’s personality and the severity of their fear. 

Here are some signs to look out for if you think your dog might be suddenly scared of something:

  • Cowering or slinking away, a low body posture where your dog might be making themselves small, including tucking their tail underneath them
  • Escaping or avoiding something – running away from the threat, trying to escape from danger 
  • ‘Whale eye’ or showing the whites of their eyes
  • An increase in breathing or panting
  • Drooling – A scared dog will often drool, for example when in travelling in a car
  • Dropping fur – For dogs who shed, they will often drop their coat when stressed
  • Hackles up – The actual name for this is ‘piloerection’, and as you might expect, it’s a sign that the dog is aroused. This can be due to fear but can also relate to excitement.
  • Whining, barking or howling – This might be barking AT something to make them go away, or barking, whining or howling as a self-soothing response to make themselves feel better, or get your attention.
  • Sneezing – Sneezing is often a stress signal in dogs

Our full guides to puppy body language and puppy behaviour: an overview will help you learn more about this.

How can I help my dog become less scared of everything?

A training plan is key to making your dog feel safe and confident when exposing them to new experiences and environments. Your training plan should involve management, positive reinforcement training with desensitisation and counter-conditioning. This might sound tricky, but our guides will help you through it.

Socialisation classes

Puppy socialisation classes are great for teaching your puppy that being in a strange place with strange things happening means wonderful things. Puppy classes have the advantage that everything is done in a managed way – some even offer off-lead puppy play, which is fantastic.

Read our guide to finding a good puppy socialisation class to learn more about them.

Positive reinforcement training

Using reward-based training methods gives dogs confidence and enhances their optimism. You know, ‘always look at the bright side of life’ kind of thing. Old-fashioned and aversive techniques that use punishments can make their fears get worse. They never work, so it’s better to stay away from them entirely. Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, teaches them what we want them to do, and strengthens the trust between you since they’ll know they won’t put them in scary situations.

If your dog is scared or has a phobia, you’ll need to do some desensitisation and counter-conditioning work to change how they feel. This is often best done with a professional dog trainer or behaviourist, so don’t hesitate to contact them if you need to.

Slow and calm introductions

If you have a dog who is hesitant or reluctant to go into an environment, don’t force them in. Let them take their time, be patient with yourself and reward them with treats for being brave. 

It will work differently if you’re introducing them to other pets they might run into, for which you’re welcome to read our full guides on how to introduce a puppy to a dog and how to introduce a puppy to a cat.

Alright. You’ve almost made it to the end of the article, so if there’s anything you should remember, here are a couple of summarised points: 

  • In general, dogs can be scared of various things due to little prior experience, or because the dog has formed a negative association with them. Puppies also go through several sensitive periods before they become adults, which can make them suddenly scared of things they weren’t of before.
  • Dogs communicate their feelings via their body language. When they are scared, this can include cowering, panting and drooling, or being aggressive to protect themselves. 
  • If your dog is afraid of everything, there are some things you can do to help them feel less fearful. Make sure they are safe and are not repeatedly exposed to the thing they are afraid of. Using careful management, as well as using positive reinforcement training, desensitisation, and counter-conditioning techniques to change how they feel, is key.
  • Our training games library will give you a heap of new things to do to make your walks and times with your dog fun and to help them build confidence.

Well done! Hope we haven’t scared you away from dealing with your puppy. We’re sure you’ll do just fine. To know much more, download a trial of the Zigzag puppy training app and teach your puppy to be confident and well-socialised from the start. We also have a team of professional dog trainers on hand seven days a week to discuss your worries. We’ll take a wild guess that you might have a few.