Do Dogs Get Scared, and What Scares Them?

August 4, 2010

By Linda Cole

We think of our dogs as being fearless in their protection of us if an intruder were to ever enter our homes. Most dogs will protect their property, but dogs are like us when it comes to things they’re afraid of. Dog behavior can be hard to figure out, but we can understand when dogs get scared, even though we don’t know why some things scare them.

Thunder is a sound a lot of dogs and cats are scared of. I know a big boom certainly gets my attention. A normally happy dog can show different levels of dog aggression when they become nervous because of loud, sudden sounds. Some dogs have issues with separation anxiety or they may be afraid of another dog in the home or even a neighbor’s dog. And sometimes the big bad scary thing is a cat that intimidates the dog.

Dogs get scared by things that are unfamiliar or confusing to them. Wild animals that wander into their yard can make a dog nervous. I’ve always enjoyed sitting outside at night with my dogs in their dog pen. One night about ten years ago, we had an expected visitor who scared all of my dogs so much it gave me goose bumps, and still does to this day. We were sitting outside on a beautiful night with the moon shining down on the freshly fallen snow. The town clock had chimed midnight and all was quiet. The dogs were wandering around the pen when suddenly they all huddled around me. None of them uttered a sound. I didn’t think anything of it until I saw what scared them – a coyote had quietly stolen up on the other side of the pen and was watching us. He was a beautiful animal, but I quickly decided it was time to go inside. I still sit outside at night with my dogs, but I always bring a good flashlight and pay attention if they huddle around me suddenly.

Dogs get scared by all kinds of things we take for granted. Last winter a dog was found wandering around the parking lot of a local restaurant. When the manager couldn’t find her owner, he asked if we’d take her. She’d apparently been lost for quite awhile and was extremely skinny. She’s doing fine weight wise, but this dog is scared of going up and down stairs and going outside at night. When we started turning on the ceiling fan in the living room and kitchen, she’d sit in a corner never taking her eyes off that spinning monster above her. She doesn’t like thunderstorms, sudden movements, loud noises, flashlights or all the little noises cats and animals make outside as they roam around in the dark. A breaking stick can send her tearing back inside with her tail between her legs. We can only guess what she went through as a lost dog. She is making good progress though, one scary thing at a time.

It can be challenging when dogs get scared. Some can become aggressive or develop behavioral problems related to whatever it is that scares them. Most dogs are happy, carefree pets who eagerly wait for us to return home and take them out for a game of catch or a walk. But we all have things that scare us, even though we may not admit it. If something scares a dog, they do remember it. I know the dogs I had at the time of our brief encounter with the coyote remembered the smell that scared them enough to huddle beside me. I don’t know if I was supposed to protect them or if they were trying to protect me.

Dogs get scared of the vacuum cleaner roaring across the living room carpet, snakes hidden in tall grass, a trip to the vet, and getting their toenails clipped. Some dogs get scared riding in a car, being yelled at, and being around unfamiliar dogs or people. Fear is a normal response to something that isn’t understood and there’s a difference between a fearful dog and one who is scared by something that confused him and caused his reaction. However, dog aggression can result from both. For most dogs who get scared, once whatever it was that scared them is gone, they will return to normal.

Most of the time when dogs get scared, their fear will pass, but it’s up to us as responsible pet owners to recognize if it’s nothing to worry about or if it’s something we need to help them understand.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Pet Foods.

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  1. Carolyn Franks says:

    I have a blue heeler and we were out at our land and it had gotten dark and my dog he came in and walked to the corner and would not move and so I went out to the truck and he followed me and wanted to get in the truck and we were not even leaving,I was thinking he felt secure in the truck and would not come out then I got him out finally and he was standing in the dark staring in the dark something was out there. This gave me and my guy the creeps we shut the door and we all stayed in doors until he was finished working

  2. Harley says:

    I fell and my support dog ran off instead of coming to see if I was okay.

  3. Sadeema Akhtar says:

    Is it bad to scare or make them bark at night?

  4. Lola says:

    My dog was next to me in bed. All of a sudden srarted shaking, jump of the bed and went underneath the bed. She is my 12 years old therepy dog.also a Dashound Mix.

  5. Taylor says:

    Add some more details instead of just about thunder

  6. Wanda says:

    Something scared my outside dog (doberman) so bad that it would not bark, what could it have been?

  7. Elijah Smith says:

    my dog isnt scared of anything but if he gets hurt.

    1. Manijeh says:

      My 8.5 years malaise being going with me every day to work since she was 7 weeks . Very well behave and good . All my costomer love her so much . She was always on her bed or in front of the shop outside on the footpath on the son enjoying the view . We had to do some renovations in the shop and since then she is scared to be in the shop and she run away I have to have her on lead all the time and she doesn’t like that she won’t rest at all no sleep no rest all try to go out .
      What can I do please help me

      1. Sadeema Akhtar says:

        I feel so sorry for your dog!!!!.
        Good luck with your dog!!!!

  8. Yume says:

    My 8-year-old min pin was outside the other night when my bigger dog barked and he came in running straight for me all wet and tarrified. He looked like something got his head inside its mouth and wouldn’t let me look at it and wouldn’t let me look at it. He wouldn’t even let me put him down, even now at night he will lay at my feet or on my lap. I don’t know what could have caused it any idea’s?

  9. Ai says:

    This Halloween my little chihuahua pug mix got scared of the trick or treaters that came at our front door. He was greeting them fine but all of a sudden he didnt move and looked scrared, I picked him up and removed his costume and found his front legs are bend and didnt move and he was shaking a little and breathing oddly ,I though he was having a seizure. I was panicking but I cuddled him far from the visitors , until he calmed down and placed him under his blanket.

    Also at the doggie park, a Goodyear blimp would fly by and he gets scared of the noise, He would run back and forth and try to get off the gate

  10. Teresita says:

    Hello! I have a beautiful, outgoing, as his breed, husky, who I walk everyday, and at least once a day around our circle, drive in the neighborhood, but just recently, he gets terrified when passing by a house, which used to make curious about its small, made of stones decoration road towards the sidewalk, the worst things, is that as soon as we get to that area he stops for two seconds, one towards the house from the sidewalk, and then looks up, terrified, take between legs, ears back, and runs to the other side of the house, and even though he keeps walking, doesn’t stop looking back, until we get home, like if someone was behind us. I’m getting scared too, help!!

    1. Marty says:

      It is very possible that some wild animal who came from that area could bit him or something. I have similar problem with my Labrador Retriever, once when we were going for a walk, he saw a cat behind my neighbor’s fence and even when there is no cat in there when he passes that fence he growls and barks at it.

  11. Reema Das says:

    Hey friends … today i was doing my work and unexpectedly my one and half year old dog he came besides me … and sat next to me .. he was scared of something but i am still not able to make out what it would be … friends please help me with this … i dnt understand y he is terrified and of what since three days this is been happening …

  12. Anonymous says:

    My dog gets scares and will jump at the sound of any moving furniture or box that is close to him. He’s also scared of the maintenance guys at my apartment since he hit his nose on one of their knees while jumping and greeting his favorite guy – it’s sad he’ll not approach them anymore since they are so nice to him! It’s also goes to show how well they remember – he was only 3/4 mos at the time the incident occurred.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I arrived home from work yesterday evening and my 2 year old dog was terrified, something had happened to her in the day and I cannot figure out what it was, the other 2 dogs are fine . She was trembling and did’nt even want to greet me at the front door. She’s still not herself today !

  14. Anonymous says:

    Great article.

    1. Elijah Smith says:

      sort of