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Common Dog Fears and Phobias

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Witsend Dog phobias

Many dogs suffer from fears and phobias which can be due to a variety of causes such as lack of early socialisation or a negative experience in the past. Here we discuss what the signs of fear are in dogs and what the common dog phobias are.

Signs of fear

There are often some obvious signs of fear in dogs. They can range from trembling, drooling, whining, excessive barking and cowering to more severe signs such as destructive behaviour and even aggression. Dog owners should try and figure out what the cause of the stress is first and then try and tackle the phobia.

Fear vs Phobia

There is also an important difference between fear and phobia that dog owners need to be aware of. Whilst some dogs may occasionally show fear, it is the repeated extreme behaviour during certain circumstances that can transform this fear into a full-blown phobia. Fear is a natural behaviour and isn’t something that should be entirely discouraged as it is a defence mechanism. Fear is something wolves and canines throughout history have had to rely on to survive. It is when this fear becomes extreme and frequent that it needs addressing as the behaviour the dog shows can end up being dangerous to both the dog and the owners.

Whilst fear is natural, phobias tend to form due to previous events and specific circumstances.


Astraphobia is the official name for fear of thunder and it is particularly common in dogs. However, the degree of fear can range from mild to extreme depending on the dog in question. Whilst some dogs may tremble slightly or lower their ears, others may have a more severe phobia and that can lead them to lose bladder control or hide. Whilst some dogs can slowly become used to thunder through management techniques, others with severe phobias may need to be treated with anti-anxiety medications. Visit your vet to determine whether your dog’s phobia is severe enough for this option.


Fireworks, like thunder, can cause a lot of dogs to be afraid due to loud and unpredictable noises. Fireworks can often lead to dogs trembling with fear. If the dog is on a walk and off their lead, the sudden noise can even cause them to run away which of course can lead to them getting lost. Although firework displays are not always planned due to people letting them off unexpectedly in their gardens, try and avoid key dates where fireworks are expected such as Bonfire Night or New Year’s Eve. On these dates, take your dog for an extra-long walk during the day and keep them indoors when night falls before the displays start.

Separation Anxiety

With some dog owners being out of the house during the day, many dogs can fear being left alone. This separation anxiety can lead to destructive behaviour and excessive barking. The separation anxiety can be even worse if the dog is usually used to their owner being at home and this suddenly changes. To help them overcome this fear, dog owners should try and change their routine slightly. Leave through a different door to not make it as obvious that you are leaving the house. Dog owners can also consider using a crate to help reduce the damage to the house and also provide a safe space for the dog to stay.

Fear of Vets

Although vets are there to help our pets, the animals tend to associate vets with a negative experience and this can cause fear. A dog’s first trip to the vet often involves being restrained, seeing other animals, being handled in new ways and being surrounded by different smells. Try bringing your dog to the vet for a social visit as opposed to an appointment. Alternatively, take them with you if you need to pick up any medication or food from the vets. This can slowly ensure the dog doesn’t always associate the vets with something negative. Offer lots of praise and treats to your dog whilst at the vet as well to help them stay calm and happy.

Fear of strangers

Some dogs develop a fear of strangers and this is possibly due to a negative experience in the past. Therefore, it is common to see this phobia in rescue dogs and those who have suffered abusive behaviour before.

Fear of car rides

Cars are large, noisy and travel fast. In addition to this, they can cause motion sickness, so it is no wonder the fear of cars is common in dogs. It can initially be difficult to identify whether they are suffering from car sickness alone or a full-on phobia, so both issues may need to be addressed simultaneously. Try and ensure your dog is restrained in a forward-facing seat and open the window a tiny bit for access to a fresh breeze.

Fear of other dogs

Whilst a lot of dogs are sociable, some can have a strong fear of other dogs. This phobia is often connected to the pet’s previous level of social interaction and exposure to other dogs in the past. Dog socialisation is important for their development. If your dog is frightened of other dogs you should visit a dog training specialist who can who slowly get them used to other dogs.

Coping with a fearful dog

Living with a fearful dog can be stressful and even frustrating for the owners, especially if they are unsure of what is causing the behaviour. Once the cause is determined, treating a phobia takes patience as it can take some time. We understand patience may be tough when the behaviour may involve destruction or excessive howling, however, consistency is key and over time an improvement should be achievable. Phobias may worsen over time so you should consult a dog behaviour specialist as soon as possible to organise some behavioural treatment. Sometimes retraining both the dog and dog owner can help create new behaviour patterns that can help the dog cope with their fear.

Although there is some basic obedience training available, if your dog has severe phobias, they should be treated on a one to one basis or with small groups for better results that are specifically tailored to your dog.

Planning ahead is also essential. As most phobias are predictable, you can have some control over how you deal with
the situation, for example, checking the weather forecast for storms and ensuring you have a plan in place for bonfire night.

Medication may also be available if your dog has severe fear. You should always consult your vet before administering any medication and this should only be a last resort and for the most drastic cases.

As you can see many phobias are common for dogs and although these phobias and fears may cause destructive behaviour, the important thing is for dog owners to remain as calm as possible and not punish the dog. The first step is to identify what is causing the phobia and then take the necessary steps to help lessen your dog’s fear. From playing calming music to changing your routines or going to specific dog behaviour training classes, there are many ways to help make your dog feel less scared in certain situations.

Dr Shahad Mohammed
Veterinary Physiotherapist
National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists
Dr Shahad Mohammed