Your pet is usually confident and assured, so why is your dog suddenly scared of something? Your dog might be worried all the time, or a specific issue is causing them to be frightened. While it’s normal for a dog to be startled when scared, these stressors should go away.
Whether your dog has started acting scared and clingy or even if they seem fearful of you, many different issues could be behind the problem. There are some common anxieties in dogs that can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Recognizing the other symptoms that go along with these fears can quickly enable you to identify and resolve the underlying cause.
It can be hard to watch your dog experience anxiety and stress, especially when you don’t understand why it is happening. Thankfully, there are almost always things you can do to keep your pet calm and overcome their fears. If these concerns have come on suddenly, you have a good chance of helping your dog to make a complete recovery.
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Why is My Dog Acting Paranoid All the Sudden?
This guide will cover common reasons for fear and anxiety in dogs. A one-time experience could trigger these, or it could be due to feelings of uncertainty.
Most fears in dogs are “learned behaviors,” just like teaching your dog to ‘sit’ or ‘stay.’ The good news is that concerns can be assuaged if you’re able to re-train your dog the right way.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most common fear triggers and what symptoms you should look for in your dog.
Why is My Dog Suddenly Scared of Something?
If there’s an object, area, or specific situation that your dog seems scared of all of a sudden, you might find yourself questioning why. These sudden fears are often referred to as phobias.
It’s very easy for a dog to remember a scary or traumatic event caused by an object, place, etc. For example, a dog won’t go outdoors for a walk because he or she was scared by a loud noise.
They can then develop a phobia of that thing for a long time. Common symptoms of a phobia include sudden anxious behavior or other signs of anxiety, like whining, shaking, etc.
Phobias are often linked with things like rain and thunderstorms, fireworks, or gunshots. Loud noises are a common culprit, and they can trigger your dog every time. Even something like a child’s toy that makes a loud unexpected noise can cause your dog to become fearful around it.
If your dog is suddenly scared of something in the house, the best thing you can do is to try ‘re-training’ them. Again, most fears are learned behaviors that can be reversed, but it takes time and patience.
If your dog seems scared of an object or situation that didn’t bother them before, a good practice is desensitizing them to it. Try to associate something positive with what scares them.
A particular object can be kept out so your dog can investigate it on their terms and on their own time. It may take a while, but they should realize that an object won’t hurt them.
As for things like thunder and fireworks, it can be a bit tricky. Some people have success masking these noises with things like ceiling fans, turning the television up, etc.
You can also buy products designed to comfort and calm your dog during storms or fireworks. A popular solution is a Thundershirt, which applies gentle pressure to help with your dog’s anxiety.
You might find that a dog won’t go upstairs anymore. This could be due to a fear of the stairs or negative experience in a room.
Illness or Pain in Dogs
Different illnesses or physical problems in dogs have a variety of signs and symptoms. Some illnesses can trigger sudden fear. How can you tell if it’s a physical pain that’s causing your dog to be scared all of a sudden? Well, it’s just that – it will usually be an unexpected problem.
Your usually-happy dog might flip a switch if they aren’t feeling well or if they’re in pain. Health and behavior are directly linked. If something is wrong on the inside, your dog will likely show it on the outside.
Symptoms of fear and anxiety in a dog who is struggling with a health concern can be quite broad. You might notice them looking started due to noises.
Or, they might seem more ‘grouchy’ toward you and people they’re generally friendly with. This is all normal and is an indicator that they aren’t feeling well, and aren’t acting like themselves.
An excellent way to check your dog’s overall health each day is to give them a quick examination. You can turn this into a fun personal time between the two of you.
Rub their belly while checking for any tender spots or lumps. Look into their mouth and check their gums for any sign of swelling or redness. Check their paws for redness and inflammation.
If they are injured, doing this regularly can help to keep the injury from getting worse. You can give your dog an exam while having them think they’re getting positive attention.
If you can’t find any outward health problems or injuries, a trip to the vet may be in order. If your dog’s personality has changed quickly and they seem fearful in general, and maybe even grumpy, you can expect that they don’t feel well.
The sooner you can get them the medical attention they need, the sooner they can get treatment and start back on the path to their usual, fun loving personality.
Why is My Dog Scared of People?
While all dogs have different personalities, it’s not uncommon for many pups to be playful, social, and curious. If your dog is scared of other people, you could have several different problems on your hands.
First, if this fear came on unexpectedly, it’s likely a situational thing. For example, someone may have accidentally hurt your dog. Or, your dog associates people with something negative or scary. If that person comes around, it could trigger the fear all over again.
If it’s bad enough, people, in general, might trigger that fear. If your dog is acting strange and hiding when people are around, they’ve likely been through something recently that gave them a bad overall impression of people.
Another possibility is that your dog hasn’t been adequately socialized, hence the reason your dog is aggressive towards strangers. Dogs need socialization from the time they’re puppies. This includes being introduced not only to other dogs but to different types of people, too. They should become familiar with the way people talk and different voices with different tones.
It’s standard practice for breeders and even rescue shelters not to release puppies to the public until they’re at least 14 weeks of age. But, that doesn’t mean the young dogs should be left alone during the formative weeks.
If they aren’t introduced to other dogs and people during that time, they could develop life-long trust issues. That could lead to a terrible fear around other animals and people.
If you have a grown dog who hasn’t been socialized, don’t worry. It’s a training process, and it can be done with dogs of any age. But, it can take some time, and you may not always get a ‘perfect’ result. With patience and effort, though, you should be able to help your dog get rid of some of their fear of people.
How to Socialize an Adult Dog
When your dog is acting scared and clingy around strangers, it’s vital to show them that those you interact with are friendly and not to be feared. Socializing your dog to be calm and not anxious around other people (and animals) can make for a better life.
Keep these tips in mind to make the training process easier:
- Take your dog to public places frequently. One of the best ways to do this is with a daily walk. They’ll undoubtedly see many other dogs and all types of people. It might be scary for them for a while, but most will calm down after a few blocks when they notice nothing has hurt them. Keep them on a short leash during these walks and take many different routes, if possible.
- Allow your dog to interact with all different types of people. This includes children, seniors, men, women, etc. Mixing up the kind of people your dog is around will eventually help them to realize people will be friendly to them. This will also help them from forming a bond with just certain people while still being fearful of others.
- Dogs respond well to encouragement and rewards. Keep treats with you during this training process and reward your dog with a yummy snack for good behavior. A positive association can be a great way to assuage their fears quickly.
Not only is essential for your dog to learn they shouldn’t be scared, but you should also tell the people around your dog to behave a certain way, too.
The dog should always be able to see people’s hands if they’re going to be touched. Ask people not to yell or talk loudly until your dog becomes comfortable again.
If these tips don’t work, you might find success in taking your dog to a training class. They’ll be able to work one-on-one with you and your dog to socialize them properly at any age.
How to Handle Separation Anxiety in Dogs
The primary sources of fear in dogs is separation anxiety. Your dog might be extremely clingy toward you whenever you’re around, or they might not seem to care much. Either type of personality can experience separation anxiety when you’re gone.
Some of the symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs include:
- Excessive barking
- Pacing back and forth
- Chewing furniture
- Bathroom accidents
- Drooling and panting when not hot
Separation anxiety is your dog’s fear of being away from you. It could be triggered by the following:
- A new pet in the home
- The death of another pet in the home
- Long vacations and trips
- A change in surroundings
Sometimes, even boredom or genetics can attribute to separation anxiety. They might be thinking you’ll never return, or they may not know what to do without you around.
If you’ve ever come home to see your dog acting scared and panting, there’s a good chance they were anxious and frightened the whole time you were gone.
Separation anxiety isn’t hard to diagnose, even though some dogs can experience different symptoms than others. You know your dog’s personality, and it should be easy to tell if your absence is what’s bothering them.
If you put them in a particular area or room when you leave, they might even start to associate that with your absence. If your dog is suddenly scared of a room used to ‘crate’ them while you’re gone, it’s probably because they know that means you’re leaving.
How to Treat Separation Anxiety in Dogs
If your dog’s frantic behaviors while you’re gone have you concerned for their safety, mental health, or even the wellbeing of your furniture, don’t worry.
Separation anxiety can often be managed and even ‘treated’ with different techniques. Use these tips to help your dog calm down when you leave.
By remaining consistent with solutions like these, you can help to get rid of your dog’s fear and anxiety while you’re gone:
- Change your ‘leaving’ routine: Try going out of a different door or put your keys and shoes in a different spot. If you have the same routine every time you leave the house, your dog will associate those actions with your departure. So, change up those actions and reduce the impact of that trigger. If you can, give yourself 15 minutes before you leave to play with your dog, or try to tire them out.
- Don’t make a scene: Some people think saying long goodbyes to their pet can help to keep them calm when you’re leaving. This isn’t necessarily true. Overzealous goodbyes and hellos can make the problem worse. Again, these let your dog know that you’re leaving, which can trigger them into a panic mode. It’s okay to say a soft ‘goodbye’ to your dog, but never get them excited before you leave. When you come home, keep your greetings calm, too.
- Training your dog: You can train your dog to be alone comfortably while you’re not in the house. You can do this by keeping them in a designated room alone while you go to a different area. Leave them in there for a few seconds, before opening the door and letting them out (and letting them know you’re there). You can build up this time throughout several weeks, increasing it to 20-30 minutes, and longer as needed. The idea is that your dog knows you will always come back.
- Soothe them with sounds: Leaving a television on quietly or soft music playing can help to keep their dog calm while you’re away. The sounds can even make your dog think someone is still with them in the house, which can ease their anxiety.
Why is My Dog Suddenly Scared at Night?
Does your dog seem afraid of the dark? Some dogs might develop a sudden fear and restlessness at night. This kind of concern could be the result of many different factors.
One of the most probable causes is aging. Aging can affect your dog’s personality and behavioral changes. For example, they might start to fear things that never bothered them before.
Aging changes a lot of things for dogs, and that can include their sleep cycles and how easy it is for them to fall asleep. It can also affect their vision, which could make it harder to see at night. As you might imagine, that would be frightening for anyone.
If you have an older dog, you might start to notice other behavioral changes aside from being fearful at night. Older dogs can also develop Canine Dysfunction Syndrome.
This is almost like Alzheimer’s Disease in humans. It can cause them to be confused and disoriented, and also comes with a lot of physical issues.
If you’re worried that your dog’s sudden fear of the night is being brought on by their old age, there are a few things you can do. First, try to make them as comfortable as possible. If they sleep in a particular area of the house, make sure that the area feels ‘full.’
You shouldn’t leave them in a big open space, as that can be even more frightening. If they have a few favorite toys, leave those with your pooch at night to give them some familiarity.
You can also leave the TV on with the volume low throughout the night to give your old dog some comfort and reduce their fear. As long as they know they’re safe and not alone, most of these nighttime fears can be managed in senior dogs.
What if My Dog is Suddenly Scared of Me?
For many people, their dog is their best friend. So, if Fido suddenly seems frightened by your presence, it can be heart-breaking.
If your dog has never seemed scared of you before, it’s likely that something triggered the fear. It could be you tripping over your dog or accidentally stepping on their tail, foot, etc.
If your dog had a previous owner, keep in mind that they could easily still have associations from their past that can be triggered. Certain words, a tone of voice, or action might bring back memories that will make your dog cower away from you.
But, like most other behaviors, this one can be re-trained. You don’t want your pet to be scared of your presence, so ensure them there’s nothing to be scared of. Talk in a calm, happy voice whenever you’re around your pooch, and refrain from yelling.
If your dog is fearful, try to carry on as you usually would and act like the fear isn’t a big deal. This can be hard for you to do if you see your dog struggling, but the less of a big deal you make of it, the easier it will be for your dog to snap out of it, too.
Depending on what caused this kind of fear, it could take quite a while to get it reversed. That can be hard to hear since you want your pet to feel safe and comfortable around you. But, the best thing you can do is to be patient with them. If you stay calm, kind, and happy, your dog’s behaviors will eventually start to reflect your own.
We’ve known dogs to become scared of a specific carrier that’s used to take them to the vets. That could be due to what happens when they arrive or a particular type of pet carrier. Fortunately, there are pet carriers for nervous dogs that make the experience more comfortable.
As you can see, many different triggers and circumstances can lead to your dog being scared or anxious. Unfortunately, there are even more issues than the ones listed in this guide. But, these are some of the most likely factors that contribute to a dog suddenly acting scared.
Changing your dog’s fear of something into a positive association will make life much less stressful for both of you.