Bringing home a fearful dog

fearful dogs reactive dogs Mar 02, 2021
fearful dog

In our Fearful and Reactive Dog Support Community, many dog parents struggle with fearful dogs who don’t like to be touched, or even looked at.  These dogs need a level of care that even most lifelong “dog people” don’t know how to provide.  If you or someone you know is planning to bring home a fearful dog in the near future, or already have a dog like this, this week’s training is for them.


How can I help my fearful dog feel safer at home?

There are many ways to answer this question.  The setup of your home, how you interact with your dog, and your dog’s daily routine can all affect how often they are scared.  This week’s video covers the basics of setting up your dog’s safe space, and reducing the risk that your fearful dog might get loose.

To set up your dog’s safe space, here are some things to keep in mind. If you are lucky enough to be reading this before bringing your fearful dog home for the first time, you can set everything up ahead of time.  I show a few examples in this week’s video of safe spaces I’ve set up in my own home for fearful foster dogs.

1) Location. Select a location where your dog can stay full-time for a while if needed. That means, you don’t need to move your dog from that place, and all their needs can be met there. This will help you avoid forced interactions with your fearful pup, which could worsen their fear.  The safe space location should be in a quiet part of your house if possible.

2) Access to a “potty area” that doesn’t involve you trying to leash or move your dog. This might involve setting your fearful dog’s safe space up near a door to the backyard, or having an indoor toileting area for your pup inside their safe space.

3) Multiple hiding spots, including the ability to move around the safe space without being in view of people.  I really like a crate that is opaque or covered with a blanket, inside a pen with the sides covered with sheets or blankets.


How can I keep my fearful dog secure at home? 

Fearful dogs can be flight risks, and once loose, are very hard to catch. In the video below I show you a couple of ways to reduce this risk.  “Danger zones” where escape can happen include: 

1) Front door.  If your fearful dog has access to the front door, I recommend putting an “air lock” around it using a baby gate. Better yet, set up your pup’s safe space in a room that is far from the front door. 

2) Backyard. If your dog will have access to the backyard, check the integrity of your fence and gate latches very carefully. I recommend adding locks or carabiners to fence gates to prevent visitors, or the wind, from opening them. Small dogs can squeeze through very small holes in fences, and larger dogs can climb or jump even 6 foot fences. Both large and small dogs have been known to dig under fences.   I like having an interior fence or pen set up in the backyard to reduce a fearful dog’s access to the fence line or gates, at least at first. I show an example of this in this week’s video. 


How do I safely transport my fearful dog home from the shelter, or back and forth to the vet clinic? 

One of the most common times for people to get into big trouble with a fearful dog is during transport.  I hear about this most often when people are bringing a fearful dog home for the first time, but going to and from the vet can also pose problems.

Here is what I recommend for transporting fearful dogs:
1) A secure crate. I strongly prefer transporting fearful dogs in a sturdy crate. Check all of the latches, screws, and handle attachment before using a crate to transport your pup.  For dogs who are terrified of crates, you’ll need a work-around, like a harness and collar (see below).

2) Only transfer the dog to and from the crate indoors.  Your crate is no good if your dog could get loose from it outdoors. On either end of a journey, load or unload your dog into or from the crate in a secure indoor area. If you are picking up a new foster or adopted dog, give the crate to the foster parent or shelter staff, and ask them to load the dog into the crate indoors. Then carry the crate to the car. Only open the crate again when your dog is back in your home, in the dog’s safe space.

3) A secure harness and martingale collar with a leash attached to each.  Now, if your dog will never be outside the crate when outdoors, you might be able to skip this step. But it adds an extra layer of security. If your dog does get loose, there’s a greater chance that you can catch them if they have a leash on.  And if you for whatever reason can’t use a crate to transport your fearful dog, two leashes, each attached to a separate piece of equipment, are a must.

4) Tags and a microchip.  These won’t prevent an escape, but at least increase the chances of being reunited with your lost pup


 Ok, you’ve got your safe space set up, and your fearful pup is settling in. Now what?  I love online Scent Work classes to start to encourage fearful pups to start to explore their world.  Join us at our next class! 

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