Should You Let Your Dog Hide?

fearful dogs Jun 19, 2023
scared dog hiding

Should you let your dog hide when they want to? Or do you need to take away their hiding places so they get used to being around people?  You'll find a lot of conflicting advice on this topic. In this blog I'll try to clear up the confusion so you can make an informed decision about how to handle your dog's desire to retreat and hide.  

If you're looking for the short answer, then yes, let your dog hide if they want to. If you need more, here's the "why" behind this recommendation:


Reason #1 To Let Your Dog Hide:  Better Welfare And Less Problem Behavior

There's good evidence to suggest that animals that are provided with the option to retreat and hide from people or other animals are less stressed and exhibit less problematic behavior. For example, shelter cats who are provided a hiding box exhibit fewer stress-related behaviors. In a petting zoo setting, goats and sheep who had the option of completely retreating and hiding from visitors showed less problem behaviors like head-butting.  Check out the citation list at the end of the blog if you want to read supporting studies. 


Reason #2 To Let Your Dog Hide: Blocking Retreat Could Punish Behaviors You Want

Blocking retreat or removing hiding places like crates could punish whatever behaviors precede these actions, some of which could be behaviors you want to increase. For example, if you close a fearful dog's crate after they leave it so that they can't retreat back to it, they might be less likely to leave the crate in your presence in the future. If you leash a fearful dog to keep them near you for training purposes, they might not tolerant your attempts to leash them in the future. Instead, they could attempt to flee, or aggress.


Reason #3 To Let Your Dog Hide: Increase Social Behavior And Exploration

The most common reasoning I've head for not allowing fearful animals to hide is that the dog (or cat) "has to get used to" being out and around people. Luckily, there is some research on this topic to help us decide if this reasoning is sound. Studies of shelter cats and laboratory animals have found increased social behavior toward people, and increased frequency of leaving hiding to explore, among animals who have a hiding place available to them.  Animals who didn't have the option to hide showed LESS social behavior and less willingness to explore their surroundings. So although it might seem counterintuitive, it seems that providing hiding place options is more likely to help you reach your goals with your fearful pup than to slow progress.


Reason #4 To Let Your Dog Hide: You Don't Need To Deprive Your Dog Of A Safe Space To Make Progress

This might be obvious from the previous points, but a good positive reinforcement-based trainer should be able to help you build your dog's skillset for interacting with the world, without depriving them of their ability to retreat or hide. If you need help finding a good trainer or want to learn more about working with us, shoot us an email at [email protected].

Some relevant literature

Anderson, U. S., Benne, M., Bloomsmith, M. A., & Maple, T. L. (2002). Retreat space and human visitor density moderate undesirable behavior in petting zoo animals. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 5(2), 125-137.  

Caws, C. E., Wehnelt, S., & Aureli, F. (2008). The effect of a new vertical structure in mitigating aggressive behaviour in a large group of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Animal Welfare, 17(2), 149-154. 

Chazin, K. T., Velez, M. S., & Ledford, J. R. (2022). Reducing escape without escape extinction: A systematic review and meta-analysis of escape-based interventions. Journal of Behavioral Education, 31(1), 186-215.

 Kry, K., & Casey, R. (2007). The effect of hiding enrichment on stress levels and behaviour of domestic cats (Felis sylvestris catus) in a shelter setting and the implications for adoption potential. Animal Welfare, 16(3), 375-383

Morgan, K. N., & Tromborg, C. T. (2007). Sources of stress in captivity. Applied animal behaviour science, 102(3-4), 262-302.


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