Trainer reveals how to recognize if your dog is scared or anxious (and the best way to go about comforting them)

Woman hugging dog
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Like humans, dogs can get scared, anxious, or nervous from time to time, and some dogs will get scared more frequently than others. It’s sometimes thought that you shouldn’t comfort dogs when they’re scared so as not to reinforce the fear, but increasingly, the advice is that it’s totally fine to comfort your pup if they need it, and it could make your relationship with them stronger, too. 

But how do you recognize that your dog is scared or anxious in the first place, so that you can get on with making them feel better, perhaps by distracting them with one of the best dog toys? Not everybody knows the signs to watch out for, and that’s where certified dog trainer Melissa Goodman of Mission Pawsitive comes in. In a recent Instagram post, she’s explained how we can find out if our dogs are scared, and what we can do to help. 

First and foremost, she says, “If your dog asks you for support or comfort, give it to them! You cannot reinforce an emotion like fear or anxiety. That is an autonomic response.”

In her video, the dog, Bacon, is flicking his tongue and nudging his dad’s hand for pets, leaning into him with his ears pinned back while panting, before jumping up. Goodman explains that he’s not doing this to ask for attention, but because it’s another way to ask for help.

How do I know if I have a scared dog?’ is a question many dog parents will ask at one time or another. “There are a lot of things dogs can do if they are scared, overwhelmed, anxious, etc,” says Goodman in the caption. 

“The biggest one that goes unrecognized is jumping. Dogs will jump on you when feeling stressed as a way to ask for support and tell you that they are stressed. Bacon was not jumping up on his dad for attention or affection. The environment was challenging for him and he was overwhelmed by everything happening around us.”

As she emphasizes, you can’t reinforce an emotion, so it’s perfectly okay to comfort your dog. In fact, if your dog is showing signs of anxiety or seems scared, all that comforting them will do will strengthen their trust in you. 

If you’re not quite sure what’s triggering your pup, here are 32 everyday fears and phobias in dogs – could it be one of these? Meanwhile, here are eight reasons why your dog is anxious (and how to help them).

Adam England
Freelance Writer

Adam is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle, health, culture, and pets, and he has five years' experience in journalism. He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' Golden Retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.