9 Common Fears and Phobias in Dogs (and How to Help Calm Them)

dog hiding under a blanket with only their nose sticking out

Is your dog fearful? Fears are quite common in dogs, as are certain phobias. Here are some common fears and phobias in dogs and how to help calm them:

1. Storm Anxiety

One of the most common fears in dogs is the fear of thunderstorms. The loud noises and flashes of light can be very scary for dogs. This fear, also known as astraphobia or storm anxiety, can range in severity across most dogs. Some dogs may simply flatten their ears or tuck their tail, while others hide, act out, or even have bathroom accidents in the house.

Dogs that have astraphobia may also have a fear of loud noises, but some will not. To help calm your dog during a thunderstorm, be sure you have a safe place for your dog to be during the storm. This can be their dog bed or their crate, or any other designated space where they feel safe. be sure to have a few comfort items nearby.

2. Fear of Fireworks

Another very common fear in dogs is the fear of fireworks. The unpredictable noises and displays of light can cause many dogs to run and hide, while some may even run away and get lost. Thankfully, there are some ways to help keep your dog calm during fireworks.

For some dogs, slowly desensitizing them to the sound of fireworks can help overcome their fear. You may also need to introduce some management techniques to work with your dog’s anxiety.

For other dogs with a severe phobia of fireworks, you may need to seek advice from your vet. There are anti-anxiety medications that can be given around times when you know there will be fireworks.

3. Fear of Riding in the Car

Some dogs are absolutely thrilled to jump in the car and take a drive somewhere. Other dogs are afraid of cars. This fear may be attributed to a lack of exposure to cars and driving or your dog may have a bad memory attached to being in a car.

Using the counterconditioning technique can be useful in keeping your dog calm on car rides. you want your dog to associate the car with good things, so reward your dog with treats. Start to slowly introduce your dog to the car.

Let your dog sit in the car without it moving and then go on a few very short drives, less than five minutes. Reward them simply for giving it a chance. As your dog begins to associate car rides with treats, they will have less anxiety.

4. Separation Anxiety

Otherwise known as separation anxiety, the fear of being left alone is common among dogs. Dogs with separation anxiety often exhibit destructive behaviors when their owner is gone and may even have housebreaking accidents.

Counterconditioning your dog to being home alone may help them feel more comfortable. Make sure they have plenty of toys to keep them company while you’re gone. However, if the problem persists, it might be time to talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medication.

5. Fear of the Veterinarian

Trips to the veterinarian are an essential part of your dog’s health but sometimes, dogs are scared of visits to the clinic. There are unusual smells, noises, new people, and the possibility of interacting with other dogs and animals.

An easy way to help your dog overcome their fear of the veterinarian is to take your dog to the clinic for some social visits. Without the stress of going through an exam, your dog may learn to associate the veterinarian with fun. Let your dog meet the staff and get used to the building. If they remain calm, be sure to reward them with plenty of treats.

6. Fear of Going Up or Down Stairs

Sometimes dogs have a fear of going up or down a staircase. This fear is almost always due to a lack of early socialization and exposure. If your dog wasn’t exposed to steps early in puppyhood, this may result in a fear of the steps. A dog that has taken a bad fall down the steps may also develop a fear because of their previous experience.

Sometimes you can help a dog overcome their fear of steps by making it into a game. Other dogs may need to go step-by-step, literally. This process might take a long time and will require a lot of patience and positive reinforcement.

Older dogs may experience this fear of steps because of arthritis or other joint pain. In this way, a new fear of the stairs or unwillingness to go up or down them could be signs your dog is in pain. Be sure to have your dog checked out for mobility issues.

7. Fear of Men

It might be surprising to learn that it’s common for dogs to be afraid of men. In a few cases, it’s due to abuse by a man, but it’s often attributed to a lack of socialization as a puppy. Dogs that weren’t often around men may be afraid of their stature and deeper voices.

If your dog is fearful of men, take it slow in introducing them. You will want to make the situation as non-threatening as possible. Start with a man you trust around your dog and let your dog approach the man on their own terms. Remind the man to avoid making eye contact and not to approach your dog. It may take your dog some time to overcome this fear.

8. Fear of Specific Objects

Some dogs have a very real fear of specific objects. Many dogs are afraid of vacuum cleaners, holiday decorations, children’s toys, and the lawnmower. Thankfully, this usually isn’t that big of a deal since most of these objects can be avoided or moved away.

If your dog is afraid of the vacuum cleaner or lawnmower, simply don’t let them in the room or in the yard when you are using these machines. But if your dog has a breakdown every time you turn on the vacuum cleaner no matter how far away they are, it may be time to practice some positive reinforcement. You may also need to try the same technique if this specific object is unavoidable, like a structure or lawn ornament that you pass every day on a walk.

9. Fear of Strangers

It can be really hard having a dog that is afraid of strangers. It can be a difficult problem to overcome because it’s hard to introduce your dog to new people if they’re scared. Forcing a dog to interact with a stranger may result in them becoming aggressive. Fear is a very common cause of aggression in dogs, so helping your dog become more comfortable around new people is important.

It’s very important to allow your dog to approach people on their own terms. Trying short, 3-second interactions and rewarding with treats is a helpful tip to help your shy dog overcome their fear.

These are just a few common fears and phobias in dogs. Helping your dog to remain calm during stressful situations is important and will help them feel loved and cared for. Because fear is one of the common reasons dogs run away, helping your dog feel safe can also help keep them from running away and getting lost.