Ways to Approach a Fearful, Shy, or Aggressive Dog

Ways to Approach a Fearful, Shy, or Aggressive Dog

Approaching a fearful, shy, or aggressive dog can be frightening and nerve wracking. But by following some basic cues and learning about the animal’s nature before approaching it, you may find that it’s no big deal after all.

Before you even start thinking about how to approach a dog, remember that some animals are naturally skittish. While dogs are typically drawn to curiosity rather than fear, they may become agitated if they don’t understand what is happening around them. Different breeds of dogs vary in personality, so it’s important to remember that not every dog is going to be amenable.

When a dog is afraid, usually the tail will begin to wag and the coat becomes more rigid or pulls back at the ears. A dog that’s afraid may show its teeth, growl, or try to make itself as big as possible. If you approach a dog from an angle where it cannot see you, it may become either aggressive or defensive. If you attempt to pet a fearful dog, it may try to nip or bite you. Since fear is a protective instinct, it’s best to keep a fearful dog at a safe distance.

Don’t try to force your friendship on an animal that’s not interested in you and use caution when approaching any animal, as they don’t know that you mean them no harm. If you are greeting a dog on your property, it’s also critical to remember that dogs are territorial. If your dog is aggressive and you attempt to pet it, you could put yourself in danger. By far the best way to approach a fearful or aggressive dog is from behind. This provides the dog with the option of retreating or attacking you, so it will likely remain calm.

Do’s & Dont’s

Don’t Stare at the Dog

Staring at a dog is also a terrible idea. You might think you are establishing dominance but to some dogs like the Akita thinks staring is a invitation to challenge while to other dogs, staring may be threatening that may provokes an attack.

Don’t Loom Over the Dog

Try not to loom over the dog. Don’t crouch down or bend at the waist for a closer look. Hunching over can make you appear very large to a dog and increase its stress level, which may make it act defensively.

Don’t Try to Force Your Way in to Get Closer

This will only agitate the dog and make it defensive or aggressive. If you want to approach, either try crouching or sitting on your knees at eye level with the dog. This may make it feel safer and more comfortable.

Get Down on the Dog’s Level

If you want to approach a dog, the best thing to do is get down on its level. This makes it feel more comfortable. You want to be the same height as the dog or lower. For fearful dogs, at times you may even want to lie down for them to get used to your presence before even attempting to approach.

Watch How You Move

You should never make any quick movements, especially if you have something in your hands, like a leash or a bag of food. Dogs sense fear and nervousness very easily and any sudden movements can cause them to become aggressive. If you are sitting, try to remain motionless. If you are standing, don’t leave your feet. You want to be as non-threatening as possible.

Be Calm

You should lower your voice and use calming body language such as a slow sweet tone of voice, soft exclamations, and reassuring head tilts. Some dogs will respond better to a calming voice and gentle touch that other dogs do not respond too well too.

Speak in a High-Pitched Voice

Dogs do not respond well to low tones of voices. Speaking in a high-pitched voice is a better option because it will sound less threatening. Pushing the dog away will make them feel threatened and more likely to bite. For example, my little Maltese Minnie gets super excited when I call her name in a high-pitched voice.

Stay Positive

Even if you are frightened, try your best to keep a positive attitude. Dogs are smart and they pick up on tone of voice and body language very easily. If you are scared, it will make the situation worst. So even if you feel nervous, try and stay calm for the dog’s sake.

Simply Don’t Force Things

Never force your way into a dog’s territory. Bluffing, yelling, or shouting can agitate a dog and it may consider you to be a threat. If you are right on top of the dog’s territory, it will see you as intruding without meaning to. You should never try and approach from behind or from an angle so that the dog cannot see your face as that is a one way ticket of getting bitten.

Get Your Dog Used to Your Touch Beforehand

Sometimes you want to touch a dog but it might be too fearful or aggressive to allow you get close enough for touch or petting. To do this, you can slowly get the dog used to your touch by feeding the dog a treat from your hand. This is a useful tool to use in helping you get closer to the dog.


It’s important to remember that there are some dogs that will never warm up to humans no matter how much time you spend trying to socialize with them. For example, dingoes, feral dogs and wolf days may never be comfortable around people, especially if they have been abused by them before.

Some dogs are naturally more aggressive than others, when comparing the German Shepherd and the Golden Retriever, the German Shepherd is more likely to be aggressive and intimidating than a Golden Retriever would ever be. As with humans, not all dogs are afraid of the same thing. The most common fear of dogs is noise. With this in mind, you should avoid using loud noises around your dog like fireworks or thunderstorms.

To help build trust and ensure a positive future relationship with your dog, you can consider having the dog undergo rehabilitation by a Certified Applied Animal Behaviourist. It is also important to get your dog spayed or neutered in order to reduce its natural inclination towards dominance and territoriality.

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