Dog Fears Basics

Learn how dogs develop fears and how you can help overcome them. 

Introduction - Read This First!

Dogs learn to be afraid of new things that may be “weird” or that they’ve never seen before. That’s why early  SOCIALIZATION is so important. But if you’ve adopted an adult dog, don’t worry, there’s still a lot you can do to help them get over their fears and build confidence!

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"Weird" Things That May Be Scary To Dogs


Dogs can be fearful of just about anything if they’ve never seen it before. The new things that you want to introduce your puppy to when you’re socializing, can become sources of fear when they’re older. At this point we call them:


Dogs live in a human world, so they don’t know what’s a threat or not. Anything could be scary if they’ve never seen it before!

New People

Different types of people wearing different types of things (think big hats, beards, or clothes), walking differently (like kids or older people) can seem odd to a dog and may scare them.

New Objects

New objects that your dog has never been around can seem very weird to them. Imagine statues, loud musical instruments, or things that move a lot like bikes.


This is a very common fear for dogs to develop if you’re not careful. It’s important to expose young puppies to loud music, crashing sounds (like inside a gym), or generally loud environments like places with construction nearby.

What Can We Do About Our Dog's Fears?​

It’s actually very easy to help your dog gain confidence in new situations! All it takes is a lot of patience and a ton of treats (or toys!)

The next section covers a simple technique that can be applied to trigger that is scaring your dog. It’s a fancy term called:


But it’s super fun and super easy! Watch this quick overview before we get into the details: 

Rule #1: Have Fun!​

The absolutely most important thing to remember in fear training is that your dog is always watching you. If you get tense and frustrated, they may think something bad is happening and get even more worried. 

Pro Trainer Principles:
If You Don’t Sound Like an Idiot, Then You’re Not Doing It Right!

When it comes to fear training, your dog can’t do anything wrong! Your only goal is to make them happy about their triggers. So just keep in mind: be happy, be positive, and your dog is perfect

Counter Conditioning Basics​


Counter conditioning means teaching your dog to have an emotional reaction (happy!) that is opposite to the one they had before (scared). It’s actually one of the simplest things you can teach your dog, but it takes a lot of time and patience. In the simplest explanation, it looks like this: 

Look at scary thing -> TREAT!

Step 1: What Is The Fear Trigger?

Your first job is to figure out exactly what it is your dog is afraid of and close to it they can get before freaking out. We call this the “trigger”. For example, your dog may be afraid of bicycles and you see that they can only get 10 feet away from a bike if it’s sitting still, or 25 feet away if it’s moving.

Step 2: Use The Right Reward

Every dog likes different kinds of rewards, and for counter conditioning, you need to use their absolute favorite reward. We want our dogs to be absolute overjoyed when we do this training. Make sure to use some very high-value treats.

Step 3: Look And Treat

Place yourself a safe distance away from the trigger and wait for your dog to notice it. As soon as they do, say “YES!” and give them lots of treats and praise. Then move away a little bit to start over. Repeat this several times.

Step 4: Move A Little Closer

Take a few steps closer to the trigger, blocking your dog if you need to before letting them see it and get treats. If you can, walk back and forth in a “snaking” pattern to slowly get closer. Stop every few feet to let them see the trigger and give lots of treats as you get closer.

Step 5: Interact With The Trigger

The next step of the fear conditioning is to convince your dog that interacting with the trigger ON THEIR OWN is also really fun and will get them lots of treats. Remember to get your dog to do this on their own and NEVER force them to move forward!

Step 6: Make It Tougher!

Now that you’ve gotten your dog to get closer and closer to something scary (and be happy about it!), the next step is make the trigger move make sound and go through the whole process again.

And Never Forget... You Have To Have Fun!​

Always remember that when you’re doing fear training, your dog can never get it wrong. You’re only trying to make them happy to get closer to and interact with new things to get over their fears. If they don’t progress very fast, that’s ok! Take as long as they need and always be happy and silly, because your dog will always look to you decide if they should be stressed or not. 

Pro Trainer Principles:
If You Don’t Sound Like an Idiot, Then You’re Not Doing It Right!

In the next lesson on BUILDING CONFIDENCE, we’re going to talk about how to do more counter-conditioning in all kinds of situations to help your dog get over all their fears!

Still Have Questions?

Still Have Questions?

Ask About Anything Not Covered In This Lesson

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Click here to download the Snoot App for a smoother experience.