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Helping an Insecure Dog Confidently Adjust to His Environment

My dog, Misty, was an insecure dog and I hope to educate fellow dog guardians so they can help their canine friends.

My new pup hiding to feel protected.

My new pup hiding to feel protected.

Is My New Dog Aggressive or Insecure?

So you have just adopted a dog or bought a new puppy and are completely ecstatic over your new member of the family. The joy, however, is a little dampened after a while. Your dog begins to cower under chairs and beds when you approach or snarls for no apparent reason. His relationships with people and other dogs are also shaky.

What the owner in the scenario above has on his or her hands is a rather insecure dog or puppy. The dog is unsure of his environment, lacks confidence in himself and manifests his fears by behaving in a seemingly aggressive manner towards people, animals, and his owner. He also begins his search for ways to feel protected.

How do we help a dog who suffers from emotional insecurity or—on an even more disturbing level—past trauma? This article will delve into the causes of canine insecurity and its signs, and make some suggestions on what owners can do if they find that their new furry companion needs a little help to get over the things that overwhelm them.


What Are the Causes of Canine Insecurity?

We humans have a wide range of phobias and insecurities and quite simply, so do dogs. There are many causes of a dog’s lack of self-esteem and confidence.

Genetic Disposition

A dog may already be predisposed to being shy when he is born. He could have parents who are timid and thus inherited the tendency to be a bit more withdrawn.

Some breeds of dogs have a generally less friendly disposition. These are:

  • Akitas
  • Shiba Inus
  • Salukis
  • Neapolitan Mastiffs
  • Komondors
  • Dogue de Bordeaux
  • Black Russian Terriers
  • Catahoula Shepherd dogs
  • Australian Shepherd Dogs
  • Chow Chows
  • Xolos
  • Cardigan Welsh Corgis

It is good to remember that generalizing a particular breed of dog as friendly or otherwise is not advisable. With proper socialization, any dog can get used to being around others and can be a welcome companion.

Lack of Early Socialization

Dogs, like children, need to interact with others. Socialization needs to take place when they are young so that they can get accustomed to the people and other dogs around them.

A friend made a mistake with her 19-year-old (yes, she has lived a long life) Bichon Frise, Mei. Mei had an early tendency to be withdrawn from people as a puppy and being afraid of flea infestations, my friend did not want to walk her. The result was a little dog who became quite resistant to visitors to the home and, of course, other dogs.

It was only in her later years that Mei got to walk around her housing estate, by which time it was a little too late. Neighbors who walked past became a little afraid to see her because she would snap at them and their dogs.

Traumatic Past Experiences

Unfortunately, some people have a rather unsettled relationship with dogs. Their dogs become victims of rather aggressive and even abusive behavior. The unsympathetic treatment could have left them rather fearful of being approached by or approaching people.

Alternatively, it may have gotten into fights with other dogs, the experience leaving it with a bitter taste in its mouth. The offshoot of that is frustration when coming across other dogs, especially if they are bigger than it is.

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I have encountered a Yorkshire Terrier which was adopted by the owner of a pet shop after being abandoned by its previous master. When I tried to pet it, I almost got my finger voraciously bitten off. It remained in the corner of the pet shop, cowering as if something dreadful was about to happen in the next minute.

Lack of Proper Leadership

Very much like children, dogs need guidance. If an owner distances himself from his dog and does not assure it that it can turn to him when it needs food, play or a walk, the dog begins to withdraw. A dog also needs an owner to let it know that it is safe being around other people or those of its furry kind.

Mei, mentioned above, is a dog who lacked leadership. Not having the guidance she required, she saw everything around her as a threat. Till this day, she regards everything around her with suspicion.


What Are the Signs of Insecurity in a Dog?

The signs of insecurity in a dog may be obvious or may only be observed over time. Whatever the case may be, an insecure dog will display some rather telling traits.

It Sits in the Corner by Itself

An insecure dog will feel the need to be protected from whatever it perceives will harm it. It will withdraw into a corner, crouch under a bed or hide under a sofa when it feels threatened.

It Snarls When Approached

An insecure dog will growl at whatever it thinks will do it harm. A point to note is that this is often mistaken as aggressive behavior on the dog’s part. Rather, the dog could be worried that it is about to be attacked and go on the defense.

A Dog That Yawns Frequently Could Be Insecure

When we get used to our dogs, our tendency is to treat them as little human beings, much like our own children. We, therefore, see yawning in a dog as a sign of it being sleepy.

A dog’s yawn, however, can have a few meanings attached to it. It could be getting more oxygen into the lungs. Quite often, a yawn acts as a calming signal to other dogs or shows that it is stressed by something in the environment.

If a dog does so very frequently, it's worth looking around the environment to see what could be making the dog frazzled.

A Panting Dog Could Be an Insecure Dog

A dog might pant in anxiety or excitement when something around him makes him a little disturbed. If you notice a dog panting, take a look at its entire body language. If its ears are folded back, it is likely being nettled by things around him.

An Insecure Dog Takes a Submissive Posture

If a dog crouches or has its ears folded back, it is not confident of itself or unsure of its environment. This signals to the owner that it is time to break him in!

If a Dog Frequently Urinates, Something Is Bothering Him!

Frequent urination can have a number of causes, and it might be good to take the dog to the vet when it happens. A probable cause if it is stress or pressure from the environment.

I observed this in my dog, Misty, recently when I brought her to the vet for a follow-up check on the neurological problems she has unfortunately developed due to old age. Unfamiliar with the environment, she began urinating, defecating all over the area around her and whining. It takes time to cajole her into stepping into the vet’s office.


How Do I Help an Insecure Dog?

Helping a dog to overcome his insecurities requires a little time and observation, but is nevertheless not impossible. There are a few things that owners can do to help.

Establish Yourself as a Pack Leader

As said before, the dog needs to know who to turn to and trust. It is only then that he can be more secure with his environment. Start teaching simple obedience skills like sitting, staying, and to come. This helps him to trust and associate himself with you.

Do Not Coddle Your Dog When It Is Afraid

For many, the first instinct would be to give our dogs a hug or pat. That is in fact reinforcing to the dog that being afraid is the right behavior.

Instead, reward your dog whenever it acts with confidence. This will reinforce his boldness.

Allow Your Dog to Face Its Fears

If your dog is afraid of people, gradually expose him to more of them. Limit his interaction with the person he feels secure with. Do not impose the interaction on the dog but let the dog make the decision to come to that person.

If your dog is afraid of a certain person around the house, for instance, a child, let your child prepare the dog’s meal for the day. It helps them to bond and teaches the child a little responsibility.

If your dog is afraid of other dogs, let him get to know a dog that is smaller and calm. As it gets comfortable, introduce it to bigger dogs with more active behavior.

Introduce Your Dog to a Little Agility Training!

The purpose of agility training is confidence building. A dog, like all of us, feels good about itself after crossing or going through obstacles. Take it to dog runs or agility training classes!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Nicole on February 19, 2020:

Just rescued a 2 yr old westie mix from Tennessee. He was found on the streets unneutered. For the first few days he was very clingy and always putting his head down in our lap/nudging our hand when we stopped petting him. Also likes to sleep A LOT. We mistook this behavior as him being low energy and submissive. However, we realized very quickly that he is aggressive towards other dogs, especially when meeting on leash. He is clearly an insecure dog who’s never been socialized nor had a strong pack leader. So far he’s learned quickly how to walk on the leash and respond to redirection, but I’m still at a loss as to what to do when we meet another dog on a leash. He can NOT meet another dog nose to nose at this point, but so many dog owners ohh and ahh over a little white dog and want their dog to make “friends.” Any suggestions for dog interactions would be helpful.

Sherri on June 20, 2018:

My daughter just took in a 5 year old Sheba Inu breeder dog. She does well peeing outside but doesn't want to poop. She will act like she wants to then stops. She, of course, is great around other dogs but when at her home she doesn't eat. She also whines and walks circles around the living room. She also will not let you touch her. She will come to my daughter when she has the leash in her hand but not any other time. She has had her for more the 6wks now and we haven't made any progress. What should we do now.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on February 21, 2013:

Thank goodness for that, glimmer! Separation anxiety can be worked through, there are some excellent hubs here on HP that address the subject! Have a read!! Thanks for sharing!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on February 21, 2013:

Thanks, Meldz! Yup, when they snap, they're just reflecting insecurity. They pee when they're afraid too. Thanks for sharing!

Claudia Mitchell on February 20, 2013:

Luckily this is not a problem with my dog. Our problem is separation anxiety. It is absolutely horrible for him, even after 7 years. Good info for people that need it.

ignugent17 on February 19, 2013:

This is very useful Michelle. It really helps if we can understamd the behavior of our pets or other dogs. Now I know that grawling doesn't really mean they want to bite. They are just shy and cautious.

Thanks and have a great day. :-)

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on February 15, 2013:

Hi, Alexandry! Wow, kudos to your talent & patience. It really takes a lot of that to train dogs with issues they have to overcome! Thanks for sharing!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on February 14, 2013:

Patch of Earth, read the signs of fear in the dog. If he has pulled back ears early on pull him away immediately and shift his focus to something else. You could reward him when he stops growling, but remember balance and not to over treat.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on February 14, 2013:

He certainly sounds insecure and a little wary of people. Try introducing them to him slowly, Patch of Earth.

Rebecca Long from somewhere in the appalachian foothills on February 14, 2013:

My dog is very fearful. He doesn't snap at people but he will nearly pull himself out of his harness to get away if someone he doesn't know gets too close when we are out walking. I am not sure about his history. He was grown when I got him. Do you think these tips will help?

Adrienne Farricelli on February 14, 2013:

Nice article! Clicker training has worked wonders for my insecure dog. I hold clicker training classes for those dogs who have lost initiative either due to harsh training techniques or simply being of a tentative nature due to their genetic makeup.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on February 14, 2013:

Hi Nell, thanks! Glad that he was a happy dog.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on February 14, 2013:

Yup, that's how people are, Ruchira! Thanks for sharing!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on February 14, 2013:

Thanks, Mel! Glad to research and share anything on pets!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on February 14, 2013:

Sounds like a happy, well-adjusted boy, Jo!! Say hi to your hubby and him for me! Thank for sharing!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on February 14, 2013:

Takes time and effort to bond with animals & get them to trust us. Glad that your little cat is now more secure!! Thanks for sharing, Kidscrafts!

Melanie Chisnall from Cape Town, South Africa on February 13, 2013:

Michelle, this is an excellent article! I'm sharing all over. You've mentioned so many good pieces of information that not many people know. I didn't know some of those things and I consider myself to be a huge animal lover. Well done! :)

Ruchira from United States on February 13, 2013:


Your pet is adorable. I don't have a pet but your hub was so matching to human's psychology that I agree with you.

Useful, interesting:) voted up

Nell Rose from England on February 13, 2013:

Hi michelle, we had a really insecure dog a few years ago, but after a couple of weeks he got to know us really well and he naturally came out of himself, great advice and voted up!

Jo Alexis-Hagues from Lincolnshire, U.K on February 13, 2013:

Michelle, a very informative article, we got Rodney from the shelter, and was told he may never be a cuddle kind of dog, he would snap and bite, not used to being played with.

However, with lots of love he is now a wonderful little dog, a pussy cat, at the moment he is trying to get my husband to put away the laptop to play ball with him. Lovely to meet Cloudy.

kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on February 13, 2013:

Nice article. What you write about dogs can be true for cats too. I have a cat (she is almost 17 years old) and for a really long time (years and years) she seemed afraid each time I would bring my hand to pet her on the head. I suspect she was beaten as a kitten. After a long time with us, she realized that she had nothing to fear.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on February 13, 2013:

Great article! I love the way you included photos of Cloudy (looks like snapshops).

My dog, Baby, has the opposite personality trait: she thinks she is superior to other dogs. She has never been insecure! We got her as a new pup, and tried to socialize her with people and other dogs.

Voted UP and will share, Pin and Tweet.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 13, 2013:

Great suggestions, Michelle! The dog we have now came from the shelter, and was very insecure. We used some of these suggestions and he is much better now.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on February 13, 2013:

Thanks, Janine! Do keep them for when Lily gets a dog!

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on February 13, 2013:

Yet another great addition to your articles of helping dogs and understanding them. I really am going to have a lot of resources to pull from when we do finally get a dog and I thank you for that!! Also, have doen the usual and voted up and shared, too!! :)

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on February 13, 2013:

On the causes and signs of canine shyness and how to help an insecure dog.

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