Even large dogs like a German Shepherd can experience phobias – even strange ones – like fear of the dark or your vacuum. While this might seem kind of cute at first, it’s actually critical that you learn the signs of fear in your Shepherd as soon as possible so that your dog will be confident and less likely to act unpredictably from their fear.
Today we’ll take the mystery out of why your dog is afraid by telling you what signs you can look for, as well as common fears for Shepherds and what you should do about them.
Let’s explore why your Shepherd is so scared!
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Why Is My German Shepherd Scared Of Everything?
German Shepherds are extremely intelligent and easy to train… but this comes with some caveats. One of these is their long memory, and because of this, when something scares them, they remember it and often react.
If you break down the most common reasons for German Shepherd phobias, they typically boil down to the following:
- Socialization issues
- Neglect or abuse
- Unnatural fears
- Possibly illness or other health issues
Let’s explore each of these briefly to give you a better idea of how each one can come into play and affect your dog’s behavior.
Your dog typically learns socialization as a pup by playing with siblings under the watchful eye of their mom. Dogs that have been weaned early don’t always get enough socialization, which will show in their behavior. Socialization teaches things like being comfortable around other dogs, knowing how hard they can bite without hurting someone, and how comfortable they are with humans around.
Neglect or abuse
Most common with rescue dogs, a German Shepherd that has been neglected can develop anxiety to outside stimuli. With abuse, behavior can be more pronounced, such as with a rescue dog that doesn’t like male or female humans in particular or who cowers when seeing sudden movements.
Your intelligent Shepherd can have unnatural fears, just like humans do. This can include all kinds of things, like spiders, the vacuum cleaner, or even fear of the dark!
Possible illness or other health issues
In some cases, fearful behavior may be indicative that your German Shepherd may be ill or in pain from an unobserved injury. When the fearful behavior is new, rather than a current character trait, a vet checkup should be considered an excellent first step.
How to Tell If Your German Shepherd is Unnaturally Scared
While your dog can’t simply tell you directly when they are frightened, there are certain cues in their body language and physical responses that you can watch for, which will help you determine when your dog isn’t acting weird – but rather, they are acting afraid!
Let’s take a closer look at some signs that you need to know to determine if something is actually frightening your dog.
Ears go flat
Watch those ears! Dog ears can tell you a lot. You’ve certainly noticed how they ‘perk up’ when your dog is happy to see you, but as a fear response, those ears may also go flat. Watch for this sudden shift and take note of your surroundings to see if anything obvious in your general vicinity might be the cause.
Tail tucked between their legs
When your dog tucks their tail between its legs, this is a sign of fear and submission. Your dog is essentially covering their genitals and as you’ve seen with dogs in general, sniffing there is a fairly standard greeting (which seems gross, but the chemical signature tells dogs a lot about each other).
Your dog is essentially ‘closing themselves off’ in response to stimuli that is frightening them.
The old cartoon standard of a cat or a dog with their hair standing on end when they see something scary is based on an actual physical response. Your dog has hairs on its back called ‘hackles’. When your dogs’ hackles are raised, this indicates that they are either afraid or very angry and prepared for an aggressive response.
Cowering or hiding behind you
Possibly the most obvious indicator of fear, your dog may flinch or backpedal away from something swiftly, followed by getting behind you. This behavior is exactly what it looks like. Your Shepherd is hiding behind you in hopes that you will protect them from whatever has frightened them.
Pacing is often a nervous response to fear, as your dog juggles that ‘fight or flight’ instinct in response to something which they have seen, smelled, or heard. It may be that they are frightened but want to be there to protect you, or they might simply not know what to do in response to something new that they’ve just seen.
Eye-contact avoidance and dilated pupils
Your Shepherds’ eyes can tell you a lot about what’s on their minds and when they avoid eye contact then this is important to note. With dogs, direct eye content is a dominance gambit, and hiding their gaze is a sign of fear and/or submission.
Your dog’s pupils can also dilate in response to fear, so look for that as well. It’s harder to spot, but it’s a definite sign that your dog is on hyperalert in response to something local that you’ll want to identify.
When a normally well-behaved and potty-trained dog suddenly loses control of their bladder, then this can also be a response to fear. If it occurs frequently and this is fairly new, check with a vet to ensure that it’s not an actual bladder issue. Otherwise, try to determine what it is that is scaring them so much so that it may be dealt with through positive conditioning.
How to Get Your German Shepherd To Be Less Afraid of Things
Don’t worry, there are plenty of ways that you can help your dog to deal with their fears. Most commonly, your dog is just going to need some positive conditioning by means of love, reassurance, and an active effort not to reinforce bad behaviors.
We’ve outlined some common options that can help in the sections below.
Desensitization training in a safe environment
If you’ve got a pretty good idea of what your dog is afraid of, you can desensitize them by introducing them to what they fear in a controlled environment. It is best done with a helper, so that you can tell your dog ‘sit’ or ‘lay down’ so that they become more used to the thing that they fear and learn to respond in a controlled manner.
Professional socialization training is an option, or you can even do it on your own. Most of what this consists of is a slow, controlled introduction to other people, places, and dogs so that they are more comfortable with changes in their immediate vicinity instead of going on an instant, fearful alert.
Try going to different locations
New places are a great way to reduce your Shepherd’s anxiety. Playing in a new park or visiting the local lake, for instance, can help your dog to learn that they don’t need to fear being in a new environment with new people and animals around.
Avoid reassuring them when they are scared
Resist the urge to pet and try to calm your dog when they are showing signs of fear. Rather, ignore the behavior so that they can see that you are not worried or give them a command, such as ‘sit’, so that your dog has something to do and to focus on doing rather than worrying.
Treats for bravery
When your dog shows a more controlled response, such as standing alert next to you when they are afraid, then you can reward this behavior with a treat to help to reinforce it. Do NOT give them treats for acting fearful, as this will reinforce the anxiety-induced behavior rather than reassure them.
Consider checking with your vet
If the fear is a new response for your dog and out of alignment with their regular behavior, then your dog might be ill or in pain. Sometimes your dog gets an injury when they are playing (and we all know that our bouncy Shepherds like to play HARD), and it’s hard to tell when they are hurting.
Impulsive behavior that looks fearful may be signs that your dog is feeling ill or trying to protect an injured area that might not be readily visible. A trip to the vet is a good idea so that health issues may be quickly ruled out as the problem.
Common Things that German Shepherds are Scared Of and How You Can Help
Just in case you aren’t sure what is scaring your Shepherd, we’ve compiled a list of common phobias that we’ve seen in German Shepherds to help you identify and deal with the issue if it is necessary.
Let’s explore these common scare sources for Shepherds.
A lot of dogs are scared of thunder, and the mighty German Shepherd is no exception. This one is generally not something to worry about, and a lot of Shepherd owners just let their dog burrow under the covers when there’s a storm outside.
Don’t worry too much about your dog being frightened of thunder, as humans are commonly scared of this too, and if you factor in your dog’s superior hearing, then it would be more realistic to worry if they DIDN’T get uncomfortable around thunder.
Dogs and vacuums are commonly arch-enemies, and while it sometimes results in a comical game of ‘cat and mouse’ with the vacuum, some dogs can react quite negatively to vacuums. The only thing that you can really do is get them used to it.
Try giving them their favorite chew-bone after wheeling the vacuum in and once they start chewing then start up the vacuum (at a distance, if possible), and work slowly so that sudden-movements don’t further alarm your dog.
While dogs see better in the dark than we do, pitch-black dark is still hard for them, and with older dogs, there may be problems with their eyes. A trip to the vet can check the latter possibility, while a nightlight or spending periods of time in the dark with your dog can help with the former.
Being left alone
Some dogs, especially if they live alone with a single owner, can become a little codependent. This is especially common if they have been weaned early. In cases like this, crate training is an excellent way to teach your dog to be more independent and that time alone is normal and nothing to be afraid of.
If your dog gets uneasy whenever they see another dog, instead of greeting that dog with a wary approach and experimental sniff, then socialization training is in order. This can involve things like a careful introduction to the neighbor’s dog or trips to the park so that your dog understands that other dogs are the expected norm, rather than a four-legged threat to themselves and you.
Want To Train Your German Shepherd With Peace Of Mind?
If you haven’t trained your German Shepherd properly, then this is the perfect time to start. Whatever bad behavior your shepherd has, whether it’s barking at night or other bad behaviors, using the right training program is the key to having an obedient and happy pup.
The training program I love and highly recommend is Brain Training For Dogs.
With Brain Training For Dogs you’ll save yourself a ton of time and effort. Instead of banging your head against the wall trying to figure out why your dog won’t listen, you’ll follow a path that has been tried, tested, and most importantly, that’s given proven results. Not to mention the fact, you’ll be able to fit the course around your schedule, not fit your schedule around a trainer or obedience class.
So instead of worrying about whether they’re going to be well-behaved or not, you’ll only have to worry about how much fun you’ll have with them!
And in most cases it’s still going to be:
- Cheaper than hiring a professional.
- Cheaper than replacing everything they might break.
- And definitely cheaper than a lawsuit against you, if they decide to bite someone.
Just imagine how great it will feel to finally be able to trust your German Shepherd completely and never worry whether they’ll be naughty or not. Instead, you’ll have the peace of mind that you have a well-behaved pup, and the boundaries you set for them, will always be there, EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT.
And the best part is it also has a 60-day money-back guarantee! So there’s no reason not to give Brain Training For Dogs a try!
So if you’re tired of your dog’s bad behavior, or how they react around other people and pooches, then give it a try! You’ll be amazed by the results!
(You can also check out a full review here, to learn exactly what the course has to offer!)
Before we go, we’ve got a few common questions about German Shepherd fears that may help to address any questions that you might still have. Take a look below for a quick FAQ Q&A session.
How do you calm a scared German Shepherd?
German Shepherd training, in their article entitled “The 7 Golden Rules & Basic Commands” advises that one of the simplest ways to deal with fear is to call them to you if they are playing and are suddenly looking fearful.
Teaching your Shepherd to come to you like this can even save their life or yours someday, so teach them to come to you and then to sit down when they are scared.
Can a fearful German Shepherd be cured?
Yes! Conditioning and positive reinforcement can help older Shepherds, and, with puppies, ‘fear periods; are actually expected and a normal part of your puppy’s development. You can read a little more on fear periods at ‘The Anxious Pet’ by clicking the link here.
How do German Shepherds act when scared?
Shaking, a hunched posture, and avoiding eye contact are all signs of anxiety in your German Shepherd according to “The Daily Shep”. Learning to recognize the signs can help you to determine what your dog is afraid of more quickly so that you can alter their training to accommodate and surmount these fears.
In Closing: Identify The Fear And Help Your Shepherd To Be More Confident
In this article, we’ve taken an in-depth look at why your Shepherd is scared, what that fear looks like, common fears, and what you can do to tell. If your Shepherd is showing signs such as dilated pupils or hiding behind you, you should now be prepared to identify what is frightening them so that you can train them to face their fears with full confidence.
Your dog is certainly no ‘scaredy-cat,’ just a German Shepherd that hasn’t yet found its confidence. With little time and a whole lot of love, you’ll soon be seeing a brand-new dog!