My puppy is scared of people – what should I do?

niki
June 29, 2022

As a new puppy owner, one of your first priorities should be to make sure your puppy doesn’t learn to be afraid of people. This is often easier said than done, though. That’s why we’re here to help!

This guide will explain what can cause a puppy to become afraid of people and how to prevent them from developing these fears. We will also show you how to address the fear head-on if it already exists. 

Signs your puppy is scared

If you’ve never had a puppy before, you might not know how to tell if they’re scared of people (or anything else, for that matter). The following are some of the most common signs of fear to watch for in puppies:

  • Pacing
  • Panting (when it’s not from heat/exercise)
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Attempting to hide behind you, objects in the house, etc.
  • Refusing to eat or take treats
  • Increased salvation
  • Yawning
  • Licking the lips
  • Opening the eyes so wide that the whites show (also known as “whale eye”)
  • Lifting one paw
  • Lowering to the ground or tucking the head
  • Pinning the ears back

Some dogs may also resort to more “aggressive” behaviors like growling, lip-lifting or snapping when they’re afraid. Usually, they exhibit these behaviors when other signs of fear, like yawning or licking their lips, aren’t respected. Never punish a puppy for growling — this will only teach them that warning signs are not allowed and next time they might go straight to biting instead.

Learn more about your puppy with our free puppy webinar!

How do puppies become afraid of people?

It’s easy to assume that all puppies are friendly creatures who love to be around people. That’s not always the case, though. 

There are a few reasons why your puppy might be afraid of people.

First, genetics plays a role. If your puppy’s breed is known for being aloof with strangers, you might want to put in a bit of extra effort to ensure they are comfortable around people. Too little or the wrong kind of socialization can also contribute to a fear of a people.

If a puppy is never exposed to humans besides their owner, it may start to fear them. On the flip side, if the puppy is exposed to too many people at one time, or is forced to interact with people it doens’t like, it may also become overwhelmed and fearful.

How to prevent puppies from becoming afraid of people

Some factors that contribute to fear in puppies are unavoidable, such as genetics. At the same time, though, there’s a lot you can do to prevent fear, including the following:

Introduce your puppy to new people

When taking your puppy out for walks, you’ll likely meet lots of requests to pet her. These will be ideal situations to help your puppy get used to approaching different people. Let your puppy set the pace with all introductions, more on this below.

You can also invite friends over so that your puppy gets used to people visiting the house. This makes it more convenient for you to introduce your puppy to new folks while you’re still waiting for her to get all her shots, too. Our online puppy training program can show you how to help your puppy be calm and comfortable when people visit your house.

Expose them to different kinds of people

In your puppy’s eyes, people who move differently, dress differently or are a different age than you can all be scary.

Learn to see these folks through your puppy’s eyes. She will notice details in people’s body language that are not always obvious to us humans.

Try to expose your puppy to as many different kinds of people — those of different ages, races, genders, abilities, etc. — as possible. This will reduce her chances of reacting with fear when she meets them later. 

Don’t forget about children

It’s especially important to introduce your puppy to children, too. 

Dogs can easily become afraid of children — especially those who are not used to dogs or have not been taught how to behave with them. 

Exposing your puppy to children from a young age is a great way to expand their social circle and prevent them from developing a fear of kids as they get older. 

Let them set the pace

Never let anyone scare your puppy. Let them set the pace when meeting new people.

Allow the puppy to approach people on her terms, instead of them moving toward her. This prevents her from feeling overwhelmed or crowded by people who look different and are significantly larger than her.

If you notice that your puppy immediately approaches new people with her tail wagging, you can start letting people greet her. If, on the other hand, your puppy doesn’t immediately approach new people, plan each greeting situation carefully.

Instruct your friends to get down to your puppy’s level, and keep their upper bodies straight. Ask them to look away from the puppy when she first approaches them. Encourage them to move slowly, too, as any sudden movements might be scary.

Ask your friends to have a treat on their open palm next to their body as well. Then, let the puppy approach and eat the treat.

If the puppy is not confident, don’t let people touch her. They should just let her get the treat or even throw the treat near her and move away and ignore her.

Avoid flooding

“Flooding” occurs when your puppy receives too much stimulus at one time. For example, if 5 people swarm your puppy at once and try to pet her, she might feel overwhelmed and may become afraid of people over time.

Move slowly and give your puppy all the time she needs to feel safe when approaching people. The more you can offer her positive experiences, the easier it will be for her to gain confidence and trust.

What to do if your puppy is already scared of people?

If your puppy is already exhibiting signs of fear around people, it’s not too late to change things. If you can teach your puppy that new people are safe, fun and interesting, you can replace their fear with more positive emotions.

The following steps can help you to combat your puppy’s fear and help them feel better about meeting new people: 

Talk to visitors in advance

Before anyone comes into your house or approaches your puppy, let them know that she is afraid of people and that you’re working on overcoming this fear.

Talk to visitors about what to do and not to do with your puppy, too. This might include dropping treats on the floor when they walk into the house and not trying to pet the puppy when they get close. Or asking them to ignore your puppy all together, your puppy may just become curious and approach the person in their own time!

If you notice that your puppy is fearful of a certain type of people, such as men, women, or children, move extra slowly around them.

Always provide a safe space

Give your puppy a safe space to retreat if they get overwhelmed or start to feel scared. A crate is a great option for this, but you can also designate a room in your house as “their” room.

Whether you choose a crate or an entire room, make it as comfy as possible with blankets or pillows. Give your puppy something to do while they’re away from you, too, such as chewing on a bone or licking a Kong toy.

Consult Professionals

Don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional for help. With the OneMind Dogs puppy training app, you have access to professionals in your pocket, via our online chat! No need to sift through conflicting advice from search engines. Get expert, professional help with one click.

Download our FREE puppy survival guide:

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