An owner’s nightmare: why your dog might be afraid of you

Szénási Szimonetta

2023. July 16 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

We investigated what might be behind a dog becoming afraid of its owner or a family member. It's a mistake to think that the person must have hurt it!


It can be traumatic if your loved pet suddenly starts to be distant towards you. In the worst case, the dog may be afraid of the owner. We’ve put together a list of what might be behind this, and what can cause such a change in the relationship.

There are many reasons for a dog’s fear.

Signs of fear

Let’s start by looking at the signs that your pet is afraid of you. His body language is very revealing! Ears flattened against the head or a tail tucked between the legs are typical indicators, but avoiding eye contact and compulsive behaviours such as licking, yawning or scratching can also be signs of trouble. If it is always following that person, it may also be a sign that the dog is afraid of him/her. Another common problem is peeing. Especially in adult it is a clear sign of change.

Now let’s see what can trigger all of these!

1.) You have been punished for something

Even the best behaved animals can have a bad day and do something that is not what they should. For example, they were too tempted and stole a sandwich from the breakfast table. Or he’s snatched your favourite slippers, even you taught him not to. If you are harder on him and scold him too much, it can be a bad experience. This may even cause him to have reservations about you in the future.

For this reason, it is very important that the “punishment” is always based on an appropriate method. And it goes without saying that you should never yell at your pet, and you should never treat it!

2.) Bad experiences

A previous negative experience can also be activated. Especially if you have a rescued dog or one that came to you as an adult. Someone may have abused him in the past and the current incident has brought up this bad experience. This will make him distrustful, anxious and afraid around you.

3.) You accidentally scared him

It also happens that you have scared the dog unwittingly – even unknowingly. An unusual noise, a strong sound effect or an unexpected event can all trigger fear. For example, you may have shouted at someone near the dog. Your hands were full and you managed to close the front door too loudly with your foot. Or you knocked over a vase in the living room, scaring the sleeping dog to death with the noise. Think about whether anything similar has happened recently that could be a source of fear.

4.) Senses that you are stressed

Dogs are highly intuitive and pick up very easily on the mood of those around them. So if you’ve been stressed, nervous and impatient lately, it can frighten the animal.

5.) The dog is sick or in pain

Your pet may also be sick or in pain. This is when dogs can instinctively start to be afraid. He may also have a number of unusual, even aggressive, reactions that he has not had before. However, it is also possible that the dog is afraid of the owner because the owner touches it in the wrong place, which it perceives as hurting it.

6) Dementia can also trigger

In older dogs, the possibility of dementia should also be considered. A demented dog may behave strangely as a result of the disease, for example, it may become afraid of the person it loved.

7 steps you can take to overcome fear

We hope the above list has helped you to identify the source of the fear, and the following advice can help you to manage this disturbing condition and stop the dog being afraid of its owner.

  1. One of the most important things is calm! If you see that your dog is afraid, you need to pay close attention to your own behaviour. If you get nervous or tense, it will only make things worse.
  2. In such cases, it is also recommended to avoid touching. As long as you can see that the animal is very restless, don’t try to hold it, especially if it doesn’t want to! Otherwise, it may even act aggressively.
  3. If the behaviour is due to a parenting error, bad experience or lack of socialisation, it is worth contacting a dog trainer. The right professional knowledge and education can help to solve the problem as soon as possible.
  4. If you suspect a health problem,, take your pet to the vet as soon as possible!
  5. As already written: never punish or hurt the animal! You can lose his trust for life by acting aggressively!
  6. If you feel that your stressful behaviour is frustrating the animal, you need to deal with your own problems first. This is also important for your health!
  7. When none of these methods work, or you can’t figure out what the dog is reacting badly to, it’s a good idea to ask for help a dog psychologist or a trainer can be a great help in rebuilding trust between you and your dog.


We stress that whatever is causing your pet to react with fear, trust and rebuilding your relationship may take some time. Be patient and do not rush the process!

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