Adopting a new dog is an exciting time. Becoming a pet parent may be something you’ve dreamt about or planned for a while. You bought the food, treats, and toys to pamper and spoil your pooch from the moment he joins your family. You’ve been excitedly counting down the days until his arrival.

But now that he’s here, you notice that the love and excitement you feel for him is not being returned. Maybe the cute and friendly dog you fell hard for at the breeder or dog shelter is now a scared dog who doesn’t seem interested in bonding with you at all. Or maybe you chose a rescue dog and they’re taking time to warm up to you. So what’s going on?

a brown dog hides underneath a dark green couch with his head on his paws. He has a shy look on his face looking up towards someone.

6 behaviors that might mean your dog is scared of you

1.  Your dog is evasive with you.  

A nervous dog may exhibit body language that is evasive. He may avoid eye contact with you, ignore you, or leave a room you are in simply to get distance from you.

2. Your fearful dog puts his back up.

If your dog raises up or rounds his back, this could be a sign that he feels threatened or scared. You may also notice the hair along his shoulders or back standing up, and this is also a sign of alarm in a dog.

3. He cowers or hides from you.

A fearful dog may hide or cower behind or under things. You may also notice that he trembles, tucks his tail between his legs, or lowers his ears back which are other signs that he feels fearful.

4. Your dog refuses snacks from you.

Most dogs love a snack, but if you toss a few treats to your dog that he doesn’t accept, that can be a sign that he is uncomfortable around you. 

5. He growls at you or exhibits aggressive body language.

This is an obvious sign of a more aggressive dog, but if you find your dog is growling at you showing his teeth or biting, this is a tell-tale sign that he feels threatened. This more aggressive behavior is a sign that he feels the need to protect himself.

6. He exhibits other nervous behaviors.

Other signs a nervous dog may exhibit are lip licking or yawning even when he’s not tired.

So now that you know what the signs of a fearful dog are, you are probably wondering what is causing your new pet to be so uncomfortable.

Recognize your dog in the above ? We can help

If what you just read applies to your dog we can help with those behaviors. Schedule a consult to talk about it.

Let’s put this in human terms.

Picture it:

You’re at work, getting on with your daily tasks, when your new supervisor marches in. You’re excited to meet them but before you can so much as put your hand out to greet them, they start barking a bunch of orders at you.“Wait a minute”, you think. “You’ve been here two seconds, we haven’t even been properly introduced, and you’re already telling me how to do my job?”  

You’re equal parts pissed and confused at why they think you need to change how you work. And you sure as shit don’t feel inclined to jump to attention and comply with their requests.

Luckily, this isn’t a particularly common scenario. Sure, there are plenty of bad bosses out there but most of us inherently understand that there are processes we have to go through before we can instigate change in the workplace. We know the importance of getting to know people, of assessing our new colleagues’ strengths and weaknesses, of earning their trust.

a calm brown dog stares at the camera while sitting upright in a white colored chair with a red coffee mug at their feet.


Yet, we rarely apply the same principles to how we interact with our dogs.

Typically, when people approach dog training, they take a top-down approach — they’re the boss and it’s their job to issue the orders while it’s the dog’s job to comply without question; they plan to do X and expect their dog to do Y.

Then, when their dog acts in much the same way as the startled employee that can’t figure out what the hell’s happening, they get frustrated, they give up on training or worse, they give up on their dog.

If that sounds oh-so-familiar (and no judgment if it does — this is an extremely common dog approach taken by many trainers and their clients), I’m going to invite you to reframe the training relationship.

The key to building a strong bond with your dog: Remember that it’s a relationship.

Much like the relationship you cultivate with the people you work with, the training relationship you have with your dog should be a two-way street.

You can’t suddenly turn all Sergeant Major and expect full compliance; you have to take the time to earn your pup’s trust and their respect before they’ll consistently respond to your requests.

And if you’re dealing with an aggressive or fearful dog who may have been abused or neglected, you will have more work to do to get your dog to trust you and build a strong bond.

This is a relationship of equals.

You have to abandon the typical transactional, order-based framework of traditional training (that generally leads to behavior management rather than behavior change) and build a deeper foundation. 

You have to provide your dog with the tools they need to think for themselves. You have to provide them with the tools they need to make great decisions not just when you’re reminding them not to pee in the house or chew up the couch but consistently so that they behave in the way you want when you’re in another room, when you’re not home, even when they’re boarding with your friends when you go on vacation.

a yellow medium sized dog shows trust and playfulness with their owner by putting up their paw to meet their human owners hand. The human is female appearing with long brown hair. The dog and owner relationship is depicted on a train track with a clear sky overhead.

Expect more from your dog.

The relationship of equals is a two-way street, and many of us instinctively give so much freely to our dogs without asking much from them in return. Because we love them so damn much we overlook behavior we’re not so keen on, we treat them like infants that don’t know any better, and we underestimate just how intelligent they are.

Yet if it were a human relationship, we’d expect more. Returning to our workplace analogy, as a new supervisor, we’d take time to evaluate our colleagues, we’d expect them to earn our trust. We’d understand the need to create healthy boundaries, and set realistic expectations. In doing so, we’d create stronger, mutually-beneficial relationships — and it’s the same with our furry friends.

Building a stronger relationship with your dog is a complex process. You can simplify it by creating a solid foundation of trust and respect — and by understanding that it should always — ALWAYS — be a relationship of equals. So as you think about your current relationship with your dog, don’t just think about whether they’ve earned your trust, consider whether you’ve earned theirs too.


A lack and white dog peers fearfully underneath a hole in a chain link fence. The dog appears apprehensive and lacking of trust.

So now that we know it’s about the relationship, what if your dog has additional emotional issues that need to be worked through in order to foster a strong bond between you? Maybe you’ve adopted a shelter dog that was neglected, or perhaps you have rescue dog that was abused. 

Dogs who come from these types of background may display fearful, reactive or even aggressive behavior and gaining their trust can be a slow process. However, it’s in the best interest of you and your new dog to work through it together because the reward is well worth it. Below we’ll discuss steps you can take to bond with a fearful dog.

Need some help earning trust?

How long does it take for a fearful dog to trust you? 

I wish there was a firm answer to give on this one.  It will take as long as is necessary for the dog to feel comfortable and confident with you.  Most, or some, dogs it may take as little as an hour.  Other dogs it could  take several days or more.  It’s how we handle these situations and react to them that makes the most difference.  Don’t take it personally if the dog needs time and space.   They are working through many emotions and it is best to just let these things go at their own pace.

How do you know if your dog is bonding with you?

face of a relaxed dog with longer hair, tan and brown markings. Eyes closed

5 Signs Your Dog Trusts You

  1. Your dog moves towards you more willingly and without coaxing.
  2. Your dog is less hesitant to explore the world around them.
  3. Your dog engages in  play with you.
  4. Your dog is not on alert every time you stand up or move.
  5. Your dog offers more calming and relaxing signals (full body shake, sighs, relaxed face)