Skip to Content

Why Does My Dog Cower? 13 Questions Answered + 9 Tips

Why Does My Dog Cower

Although there are a number of reasons why your dog cowers, they all have something in common. This article will reveal what.

Here you’ll also learn:

  • How your behavior could make your dog cower (without you realizing it).
  • Whether abuse from the past has something to do with your dog’s cowering.
  • What the possible reasons are if your dog started cowering all of a sudden.
  • 9 practical tips to help you deal with your dog’s cowering.
  • Plus more…

Why does my dog cower?

Your dog cowers due to not being properly socialized as a puppy – they could have had a traumatizing experience then. Or they might have been abused in the past. Another reason that plays an important role is genetics. Your dog could also not enjoy petting, kisses or someone grabbing their harness.

13 FAQ about dogs and cowering 

#1: Why does my dog cower when I yell?

The reason why your dog cowers when you yell is because they’re afraid of you. Your dog can pick up your emotions. Besides your tone, it’s also the body language you use at the same time. If you appear too threatening, they might also pull their ears back, tremble, tuck their tail between the legs.

#2: Why does my dog cower when I call him?

Your dog cowers when you call him because they associate their name with a negative situation in the past. It could be because your tone was harsh and you’ve punished your dog. Or someone else did while using their name. Or, if you’re angry, your dog senses it and is afraid of what will happen next.

#3: Why does my dog cower when I pet her/him?

Your dog cowers when you pet him or her because they don’t want to be petted. Or, they could be afraid that you’re going to hit them. Some dogs also enjoy their personal space more than others and want to avoid touch without confrontation. Another reason is that it hurts where you touch.

#4: Why does my dog cower when I get/come home?

Your dog cowers when you get home because they are unsure of what you will do to them. If recently you have scolded or punished them immediately upon coming home, they could be afraid that this will happen every time. They’re most likely confused because they don’t know why you’re angry.

#5: Why does my dog cower when I go to pick him up?

Your dog cowers when you go to pick him up either because he’s afraid of you carrying him, or it hurts where you’re touching him. Maybe you’re holding him in a way that’s uncomfortable. He could also associate it with going to the vet if you’ve carried him like that before going there.

#6: Why does my dog cower when I put his lead/her harness on?

Your dog cowers when you put his lead or harness on because they feel less in control. The harness could also be uncomfortable. If your dog’s head has to go through the harness, your dog is likely feeling vulnerable. That’s the case if your dog tries to hide or pulls away while you try to put it on.

#7: Why does my dog cower down?

The reason why your dog cowers down is to show you or others they’re not looking for trouble. It’s like the human equivalent of ‘Please don’t hurt me’. It could also be a learned behavior to get atttention from you. If your dog only cowers around a certain person, they could be afraid of them.

#8: Why does my dog cower and pee?

Your dog cowers and pees at the same time as a result of submissive urination. The reason why your dog does that is to show you that they’re not a threat to you or other dogs. It can happen when your dog meets new dogs or people. It’s also possible while you’re petting or playing with them.

A dachshund dog owner shared on a forum that their dog started cowering and urinating all of a sudden. One thing that has changed wa sthat the woenr was missing from the house more often. 

#9: Why does my dog cower away from me?

Your dog could be cowering away from you due to one of the following reasons: they’re a recent addition to your family and just establishing their relationship with you, or they could be inviting you to play. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog has a past history of being abused.

#10: Why is my dog cowering (from me) all of a sudden?

Your dog is cowering (from you) all of a sudden for one of the following reasons: an unpleasant experience during your walks, due to illness, physical pain due to a past traumatic experience or abuse (if the dog was adopted), age-related problems such as dementia.

#11: Why do dogs cower in trouble? 

Dogs cower when in trouble because they sense you’re unhappy with them. They read your body language. If you scold them, point at them, or look at them intensely and raise your voice, they will know you’re upset with them. As a result, they’ll get stressed and show fear in their posture.

You shouldn’t scold your dog for anything that has happened while you’re away. If you don’t catch a dog in the act, you might as well not attempt to correct their behavior. Dogs live in the moment and won’t remember what they’ve done hours before you came home. 

If you want to teach your dog good manners around the house, grab the opportunity when they’re doing something they shouldn’t. Then, use a firm ‘NO’ to let them know what they’re doing is not okay.

#12: Why does my dog cower and shake? 

Your dog could cower and shake if they’re expecting something unpleasant to happen. An example is visiting the veterinarian. If your dog recognizes your queues they’ll know what’s coming. Another possibility is anxiety. If your dog is healthy the reason could be stress.

#13: Why does my dog cower to other dogs?

Your dog cowers to other dogs because it hasn’t been socialized properly or has had a traumatic experience with dogs in the past. If you react strongly whenever other dogs are around, your dog could perceive other dogs as a threat. Another reason could be your dog’s genes.

How do I stop my dog from cowering? 9 tips

How do I stop my dog from cowering

#1: Train them

Use positive reinforcement to encourage the behavior you want to see.

I can’t emphasize this enough. Positive reinforcement can take you a long way. 

What does that mean? 

Instead of teaching your dog to stop unwanted behavior, try to substitute it with a desirable one.

It’s okay to tell your dog the word ‘NO’ when you want them to not do something. Use a firm voice.

If your dog pays attention to you and stops what they’re doing, reward them. 

Caution: Never use dog snacks to get your dog to come to you so you can punish them. Punishing your dog physically and verbally will not only traumatize them but can also make them aggressive towards you. 

Furthermore, science points out that dog owners who use punishment as a training method are faced with more problematic behaviors from their dogs. Plus, dogs trained in such a way are likely to develop anxiety.

Remember this: when training your dog it’s best to appear predictable. Just like with personal connections, transparency is essential.

#2: Remain calm

This one is essential – don’t give in to anger. 


Because your dog will pick up your emotions. Yes – even if you don’t raise your voice or yell.

It could be hard in the beginning if your dog isn’t learning as fast as you’d like them to. But you should remember that each dog has their own pace. Just like humans.

Plus, if a certain training method isn’t working out immediately, it doesn’t mean it’s ineffective. Dogs need time to adjust.

You’ll have to try a certain method over and over again. The more consistent you are in repeating it, the better the chances are your dog will get the idea. 

An example from my dog’s (Lissa’s) day

Yesterday I and my boyfriend went to a dog playground. There we saw quite a lot of cool equipment for agility training.

The playground was divided into two parts. One for small dogs and one for big ones. Both were free so we decided to check out the one for big dogs. 

It had 2 dog walks. Both were very high, especially for a small dog like Lissa (Chihuahua size). But both walks were made out of wood and I noticed she’d have a good grip on them with her paws.

So, we decided to give it a shot. We started luring Lissa in with Merrick Power Bites for training. At first, she’d hesitate when stepping on the wider walk. But eventually, she’d go for the treat and then immediately go back and step off the walk. 

We’d encourage her by putting small treat after treat on each level of the walk. Then we’d tap several times with a finger at the place where the next treat was.

It didn’t seem like Lissa would like to take the risk to go too high. But we were calm, encouraging, and would give her a treat every time she climbed higher than the previous time.

After several repetitions in less than half an hour, Lissa managed to climb to the peak of the wide walk and come down from the other side. Needless to say how proud we felt of our dog daughter. 🙂 

In less than one hour she managed to conquer not only the wider walk but also the narrow one. And she’d not only climb and go down but do it fast. She would run from one to the other. 


While this doesn’t have to do directly with training your dog not to cower, it has a lot to do with positive reinforcement. 

I know it sounds way too easy. And that’s because it was. 

The key? 

Believing in the capabilities of your dog. Being patient. Remaining calm and supportive. And being there every step of the way (literally). 

Last but not least – celebrating each improvement, no matter how small. Just take some dog cookies and throw a party. Show your dog that’s what’s happening is awesome.

That’s how you bond with your dog. And how you increase the trust between you two. 

#3: Don’t force it 

When you want something, you tend to try hard to get it. But what happens if you fail the first time you try?

It probably motivates you to try even harder. 

While this approach might work to an extent for us, humans, it’s not the best way for dogs. 

In tip #2 I’ve mentioned how we trained Lissa to climb the 2 dog walks. What I have to add, is that we’ve also taught her to go through a tunnel for dogs the same very day. 

What’s more, it took less than an hour to do that for both the walks and the tunnel! Why?

Certainly not because our dog is a natural genius or anything. She’s not the exception. Dogs in general are very smart and adaptive creatures. You just have to know how to operate with them.

The lesson

Have you tried forcing your dog to do something? How did that go for you? 

For us, not so well. What I mean is the first few attempts to get Lissa to go through the tunnel…

At first, my boyfriend held her and tried to put her at the beginning of the tunnel… Wrong. Lissa immediately started fighting against it and jumped out of his hands before he managed to put her in.

That was the moment we realized this could only frustrate her. So, we didn’t attempt it again. I’ve seen this happen previously with other dog parents.

One time I saw a very kind pet owner do the same with her Corgi. The Corgi started kicking in the air and escaped her owner’s grip. Well, who can blame her? 

Look at it this way – many parents force their children on what path to take in life (with education, a job, even with marriage). 

Often, as a result, after a certain amount of time (years on end), the child would choose a different path. And they’d suddenly stray away from what their parents wanted of them. 


Because forcing anyone isn’t the way. You’ve got to make your child (be it a human or a canine one) to make their own decisions. You can show them the way, try different approaches, and reward them for doing something great. 


Luckily, dogs are instinctual creatures. So, if you force them to do anything they’re afraid of or not ready for, they’d show you immediately. 

Your job? 

You just have to ‘listen’. You don’t have to be a dog whisperer to get to know and understand your dog. Just look at the queues. 

You can learn to communicate with your dog by reading their body language. It will tell you a lot about how they feel. 

Let’s say you’re training to do your dog for agility. And they cower when you try to make them do something. Don’t continue ‘pushing’ them to do the task. Rather, reconsider your approach. test out different things and see where that takes you. 

#4: Perceive cowering as feedback 

What if I told you that your dog’s cowering is much more than meets the eye?

By cowering, your dog is trying to communicate with you. 

Usually, cowering is a sign that your dog feels uncomfortable in the situation they’re currently in. It means that something along the way isn’t going as smoothly as it could. This is the case with unfamiliar situations as well.

If you tend to talk loud, your dog might perceive it as threatening. Or, if you tend to tell your dog off, they are most likely afraid of you when you do it.

Then, cowering means that they’re unsure of what’s going to happen next. They might find you unpredictable. 

This was proven by a study done on dogs to see how they perceived their visits to the vet. What scientists found was that the level of fear was mostly dependent on the dog’s breed group (21%).

#5: Choose a safe environment 

Exposing your dog to a lot of stimuli can backfire. Regardless of whether we’re talking about socialization, training or simply taking them for a walk. 

Your dog might cower at the sight of children running around and screaming. Or people who lean over your dog’s head with their palms to pet the head of your dog. 

Even if you take your dog to interact with other dogs, it’s not necessarily the best thing. Especially if some of them come in strong. They might just want to play but do it a bit rough. And this can be too much for your dog.

Research shows that while some puppy parties have a positive effect on socialization, other scientific observations show no clear benefits.

That’s why it’s best to not overwhelm your dog. If they get agitated easily, make a mental note. And don’t take them to crowded places such as shopping centers, restaurants, or dog parks.

Instead, arrange playdates with owners whose dogs your dog gets along with. Your pooch will have fun, exercise and feel good.

#6: Educate friends, family, and acquaintances how to approach your dog

Some people could appear intimidating to your dog. Even if they have the best of intentions. 

It’s okay to let them know how your dog can perceive them better.

For example, instead of letting them closer to your dog just like that, advise them to try the following steps:

  1. Approach the dog from the side (like dogs do to each other).
  2. Extend one hand with the palm facing up.
  3. Let the dog sniff you. 
  4. Give them time to decide whether they want to approach you and be touched by you. 

#7: Don’t use the name of your dog to scold them

I’ve already discussed the importance of positive reinforcement. In addition to that, if you ever happen to tell your dog off for anything, you shouldn’t use their name. 

The same goes if your dog isn’t listening to you while you try to get them to do something.


Science shows that if your dog has a negative experience with their name, they will recall that event whenever someone mentions their name. 

#8: Consider dog school

Anything that you can’t do on your own could be fixed with the help of a professional.

Don’t hesitate to consult a certified dog trainer or behaviorist in your area.

If your pooch is just a pup, you can sign them up for dog school earlier. This can ensure positive experiences among peers. And will set up your dog for success.

Proper socialization is the key to a happy and confident dog.

#9: Don’t reward your dog for cowering

I know – it’s very tempting to see your pooch cowering and to resist comforting them.

As hard as it might be, don’t show them any affection.


Because whenever they receive attention from your side, they perceive it as a reward. 

So, even though you have good intentions, you’re not helping your dog by petting, hugging, or talking to them. 

In fact, you can do them more good by staying calm and showing them there’s nothing to be afraid of. 

That’s because dogs mimic their own species. But in today’s world, due to domestication, they mimic their owners. Be a role model for your dog. 🙂 

BONUS tip: Don’t give mixed signals to your dog

Mixed Signals Cowering Dog

Sometimes owners confuse their dogs by giving commands inconsistently.

‘But how?’ you ask.

Well, let’s say your dog starts chewing on an old slipper of yours. You had the intention to throw the slippers away but for some reason didn’t get t it.

Then you see your dog proudly carrying the slipper with ther head up. And an inviting look on their face to encourage you to chase them.

Will you find it funny, laugh it off and let them be?

If you answered ‘yes’, it’s wrong.

In case you don’t want that behavior to occur with your new stilettos or other shoes of value to you, teach your dog it’s not fine.

Now, imagine you were okay with your dog chewing on old things. Then, one day they ruin your expensive shoes. You try to keep calm but your frustration gets the better of you.

And before you know it, you start scolding your dog… And they get scared. They start cowering.

That’s because they haven’t been in such a situation before and they can’t understand what the big deal is.

To avoid causing unnecessary stress to your dog and to prevent accidents, be consistent with your commands and training.