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The 4 Fs of Fear

Freeze, Flight, Fight, Fawn,

Analyzing and understanding how your dog reacts to triggers is crucial. Dogs can respond to fear in a multitude of different ways. Today we will discuss the freeze, flight, fight, and fawn responses to fear within canines.


The initial sign of fear is when a pup freezes. When uncertainty strikes, many puppies freeze during their walk. For example, storm drains can be frightening for numerous dogs, causing them to halt and refuse to move forward. Some dogs may adopt a posture similar to Spider-Man, trying to hug the ground. At this point, it's vital not to pick them up. Instead, offer encouragement, crouch down to their level, and guide them past the storm drain from a safe distance. It's preferable to assist a dog through freezing rather than forcefully pulling them through the situation.


When freezing fails, numerous dogs switch into flight mode and attempt to escape scary situations. This behavior poses flight risks that can lead to safety concerns in the future, highlighting the importance of addressing your dog's flight response.

You as the handler are the only one that can truly keep them safe so flight mode can be very dangerous. I once had an extreme flight case that was afraid of almost everything, including me. While taking him on a walk to go potty, he got spooked by a loud truck, bolted and his collar buckle snapped. A dog in the flight zone, won’t recall back to you, won’t be bribed by food either so catching them can be close to impossible. Therefore I highly recommend gps collars for all pets, but especially the flighty ones.

Dogs can not rationalize their fears like humans can, that's why it is so vital to help guide them through their fears, not try to avoid these situations altogether.

 I know you love your dog and want to prevent them going into that fearful state so avoiding it can seem helpful. But one day you won't be able to avoid it, something unpredictable and out of your control will happen and something bad could happen to your dog in return. These intense emotions overflood the dog and during this time nothing you say or do will matter. All they want is to get the heck away from whatever trigger they are facing. So lots of counter conditioning and threshold training will be crucial to lessening their fears and improving their overall quality of life while potentially saving their life from dangerous situations.



Maybe your dog starts growling or lunging at the things it is afraid of, like passing dogs or loud children. Maybe your dog is scared of nail trims and it leads to a bite. Or maybe your dog is afraid of their resources being taken away from them so this leads to them lunging or biting at you. THis aggression’s source is your dog’s insecurities so work on building their confidence and listening to what their body language is telling you. It is essential to address these aggressive behaviors with patience and understanding. Instead of punishing your dog, focus on positive reinforcement and gradual desensitization to their triggers. This means rewarding them for calm behavior and slowly exposing them to the things they fear in a controlled manner. Work with a professional trainer if needed; they can offer strategies tailored to your dog's specific needs and ensure you are on the right path.


Many people know about freeze, flight, or fight responses, but fewer are aware of the Fawn response. The Fawn response involves displaying submissive behaviors to prevent negative outcomes from aggressors. These behaviors often stem from past traumatic experiences where other fear responses, like fight or flight, were not effective. If you are familiar with canine behavior, you may recognize these behaviors in some rescue dogs: adopting submissive postures, trying to appear small, and behaving overly friendly or non-threatening. These actions are intended to de-escalate situations by conveying to a potential threat that there is no intention of harm, thus diffusing tension and averting negative consequences. You might notice various appeasement behaviors like licking, belly flopping, etc. These actions are not a way of saying "I love you" or seeking a belly rub; instead, your dog is desperately trying to evade the situation you're subjecting them to.


Understanding the various forms of fawn responses and their triggers can help us recognize our role and take steps to foster positive emotions when interacting with our fearful dogs. It's essential to identify natural fawning body language to distinguish it from abnormal fear-based behaviors that might need intervention. Prioritizing the safety and well-being of animals can be achieved through gentle, positive reinforcement training, a compassionate approach, and enriched living environments with secure spaces. By minimizing fear and stress resulting from our actions, we can decrease the likelihood of feeling the need to fight, flee, freeze, or fawn in response to us.

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