With experts divided on what's to do, it's probably best to just listen to your dog. If he's scared and has found a place to hide, that's likely the comfort he needs and you can let him try to work it out. But if he comes looking for you to reassurance, you may just want to give it to him.
Whether you rescue an older dog or a puppy, a lot of dogs tend to follow the 3-3-3 rule when getting acclimated: 3 days of feeling overwhelmed and nervous. 3 weeks of settling in. 3 months of building trust and bonding with you.
Dogs learn from positive association. The best way to help a shy or fearful dog gain confidence is to expose them to what frightens them at a low intensity. Pair this exposure with something positive, like a tasty treat.
While generalized anxiety can develop from regular exposure to something your dog has a phobia of, it can also be caused by something as simple as the upsetting of routines or environment like a family member moving out, being left home alone for a long period of time, or moving to a new home.
There are many reasons why dogs become fearful. It could be neglect, abuse, lack of proper socialization with humans and/or other animals, pushed too much at an early age, physical trauma, pain, emotional trauma, any trauma at a critical period of puppyhood, etc. Sometimes we know the reasons, but oftentimes we don't.
Lack of Socialization
A common reason for fear in dogs is a lack of positive exposure to new people, animals and environments during the critical fear period of the puppy socialization process.
There are two major fear periods in a puppy's socialization. One is at 8-11 weeks and the other is 6-14 months. These fear periods are evolutionarily programmed and are protective for dogs in the wild. Even though dogs live as pets now, these genetically determined behavioral patterns are still present.
Each fear period will last roughly 2-3 weeks. The first fear period occurs relatively early in a dog's life, when puppies are between 8-11 weeks old. The second fear period, which also lasts roughly 2-3 weeks, will occur less predictably between the ages of 6-14 months.
Tips to soothe a nervous dog
Speak in soothing, quiet tones in a high-pitched register (if possible). Reassure your dog with your words: let them know you are there, they are safe and that everything is going to be okay. Never yell at or scold your dog when they're nervous or fearful.
Will my dog get better? It's possible! Most fearful dogs gradually improve with time, training, and trust. But they won't likely become outgoing if they're naturally nervous or shy.
The most fearful breeds were Spanish water dogs, Shetland dogs, and mixed breeds. And nearly one-tenth of miniature schnauzers were aggressive and fearful toward strangers, but such traits were virtually unheard of in Labrador retrievers.
Calming collars, pressure wraps, herbal supplements, pheromone sprays, and other anxiety aids can all help make your dog more comfortable at the vet. Medication is also an option, though it's typically considered a last resort. My own anxious dog takes a mild sedative at home a couple hours before each vet visit.
The dog breeds that are more likely to have this problem are the German Shepherd, Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, Jack Russell Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Bichon Frise, Toy Poodle, Labrador Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, and German Shorthaired Pointer.
Dogs experiencing a panic attack will generally be trembling, with wide eyes, and a stiff posture. They're likely to be drooling, panting, and barking or howling. Pacing, destructiveness, or attempts to escape are also common. They may also urinate or defecate involuntarily.
Historically, a dog's paranoid-like symptoms come from a specific trigger - think about how dogs get scared in thunderstorms, with loud noises, or with certain kinds of people. A lot of dog paranoia and fear can come from past experiences, abuse, shelter environments, life on the street, and more.
Acute post traumatic stress disorder is the most common form of PTSD seen in dogs. Acute reactions begin occurring directly after the traumatizing incident or incidents and generally subside within three months.
Stress signs to look for include whale eye (when dogs reveal the whites of their eyes), tucked ears, tucked tail, raised hackles, lip-licking, yawning, and panting. Your dog might also avoid eye contact or look away.
Keep them calm, controlled and short. In fact, it would help your dog if you ignore her for 15 minutes before you leave and for 15 minutes after you get home. It is also advisable that you learn the signs of your dog's anxiety (whining, trembling, not eating, panting, pacing, ears back etc.).
The freeze, flop, friend, fight or flight reactions are immediate, automatic and instinctive responses to fear. Understanding them a little might help you make sense of your experiences and feelings.