Fearful Dog Breeds: Understanding Genetic Causes of Anxiety and Fear

Dogs are revered as man’s best friends; they provide unconditional loyalty, affection, and protection. But some breeds of dogs have earned themselves a reputation for being more anxious or fearful than others; environmental factors play a part, as do genetics in creating fearful and anxious dogs.


Many breeds known to be predisposed to fear and anxiety have been purposely bred for specific traits like guarding or herding, which can translate to feelings of anxiety when threatened or uncertain situations arise. Some examples include Shih Tzu, Chihuahua, Bichon Frise, and Greyhound dogs that tend to display more fearful tendencies.

Research has demonstrated the role that certain genes can play in shaping a dog’s temperament. A 2010 study determined that variations of the serotonin receptor gene were linked with anxiety-related behavior while another one conducted in 2012 identified variations within dopamine receptor genes as indicators for fearfulness in dogs.

Genetics play a part in shaping canine behavior, but environmental influences also have an effect. Early socialization and training can help reduce anxiety and fear in dogs. Owners should also remain mindful of any triggers their dog might have and try to eliminate or mitigate them as much as possible.

If your fearful dog needs some assistance with anxiety issues, working with a certified trainer or behaviorist to create a plan may include counter conditioning, desensitization and other behavior modification techniques.

Genetics play a part in dog temperament; however, early socialization, training and proper care can all play an integral part. With patience, love and a strategic plan in place, fearful pets can quickly transform into happy, confident companions.

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