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Quiz: Are You Making Your Dog Neurotic?

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 18 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Dog Neurotic Nervous Scared Anxious

There is nothing worse than a scared, nervous dog cowering at every slight sound or unusual sight.

But many dogs are not born this way – no, they are made this way by their owners, often with misguided good intentions.

So are you inadvertently turning your dog into a nervous wreck? Take this quiz and find out:


1) When your dog acts frightened, do you:

  • a) Shout at him to stop being a chicken
  • b) Immediately reassure him with soothing voice and cuddles?
  • c) Ignore any bad behaviour but then praise him as soon as he shows less fear?

2) Do you make detours on your walks to avoid things that you think might frighten or upset your dog?

  • a) Never
  • b) Sometimes
  • c) Always

3) You’re walking down the street and suddenly see a large, powerful dog coming in the opposite direction. Your dog doesn’t seem bothered. Do you:

  • a) Scoop him up quickly and cross the street or give the other dog a wide detour – the big monster might eat your precious!
  • b) Keep walking but have your dog on a short lead so that you can control any interactions and move away if necessary
  • c) Wave delightedly and rush over to get your dog to say hello to this “new friend”

4) How much time does your dog spend alone?

  • a) Never – he is always with me or someone else is always home with him.
  • b) Occasionally he is left alone with some chews or interactive toys
  • c) A lot

5) When your dog barks at strange noises outside, do you:

  • a) Let him bark a bit but then thank him for alerting you and ask him to be quiet?
  • b) Jump up and shout at him to be quiet?
  • c) Run to the door or windows and ask him frantically who is out there?

6) At home, your dog is constantly following you around, even waiting outside the toilet! Do you:

  • a) Let him – it’s really cute and endearing, it seems to show that he really loves you.
  • b) Shout at him and keep trying to make him go away…it’s so annoying!
  • c) Let him spend some time with you but also encourage him to take himself off to other areas of the house from time to time, such as lying in the sun or playing in the garden.

7) You’re walking with your dog in a street with busy traffic and a bus passes close by, screeching its brakes. Your dog jumps in surprise and looks at you – do you:

  • a) Keep walking as if nothing happened and the praise your dog when he catches up with you
  • b) Shriek and jerk away, then make a huge fuss of your dog, telling him how lucky he was
  • c) Stop and cuddle your dog, telling him the big bad bus won’t hurt him

8) When your dog pesters you for attention, do you:

  • a) always give in with pats and cuddles?
  • b) ignore him completely?
  • c) sometimes pat him and sometimes ignore him?


Question 1: Correct answer is C

Unlike humans, dogs do not respond well to reassurance - since they cannot understand our words, they do not understand the reassurance but instead hear the soothing noises as praise for showing fear. They think that they are being rewarded for showing fear with all the fuss, cuddles and praise that they are getting – and since dogs repeat behaviours that are rewarded, this means that they are more likely to act scared and nervous in the future.

Making a fuss of them also confirms to them that there really IS something to be scared of and makes them even more frightened. The best way to tackle a frightened dog is to ignore it when it is exhibiting nervous behaviour (eg, whining, crying, jumping up, cowering, etc) but praise and reward with attention, even food treats, as soon as the dog starts acting normal again.

One way to help is to distract a frightened dog with some training – eg, asking for a Sit and then rewarding him with a treat. The dog will be so focused on performing the command and earning the treat that he will forget about the fearful stimulus and gradually desensitise to it.

Question 2: Correct answer is B

It is not good to be overprotective of your dog – it is important that your dog is exposed to as many things from the human world as possible so that he remains socialised and confident. Naturally, it is unfair to always force a dog to confront something which really frightens him so it may be a good idea to avoid certain things but you should not try to wrap him in a cocoon. The more he is shielded, the less he will be able to cope with any new experiences.

It is best to occasionally expose your dog to things which may frighten him but to make sure that you behave appropriately during these encounters, ignoring any fearful behaviour and rewarding any calm behaviour with treats and praise, so that the dog makes positive associations and gradually learns to deal with different types of stimuli in the environment.

Question 3: Correct answer is B

Again, by being over-protective of your dog, especially with regards to other dogs, we can actually make a dog more neurotic than it otherwise would be. Very often humans project their own feelings onto their pets, therefore if they are feeling nervous about another dog, they will immediately assume that their dog is nervous too. In fact, dogs do not view size the way we do and a small dog may act very confidently around a larger dog and vice versa.

If you make a fuss every time your dog sees a certain type of dog, your dog will pick up on your tension and soon develop a fear or dislike of that kind of dog and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy! It is best not to interfere too much but try to let dogs interact naturally in their own space and time – however, make sure that you have control over your dog so that you are able to remove your dog immediately should the encounter turn aggressive for any reason.

Question 4: Correct answer is B

Dogs that never learn to be by themselves can become overly dependent on their human companions and very anxious if they have to be left alone for any reason. This is a common reason for dogs developing separation anxiety. It is important to teach all dogs to learn to be alone, even if they will usually have company all the time – this helps to build their sense of confidence and security. When left alone, they should always be given treats and interactive toys to occupy their time and also to build positive associations with their time alone.

Question 5: Correct answer is A

Dogs are naturally territorial and it is natural for them to bark to warn you of visitors to your property. However, once you have been notified, they should feel confident enough in your pack leadership to stop barking and “hand things over to you”. By calmly acknowledging them and silencing them, you are showing your leadership and actually reassuring them that their job is done and they can relax. However, if you jump up, shout, act anxious or excited or allow them to continue barking and acting up, then not only are you encouraging their nervousness and excitability but you are also not providing any sense of leadership for them. You might also be encouraging them to become overly sensitive and to bark at any slight disturbance, as they will be remaining in a constant state of unease.

Question 6: Correct answer is C

Although it may seem cute and endearing to have a dog follow your everywhere, this is actually very bad for the dog. It does not mean that your dog “loves you more” but rather that your dog is a nervous, clingy type who is using you as an “emotional crutch” all the time. It is vital that you encourage your dog to show a bit of independence and learn to be by himself and entertain himself occasionally. Therefore, if you have a dog that likes to follow you everywhere – don’t punish him or shout at him but calmly prevent him from doing so by using baby gates to keep him in another room, where he can see you but not be with you or shut him out in the garden for short periods. Start with very short periods of time and gradually extend this so that he is used to spending longer and longer periods away from you. Give him fun toys, tasty chews and comfortable beds to encourage him to spend some time in “his own space”.

Question 7: Correct answer is A

Dogs take their cues from their owners and will decide how to react in a situation based on how their owners react. Particularly when there is something that is potentially frightening, a dog will look towards his owner to see how to behave. If the owner remains very calm and matter-of-fact, continuing on as normal, the dog will also treat the situation as no big deal and learn to cope with it. If, however, the owner reacts excitedly, makes a big fuss and in particular, cuddles and reassures the dog, then the dog will see this as confirmation of the “scary thing” and will become more frightened and nervous next time they encounter a similar situation.

Question 8: Correct answer is C

While all dogs like attention from their owners, it is important not to always give in to their demands. This can create a dog that is overly dependent on his owners, especially as dogs who constantly cling to their owners are often the ones who do not feel very secure or confident in the first place. Encouraging some independence is healthy for the dog – therefore don’t always give in to your dog’s demands for attention, no matter how cute or pitiful he looks. Let him stay near you if he likes, such as lying by your feet, but do not constantly pat, caress or speak to him.

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