Labrador being held in a standing position by a man in a blank and white checked shirted
Dog Behaviour

Did you know the fear response ‘fawning’ is frequently confused with over exuberant behaviour in dogs, would you know the difference? 

“Fawning” is where the brain decides to try and please whoever is triggering the fear response to prevent conflict. 

These dogs and puppies are often excessively jumping up at visitors or lunging when walking pass people or dogs on walks. Along with this behaviour they can sometimes be nipping, humping, repetitive licking, ears back, panting with the dog generally restless and not able to relax in peoples or dogs presence.

You may find you are out with a group of people with their dogs and your dog spends most of their time jumping up at the other people and you, avoiding interacting with the other dogs. This maybe an indication that the dog is feeling uncomfortable with the dogs presence and is looking for a way out of the situation or is trying to avoid conflict. You see the jumping up more towards the other people in the group particularly when the dogs care giver, has wanted to socialise their dog and the dog has wanted to move away but the signals have been missed in the past.

Sadly these behaviours are often punished as jumping up is usually frowned upon, as it can be frustrating for the care givers, particularly when it’s visitors or strangers because it is embarrassing and of course it can put people at risk of getting hurt, depending on the size of the dog. 

You might have worked at asking for sit at the door or when greeting people and it has never worked because sitting is a vulnerable position to be in when you are uncomfortable. It is like putting a lid on a boiling pot, you can get more over the top behaviour when released, as a forced sit is not a relaxing behaviour,  it causes more tension. 

Telling off can then exacerbate an already uncomfortable dog. The dog gets more stressed in the situation because their care givers are agitated, which then increases the dog behaviour further, with the dogs desperate attempts to prevent more conflict, creating a “vicious circle”.

Red and white small dog looking up towards the camera with a finger in the frame depicting the dog being told off

You can often see excessive friendliness when visiting the vets, which could be identified as “fawning” as a fear response to being examined or due to sensing the other animals fear in the surgery.

There is no difference between dogs who use fawning, aggressive behaviour, cowering trying to hide or are frozen when scared, they all need need the same support. 

These dogs generally need space, you need to work at distances that the dogs can relax, being headed at can make dogs uncertain and you will see some subtle signals way before they start jumping up, like suddenly sniffing the ground. You know when you see someone in a shop and you think ‘oh no they will keep me here for ages’, so you try not to make eye contact reading anything close by even if its a bag of frozen peas, this is similar to what you see in dogs trying to avoid people or dogs that are approaching, as they get closer you then see the fawning behaviour. Letting them observe from a distance they can relax will help them process and feel more comfortable, often these dogs just have not had enough time to process calmly the things around them or have had strangers heading at them to stroke them as puppies so preempt people are going to come and man handle them. 

Dogs like this need a safe space away from visitors and to be taught how to relax in the space, trusting they will not get approached or bothered there. The visitors also need to be aware to keep their hands and prevent staring at the dog, giving them complete space so the dog is able to relax in their presence and approach in a calmer state if they wish too. But depending on the dog, the visitor still needs to prevent most of the interaction.

Small white dog lying in grey bed with giraffe print lining, with a green blanket.

If they are not supported this behaviour can eventually lead to them resorting to growling, barking, snapping and biting to increase distance. This is why when I work with adult dog cases that are using what we label as ‘aggressive behaviours’, the clients often tell me the dog used to be all over people when they were puppies would be jumping up constantly and then rolling on their back (another conflict avoiding signal). These are dogs who have had their message over looked and misinterpreted.

One last reason that you may see the fawning response is avoidance of being touched or approached due to discomfort from an underlying condition. As we know dogs are stoic and it is sometimes very hard to diagnose discomfort and pain even in a veterinary situation, which is why a full consultation or dynamic dog assessment is usually required. 

Of course like any behaviour in dogs we observe, observe, observe. This is just one area that I feel should be reconsidered, when you see what looks like an over excited, excessively friendly, totally barmy dog. It might simply be them looking for help and out of a stressful situation.

“First seek to understand before expecting to be understood.”