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Dog Flinches When Touched? Here's Why

By Aviram K.
September 21, 2021
5 min read
Dog Flinches When Touched? Here's Why
✏️ This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.
🏥 The information in this article is not a substitute for professional help.

One of the best things about having a dog is that no matter the season, you always have a snuggle buddy and play partner.

The warmth of your dog’s body draped across yours. The fun wrestling matches.

These little doses of canine companionship make the tough days in life feel more bearable.

Dogs truly give the type of love so steady and consistent that it inspires you to count your blessings.

But what happens if every time you reach out to pet or play with your pup they pull away?

Not only do they pull away but they actually flinch.

What could this mean?

The most common reason a dog may flinch when touched is if they have a history of abuse. Other reasons a dog may flinch when touched include shyness or poor socialization. They may also flinch due to injury, health problems, and your positive reinforcement of the behavior.

In this article, I will detail the possible reasons your dog may flinch when they are touched, give you ways to help your dog feel more comfortable, and help stop their flinching for good!

If you flinched at the thought of figuring it all out, no worries.

I’ll keep it nice and simple.

Let’s go!

Table of Contents
Why Dogs Flinch When Touched
What You Can Do About It
Most of All, It’s Not Your Fault, and It’s Not Their Fault

Why Dogs Flinch When Touched


All dogs have their own unique personalities, patterns, and preferences. It can be tricky to pinpoint the reason behind your dog’s flinching. To help you get to the bottom of it, here are a few of the most common reasons your dog may flinch when touched:

They Have Been Abused

Unless you’ve had your pup since birth, it’s pretty safe to say there’s no way to know for sure what they’ve been through. Even if your dog’s previous owner treated them like gold, they probably couldn’t watch them every waking moment.

Sadly, your dog could have been secretly abused by a family member in their previous household. Your dog also may have been left unsupervised with a child who was a little too rough with them. The child was probably just playing, yet their actions may have startled or even traumatized your dog.

Enduring unwanted, erratic and hurtful touching in their past could have caused your dog to become skittish.

Your Dog Could Be Shy

Just like humans can be shy, so can dogs! Some pups may have a more naturally withdrawn disposition and could be startled more easily than others. Your dog may just be a little more on the jumpy side. This in itself isn’t a bad thing; it may just be how they are!

They May Have Poor Social Skills

If you notice your pup flinches outside of the home, they may lack social skills. This could be the case if your dog only seems to flinch when they’re out of their element or when they’re around new people. Your dog may just need to get out more. Putting them in different social situations and environments around more people may help.

It Could Be a Sign Your Dog Is Injured or Sick

Your dog may flinch when you touch them because your touch may actually hurt! This is a sad and worrisome reason that your dog may be flinching. But this also may be a very important sign of an underlying problem. If your dog’s flinching is new or has any accompanying symptoms, it may be a good idea to take them to the vet for a checkup.

One physical ailment that has the symptom of flinching is nerve irritation. If your pup seems overly sensitive on their neck or back area, it may be wise to have them evaluated by a professional.

You May Be Encouraging Your Dog to Flinch

Funny enough, your reaction to your dog flinching may be causing them to flinch all the more. Think about how you react when you reach out to touch your dog and they flinch.

Do you get visibly offended, whine or scold your pup?

If so, your dog may have realized that this is a way for them to get attention from you.

And your dog loves getting attention from you!

Even if the attention your dog is getting from flinching is negative, they may still be enjoying it!

What You Can Do About It


Luckily, if your dog flinches when they’re touched, there are ways to help them! Here are some ways to correct this behavior:

Train Your Dog to Stop Flinching

You can train your dog to stop flinching by using treats as positive reinforcement.

It works like this:

  • Get close to your dog and reach out to pet them but stop before getting too close
  • If they don’t flinch, reward your dog with a treat
  • Repeat and get closer to them each time and keep giving them treats for not flinching
  • If they do flinch, consistently continue with this process until they no longer flinch

Don’t Give Your Dog a Big Reaction When They Flinch

As I stated previously, your reaction can positively reinforce your dog to keep flinching. Instead of gasping, shrieking, or lecturing your pup each time they flinch, remain calm. You don’t have to go to the extreme of turning away from your dog or ignoring them.

On the contrary, it may be helpful to intentionally give your pup a steady and anchored presence. See if you remain calm and balanced if that decreases your dog’s tendency to flinch. That way, your dog isn’t seeing their flinching as a means to gain any attention, positive or negative. This may even help them relax if their flinching is due to being more shy or timid in nature.

Approach Your Dog with Gentleness

Try toning down your own movements to see if this makes your dog more comfortable. If you know you can be a bit on the loud, sporadic, or clumsy side, make an effort to be more careful. Try to consistently approach your dog peacefully with a steady, gentle hand. This may be all they need to stop flinching.

Take Your Dog to See a Vet or Trainer

So, you’ve tried to train your dog not to flinch, you’ve toned down your reaction, and you’ve approached your pup with gentleness.

But they’re still flinching.

This may be a job for a professional.

It may do your dog good to see a vet in this case just to make sure they aren’t injured or sick. If your pup is flinching because something is bothering them physically, a vet can help you get to the bottom of it.

If your dog’s flinching is accompanied by other symptoms or if they’ve been through extreme trauma, a trainer may be best suited to help you out. A trainer will be well equipped with strategies and patience to hang in there and really work with your dog to help them stop flinching.

Most of All, It’s Not Your Fault, and It’s Not Their Fault


It can be incredibly frustrating to reach out to show your dog some love, only to have them react by flinching.

It may even make you feel rejected and cause you to wonder “is there something I’m doing wrong?”

Rest assured, it’s likely nothing you’re doing that is making your dog flinch.

The reason behind their flinching may be as innocent as your dog having a shyer disposition or as serious as them being a victim of abuse in their past.

Whatever the reason your dog is flinching it doesn’t have to last forever.

Now that you’re equipped with the reasons your dog flinches you can better understand why they are doing it. With the tips above you can also help them stop. This will put you on the road to enjoying flinch-free, precious doggy affection in no time!

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