Why Are Dogs Scared Of Fire

Is this the dream? Enjoying a campfire with
your dog? ¹

One of the upsides of Lockdown is that we have spent more time in our gardens. And this extra time has given some of us the opportunity to get our garden ship shape.

As part of that you might have had the odd bonfire or two. And you might have noticed something a bit unsettling. That your dog is scared of fire.

In this post I look in detail at the reasons for this.

Hopefully this is something that you can fix before Autumn kicks in and it is time to light the log burner.

4 reasons that dogs are scared of fire 

There are four possible reasons that your dog is scared of fire (or anything else for that matter) and those are:

  1. Lack of socialisation
  2. Traumatic experience
  3. Genetic
  4. Medical conditions

But the most common reason that your dog is scared of fire is because they have had a traumatic experience with a fire.

This could be as simple and unpleasant as a dog being burnt by a flying ember when they were previously near a fire. 

And this can be a result of one incident or a combination of incidents

Now I want to look at the other reasons to see why each of those could be a trigger for your dog to be scared of fire.

[1] Lack of socialisation

Some dogs have very limited life experiences ²

Are you looking at this and thinking why is a lack of mixing with other dogs or people lead to a fear of fire?

Well, it doesn’t.

Socialisation in this sense just means that a dog has had very limited experiences- they have literally had a very sheltered life.

They haven’t met a variety of people or dogs, haven’t visited many different places and experienced a whole range of different things..

The result of this is that they lack a general all round confidence that helps all dogs to experience different people and places and take it “all in their stride.” 

It means that as well as being scared of fire, your dog has a long list of fears and phobias because their confidence across the board is at rock bottom. 

Quite a few rescue dogs suffer a lack of socialisation..

[3] Genetics

Another reason that dogs can be scared by certain things is because it is part of their genetic make-up.

For instance, their Mum or Dad may have been scared of fire and so they are. 

This is incredibly interesting but complicated to explain. 

But a dog’s genetics really can influence a dog’s anxiety.

A recent study in Finland involving nearly fourteen thousand dogs showed that dogs of the same breed had the same anxieties. 

[4] Medical conditions

Medical conditions are normally related to a dog being aggressive as opposed to it being scared of fire.

It would be obvious and easy to see that if a dog had an open wound and someone tried to touch it, that the dog might react very aggressively. 

But there are also a whole range of “hidden” medical conditions that result in a dog being incredibly anxious. 

These include hormonal imbalances such as hypothyroidism and epilepsy but also conditions where pain leads to aggression such as with dental disease and arthritis  

Are dogs scared of fire by instinct?

Fear of fire is not instinct ³

It is probably not in a dog’s instinct to be scared of fire. 

Fires obviously generate a lot of heat and a lot of smoke which means that many animals won’t get close to fire because they physically can’t get close to it because it is either way too hot for them or the smoke gets in their eyes or chokes them.

This wariness should never be mistaken as instinct though. Some dogs are not phased by fire at all. 

My wife is a gardener and a few weeks ago at a client’s house they were having a bonfire in the garden to burn some green waste from all of their cutting and pruning.

These clients own a spaniel and like many spaniels he is ball obsessed. He will happily spend hours retrieving a ball never getting bored of the constant back and forth.

This obsession or drive is so strong that the dog was still dropping the ball at my wife’s feet even when she was next to the fire.  

Is this spaniel’s obsession so strong that it overrode his natural caution with regard to the heat and the smoke that he was feeling?

What are the biggest symptoms of a dog being fearful?

Some of the biggest hints that you may get that your dog is scared of fire include:

  • Running away
  • Whimpering
  • Barking or growling
  • Aggression

How to stop you dog from being scared of fire?

Stop your dog being scared of fire by
tackling it gradually ⁴

The good news is that you can help your dog to overcome their fear of fire.

I think that you should only do this if your dog’s fear is a major disruption to your life or your dog’s life. 

For instance if in your house you use a log burner frequently throughout the winter and a BBQ for much of the summer and you have a dog who is petrified of both then these are behaviours to overcome. 

If on the other hand, you don’t have an open fire at home and you don’t use a BBQ but your dog was scared witless by an open fire at a friend’s house, then perhaps any training isn’t worth the effort because the situation doesn’t occur frequently enough to be a pain. 

But it is important to recognise that it will take lots of work and commitment on your side.

If your dog’s fear of fire has been an issue for a long time then the training will take longer to succeed than if the dog’s fear is a relatively recent development.

What you need to do is think about what your aim is and then break it down into small steps.

For instance, if your dog has a fear of the log burner in your sitting room and refuses to even enter the room when it is alight, you need to figure out what your goal is.

It could be that you want your dog to lie down and go to sleep in front of it.

So the easy way to break this down into small steps is to work out where the dog normally goes to when you light the log burner and then to work backwards. 

Every step in this process will be a literal step closer to the log burner.

It might be that you have to sit on the floor with your dog in order to get them to move closer but that doesn’t matter.

If they are motivated by a ball or a toy use that to get your dog 1 step closer.

You are trying to distract your dog from the fear it has and replace that fear with another more positive emotion

Now this might seem a bit stupid or silly to divide it all up into such small chunks but the reason behind all of this is to make the task as easy to succeed as possible.

If the training works then what happens is that there is a lot of praise and positive interactions and fun and your dog will begin to associate this activity with it being fun. 

You can even chuck a treat in there for good measure.

As I mentioned in a previous post about dog fear, praise is a drug and both you and your dog benefit from it. 

The flip side of the small step approach is that you try and achieve too much, too soon.

You have over ambitious aims.

For instance in the first session you want your dog to come to within four feet of the log burner.   

When your dog starts to get really anxious, you get frustrated because the dog isn’t doing as it’s told and you feel like you are failing. 

Your frustration levels rise together with your dog’s anxiety levels. 

Everyone has failed and nobody wants to do it again. 

You stop doing it and you are back to square one. As soon as you light the log burner the dog disappears out of the room. 

Or it is even worse if your dog displays fear not by running away but by whining!

So whereas the first approach will clearly take much more time, your chances of success are so much higher. 

Why are dogs scared of smoke?

As well as being scared of fire, some dogs are petrified of smoke.

I explain this fear in much more detail here. [link] 

And like fire, the most likely experience is a nasty prior experience. 

Smoke is a very sensory experience for a dog. For a start you have got the dense smell of burning and then you have the visibility issues and not being able to see clearly. 

Those two sensations allied to a terrifying experience in the past would be powerful enough to freak most dogs out.

Why is my dog scared of lighters?

You can’t quite believe it until you start looking on the forums and at a few YouTube videos

But there are dogs who seem to be scared of lighters.

How can a dog be scared of a cigarette lighter? They are so small. 

They can’t seriously be scared of that tiny flame, can they?! 

So is it the flame

What are the most common things that dogs are scared of?

Photo Credits 

¹ Photo by christoph wesi on Unsplash

² Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

³ Photo by Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash

⁴ Photo by Rodrigo dos Reis on Unsplash