Why Is My Dog Afraid Of Flies?

What’s that buzzing? Some dogs are scared of flies…¹

The first time you witness such a thing it’s quite comical – a big fierce dog scrambling to hide under the bed whimpering at the sight of one innocent fly buzzing around. Only it’s not comical at all for your poor pet.

Truth is many dogs, large or small, are afraid of flies or other insects, up to the point where their anxiety turns into a real phobia.

Yes, just like humans, dogs can develop all sorts of phobias and since they cannot go to a shrink it’s their owners’ job to help them overcome their fears.

Why are dogs afraid of flies?

There can be many reasons why a dog, even a big German Shepherd, is afraid of flies, and usually, it is very hard for an owner to understand how or when the animal developed such a debilitating fear.

One of the most common causes is a negative experience, like being stung by a fly or a bee. For humans, common house flies are a mere annoyance, and, indeed, they do not sting. 

This dog has swollen eyes from being stung ³

However, there are many other types of flies that do sting and their bite can be really painful. Your dog might have been bitten by a fly while outside and the pain he felt at that moment will make him afraid of all types of flies. Sometimes it’s just one type of fly the dog fears, while other types don’t bother him at all.

Sometimes, insectophobia can be traced to a negative experience the dog had before becoming your cherished pet. Maybe it happened at the pet store, the animal shelter, or the previous owners, in which case you have no chance to find out what triggered his phobia and all you can do is try to help him deal with it.

How do you know if your dog is afraid of flies?

A phobia is not something your dog is born with. The irrational fear of flying bugs also known as insectophobia will appear suddenly, for no apparent reason. At least, not apparent to you, but the dog surely has some reasons to be afraid of apparently innocuous bugs.

The first sign you might notice is the dog’s refusal to go outside in the warm months when there are plenty of flying pests around. It might take you a while to understand this sudden change of behavior especially if your dog used to be a carefree sort of animal who enjoyed running around in the yard and nothing seemed to bother him.

Does your dog refuse to go outside in summer? ²

One very clear sign that your dog has developed insectophobia is when you see him tucking his tail between his legs and trying to hide when a fly happens to enter the room. Don’t scold your pet when he tries to hide under your chair, pressing against your legs or buries himself under the pile of freshly-washed clothes on the couch. The dog isn’t being silly, he’s not playing or trying to annoy you. He is scared. It’s a very intense fear and the poor animal tries to protect himself against the flying enemy as best he can.

Pet owners report this phobia is devastating for their dogs – some hide into a dark corner and shake uncontrollably for a good 15 minutes, others whimper from under the bed and there are even those who vomit in prey of a full-blown panic attack. 

Why is your dog afraid of fly swatters?

There are many cases in which dog owners see a connection between their dog’s fear of flying insects and the way they cower when they see a human with a fly swatter in his hand. This has led many to believe that the dog is not actually afraid of flies, but of the fly swatter used to kill the bug. 

Fly swatters. Why are dogs afraid of these? ⁴

Oddly enough, there are many dog owners who swear they never used a fly swatter to hit their pets so there’s no way the animal can make a connection between the swatter and a painful punishment he’d received. 

Psychologists, because there are indeed professionals who study phobias in house pets, well, these shrinks say it might not be the fly swatter as such that the dog is afraid of, but the specific very sudden hand movement you make when using it or even the sound it makes when it hits the wall. It is possible that in the dog’s mind there’s a connection between that sudden movement of the hand and/or the sound and a punishment inflicted on him long time ago.

How to help a dog that is scared of flies

First of all, be nice to the poor animal and try to understand his intense fear. When the dog is hiding and shaking, get rid of the intruder, then reassure the dog everything’s fine.

Long term, you should try to help him through desensitization and classical conditioning.

Teach your dog to catch flies

Turn their fear into a fun game ⁵

Try to make your dog see flies as tasty treats that are fun to catch. You will have to behave quite silly for this sort of thing, but helping your beloved pet overcome fear is totally worth it. Leave the windows open in one room to allow a decent number of flies in and start demonstrating how to catch them, rather than swatting them away. Literally, open your mouth and start jumping around pretending to catch flies. Make appropriately pleased gestures when you catch one, well, when you pretend to have one in your mouth. The dog will be a bit intrigued by this insane behavior, and so will your neighbor from across the street. However, he will soon start to imitate you – the dog, not the neighbor, hopefully. Reward your dog with a small treat each time he tries to snap a fly out of the air.

Create some positive experiences

If your dog is reluctant to go outside because there are flies there, you need to make him associate going in the backyard with a pleasant experience. Something interesting enough to make him forget about the flies. Buy your dog a new rubber ball and go play catch with him. Or you can move his bowl in the backyard and make sure to fill it with your dog’s favorite treats or a big juicy bone, something he cannot resist. While he eats he will forget about the flies and, hopefully, in a couple of days he will get over his phobia. 

Don’t ignore your pet’s problems

Some are of the opinion you should simply ignore your dog’s display of fear, but this idea is based on the assumption your pet is behaving weird to get your attention. He is not. Insectophobia is a real thing and the dog is certainly not faking it. Ignoring him means leaving him alone with an irrational fear that even humans have trouble dealing with on their own.

Other buzzing insects that your dog might be afraid of

Most dogs are afraid of flies, some hate them all, while some are only scared of a particular type. 

This can be very confusing for a pet owner who might not even notice a particular fly. Horse flies and deer flies are very nasty creatures and their bite can be extremely painful, so no wonder a dog will develop a phobia after a very close encounter with such insects.

Quite easy to understand is a dog’s fear of bees or wasps. If you remember finding a wasps’ nest on your property, don’t be surprised your dog is suddenly terrified of anything resembling a bee. Dogs are pretty curious and like to poke their nose where they shouldn’t and the memory of a bee sting pain is enough to make him hide whenever he sees one.

While we humans are more terrified of mosquitoes than of flies, there are few if any reports on dogs being afraid of mosquitoes, although some of those pesky pests can make it through a dog’s fur.

In any case, you’d better try to make your house a safe-haven by using screen-doors and bug repellents. There are certain insect repellents that are safe for dogs, which you can use to keep these annoying creatures from bothering your dog. Actually, you should use such products even if your pet has no problem with bugs, as certain insects can transmit serious diseases, like the dreaded heartworm.

Why are chihuahuas or other small dogs scared of flies?

Chihuahuas are wonderful pets, but they tend to be a bit shaky and afraid of many things, including flies. Sometimes they appear a bit aggressive, but it’s just their way to hide their fears. Many pet owners struggle to help their little Chihuahuas overcome their numerous fears. The problem is that insectophobia can appear suddenly in an adult dog and training him to overcome his fear is much more complicated than training a young dog. 

It’s not just Chihuahuas that are prone to anxiety and fears, such problems are rather common in other small breeds like Shih Tzu or toy poodles. The best advice on helping them get over this particular phobia is to try and teach them to catch flies.

Wrapping Up

Fear of flies is a common problem for many dogs, irrespective of their size or breed. In most cases, this phobia was caused by an unpleasant experience, probably a painful bite. If you have a dog with this problem the first thing you need is patience. It’s a very intense fear and it will probably take a while to desensitize your dog and help him tolerate the presence of annoying bugs. But it can be done! 

And don’t forget about insect repellents to protect your dog against bug bites, which are not only annoying but also dangerous as the flying pests can transmit various diseases.

Photo Credits

¹ Photo by Andrew Leu on Unsplash

² Photo by BarbaraLN on Flickr

³ Photo by madaise on Flickr

⁴ Photo by Melissa Eder on Flickr

⁵ Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash