Unfortunately, some dogs don’t get enough positive socialization when young, while others may have had a bad experience, and still more are simply born cautious and reserved. All of the above create an uncomfortable world for our friends and they deserve better.
Before I explain how to help build confidence, I will go over the “Don’ts” as they are just as important.
- Don’t bring your dog to environments you feel will cause them panic due to the chaotic unpredictability of the surroundings.
- You should not fasten your dog outside of stores, cafes, or the convenience store – even for a moment. Not having you near may create fear and cause a biting incident.
- Don’t force a shy dog into a fearful situation.
- Choose the right training for your pet. Not every dog will take well to E-collar or Prong collar training. Some prefer positive re-enforcement such as treat training.
- You should not force a shy dog out of its comfort zone when hiding or cowering away from what it fears. Instead, sit somewhere close and call their name until they feel comfortable enough to come out. Build a positive experience from a fearful situation.
The most important thing you can do is establish a warm, trusting relationship with your shy dog so they learn to trust you first. They need to know that if they are afraid, the best thing to do is come to you. Things like spending time together, going for walks, snuggling on the couch, hand feeding, and daily massages are a great start.
Some people mistake a shy dog for an aggressive dog. Shy, fearful dogs, when placed in an environment or trigger situation, may lunge, bark, growl, and possibly bite if they feel danger. Every dog and situation is different, however, being able to identify your dog’s emotions at any given time will help you recognize your dog’s triggers.
- Train Obedience - A shy dog that knows exactly what you are asking will be more confident and less likely to panic. Train essential, basic commands to a timid dog: “Sit, Stay, Come, Down…” Always remain calm and supportive during training.
- Practise Subtle Socialization – Shy/Nervous dogs don’t react well to standard socialization techniques such as dog parks, busy and crowded streets, or overwhelming company at home. Instead, be subtle in these situations. For example, when company comes over, there should be no eye contact or communication at first. Have guests sit down with treats in hand and let your dog associate this person with something enjoyable.
- Identify Triggers – It’s difficult to help your dog until you know what triggers their fear, anxiety or shyness.
- Manage Behavior – Once triggers are identified you should develop a management plan. Doing this can ease your dog’s stress while increasing their trust in you. Removing your dog from the trigger is not a permanent fix but it builds trust in you.
- Change Perception – Bring your dog slowly back to trigger, on-leash, and maintain your calm. If your dog begins to act on trigger, reinforce with a treat, and say positive things when their timid behaviour stops.
The key to understanding and making a shy dog more confident is finding your dog’s safe zone (distance) from the trigger point and how and when to take a step closer. If you keep these tips in mind and work slowly, you will build your dog’s trust in you and themselves.
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Nicholas Mozas is Founder and CEO of DOGORA. He is a graduate of the University of Guelph in Biological Science and holds an M.Sc. in Neutragenomics. Nicholas managed an Animal Hospital after graduation, gaining a better understanding of pets’ and owners’ needs. Find out more at www.dogora.ca