How To Help A Shy Dog Feel Safe
Do you know or have a shy dog? I meet many in my line of work. They are often lovely dogs with a difficult past, some are born with shy personalities, and some have been abused. The shyness should be considered when devising your plan to help the pet around new people. Some of the best training that I have received regarding shy dogs was at Best Friends Animal Society. Winning over a shy dog is extremely rewarding.
I was a volunteer at Best Friends Animal Society. They have wonderful training programs for their volunteer staff. One of the programs that benefitted me the most in my business has been shy dog training. I love shy dogs. There is a sense of real accomplishment when you can help the shy dog progress from hiding into the back of their kennel to being happy to see you and allowing you to leash and walk them. At Best Friends, this process can take days, weeks, or months. The progress depends on the dog. The dogs are never pushed or forced into progressing faster than their comfort zone allows. It is for this reason that I am writing this post. I see an alarming number of dog walkers inexperienced with shy dogs that use treats to lure a scared dog into a forced dog walk. They think that if they chase a dog under a bed and can capture it without the dog biting them, they are successful. This causes more harm than benefit. I urge you to reconsider having strangers come to your house to walk the shy dog you have not properly vetted. Not all dog-walkers (or family members) are a good fit for a shy dog. Here is what I learned from working with rescue animals:
1. Spend time near the dog without talking to them or looking at them. Be calm. Do not make a lot of loud sudden movements. Make the dog know that you are safe. Sit on the ground and ignore the dog. Look at a book, toy, or even your phone. Wait for the dog to come to you.
2. Once the dog starts to come to sniff you, give them treats.
3. Speak softly to the dog. Do not make eye contact. Look away and watch the dog with a side-eye. This is non-threatening body language to dogs. Licking your lips is also “dog” for “I’m no threat.” So is yawning.
4. Petting the dog on its sides or it’s chest very softly if the dog gets close enough is the least threatening method. Do not overdo the petting either. Always stop petting the dog and assess the dog’s body language. Are they licking their lips, eyes, bugged, or blinking a lot? These are signs that the pet is uncomfortable. It is ok to go back to ignoring them. This will give them a break to relax. Do not rush petting. Many shy dogs do not want to be touched. Do not lean over the dog. Please do not hold your hand over their heads or pat their heads. Do not hug your shy dog. It is not comforting to them. It’s intimidating in dog language. Learning about dog body language is invaluable with shy dogs.
5. Get everyone on the same page. You want the dog to feel safe around people. There are many popular app-based dog walking services. These can be great for well-balanced, confident dogs. There is a wide range of experience on these sites. I started caring for pets through exposure to these sites. It is where a lot of pet professionals start. So, I am not saying they are all bad. However, I strongly caution against using a total stranger with a shy dog. I recommend meeting the walker in person with your pet present. See for yourself how they interact. You want someone that you can coach and build a relationship with your pet. We love bringing shy dogs into their full doggy potential. Whoever you choose, we want it to be a positive interaction for your dog. If the walker acts as they know better than you about your dog, or you are not confident that they will take your advice, move to the next walker. Your dog may not like a walker for a variety of reasons that may not be obvious. Dogs have favorite people just like we do.
My little chihuahua, Eddie, doesn’t let anybody new touch him. He took a while to win over — but it was worth the wait. He is a sweetheart once he trusts you.
I have many clients with dogs that have a reputation for nipping strangers and are considered “difficult” dogs. By following the tips listed, being patient, and being gentle, I have gained a reputation for being great with the “difficult” dogs. I love them. The secret is that they really aren’t difficult. They appreciate moving a little slower and are adorable once you get to know them. Most people move in too quickly for these dogs and make them uncomfortable.