When it comes to socialising, dogs can be like humans. Some like to be the centre of attention, some prefer to be part of a pack, and some just want to spend time with those they know and love. Much like with people, there’s nothing wrong with being a shy dog. However, if left unchecked, a dog’s shyness can morph into aggression. When they feel scared or threatened, a shy dog can pose more of a threat than a dominant dog.
Fortunately, while some dogs are born with confidence, all dogs can learn it. By applying these tips and dodging these pitfalls, your pooch will come out of their shell in no time!
Find that one thing your dog treasures
The first step is to find a snack or object that your dog treasures above all else – their Favourite Item. It could be a dog toy, a fresh bone, a pooch treat, or a serving of peanut butter crammed into a kong. Hold onto this knowledge, because it will be important later.
Don’t console them when they’re acting shy
There’s nothing more gut-wrenching than watching a dog in distress. When we see them whimper and tuck their tail between their legs, all we want to do is hold them. Unfortunately, this will only lead to more shyness. When we comfort our shy dogs, they don’t hear “I love you and I’m here to support you.” Instead, they hear “Keep behaving like this, I love it!”
Dogs view affection as encouragement, which means that your chin scratches are reinforcing their shy behaviour. It can be hard to resist the urge, but by staying firm, you’ll be doing your dog a favour.
Don’t let them bark at people (or other dogs) on the other side of the window
When your dog sits at the window and barks at people that pass by, what they’re learning is: “if I bark at something, it will retreat from me.” They’ll believe aggression will solve their problems, and they’ll become more likely to lash out when they’re feeling timid.
Don’t let others force themselves onto your dog
Imagine you’ve just arrived at a party, and you don’t know any of the other guests. You’re already feeling shy when two guests approach you, pin you to the wall, and start stroking your face. For a shy dog, this is what it feels like to be touched by strangers. As well-meaning as they might be, strangers can do more harm than good by petting a shy dog.
Instead, encourage people to keep their distance, outstretch their hand, and allow your dog to sniff them. This will not only respect your furry friend’s boundaries – it will empower them to come out of their shell.
Play their way to confidence
With the “don’ts” out of the way, we can now focus on building your dog’s confidence. To this end, you can teach them a game that will change their perceptions towards strangers. For this game to work, you’ll need two things: your dog’s Favourite Item, and the help of someone they know. You’ll also require a 4 – 6 foot flat leash and a fitted collar to stop them from running away or hiding behind you.
Arm your helper with your dog’s Favourite Item, then walk your pooch towards them. The moment they move towards your helper on their own, have your helper toss the Favourite Item to your dog. This will teach them, in clear and certain terms: “Good things can happen when you don’t hide.”
As your pooch becomes more familiar with this game, have your helper shorten the distance they toss the Favourite Item. After a while, your furry friend should be comfortable enough to take the treat straight from their hand. Once your pooch can play this game with a stranger, they’ll be well on their way to conquering their shyness.
Don’t be deterred if your dog takes a while to embrace this game. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and canine confidence isn’t born in an afternoon. Stick with it, and your pooch will thank you for it.
Do you need a hand coaxing your shy dog out of their shell? Book a session with a Mad Paws Dog Trainer!