How to Help a Shy Dog Make Friends

It’s impossible to predict the personality of a dog. While a pint-sized Bichon Frise may have an enormous, over-the-top presence, a towering Great Dane could cower every time someone new walks into the room. Many different theories exist as to why this is the case, but the fact of the matter is, when you get a shy dog, you get a shy dog. You can’t change his personality. You can, however, reshape some of his problematic behaviors to help him open up and make four-legged friends. Here are a few how-to tips.

  1. Consider the Backstory

Most people believe that, when they encounter a shy dog, he must’ve been abused or mistreated in some way. While this is sometimes true, the more likely alternative is much less dark: He probably just wasn’t socialized properly as a pup. Look into your dog’s backstory, if you can, and figure out what led to his shy state. If it was, in fact, abuse, you may have to collaborate with an expert trainer to overcome your dog’s visceral fears of humans. If it was lack of socialization, you can probably fix that yourself.

  1. Determine His Triggers

Is there a certain situation in which your pooch really seems to shut down? Perhaps he begins to shake every time he sees a man, or he hides under the bed when your guests are being too loud. Make note of these situations. They could be the key to discovering where your pet’s shyness stems from, and in helping you to determine ways to make him feel safe, comfortable and confident.

  1. Create a Rapport

The first step in building that confidence is first establishing a rapport between yourself and your pup. Begin by hand-feeding him food and snacks. He’ll learn to trust you, as well as anyone else who comes to visit bearing treats. Also, allow him to explore his home at his own pace and never make him feel trapped or cornered. Stay a few paces away from him and let him come to you.

  1. Take Intros Slowly

Once your dog is feeling more confident with you in a controlled environment, you can start to introduce him to other people and pups. As mentioned above, a handful of treats can go a long way when he’s meeting a new human. When it comes to dogs, the introduction could be trickier. Choose a calm, well-behaved dog as his first playmate. The pooch should be able to respond quickly to commands if your pup has his hackles up. Keep both on-leash and take the intro slowly, using positive reinforcement to help.

  1. Be Patient

Your pup’s personality isn’t going to drastically change overnight. And you probably wouldn’t want it to — after all, it’s that initial sweetness that drew you to him in the first place. So don’t expect big things right out of the gate, even if you’re working to train him around the clock. Let your pup come out of his shell at whatever pace feels comfortable to him and make sure he knows he’s a “good boy” every single step of the way.

Just because you brought home a shy dog doesn’t necessarily mean you’re stuck with a shy dog for the long haul. With the proper training and encouragement, even the shyest of canines can come out of their shells. Just make sure you allow your four-legged friend enough room to explore and grow at his own pace, only introducing new people and animals when he’s ready. If you rush things, you might end up doing more damage than good.


By Emily Folk / Twitter @EmilySFolk

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