It can sometimes be terribly isolating to see other dogs that truly enjoy meeting new people and other dogs, and sometimes you find yourself wishing the same for your not-so-social dog. Why are some dogs scared or shy? Many people believe that dogs that exhibit fear towards people must have suffered some sort of abuse or have experienced a certain degree of trauma. Though it may be true for some cases, the combination of genetic predisposition and lacking social experiences in their early puppyhood would probably have played a larger role. Fortunately, we do not have to understand the exact root cause of their fear in order to help them overcome their fears.
A few things to take note if your dog is overly fearful or Shy:
- Your dog may never become a social butterfly and that is fine
The facts is, if you have a overly fearful or reactive dog, you may never be able to go to public events or activities with high traffic with your pup, or maybe even have some trouble taking him out to the dog park. Though with the help of a professional trainer, it is possible that your dog’s fear can be alleviated, but even if your dog never becomes as outgoing as you hoped for, do understand that it is okay. The best thing you can do is to provide him/her a measure of safety, teach him that he can trust you and rely on you for being there.
- “Training” doesn’t help
Many people fall into the trap of believing that shy, fearful, and/or reactive dogs “just need training.” We are not saying not to teach your dog basic cues. Teaching your dog to sit, stay, down, come, etc. will all be helpful when utilizing the techniques that will help with his fearful behavior. But don’t expect to rely solely on these cues alone to change the behavior.
- Let your dog set the pace.
One of the most important things you can do for your dog is to respect his fears and let him set the pace for getting used to new or scary people. Protect him from making behavior mistakes by providing good management. Teach him basic behaviors so that he or she will know what to do in new situations. Lavish him with does of great things in the presence of scary people to help him overcome his fears.
- Never punish their fears.
What fearful dogs lack are confidence and are usually stressed, punishing or scolding them will not make them any better, it will only cause them more confusion and fear. This does not mean that their undesired behavior cannot be corrected. A good behaviorist or trainer will be able to change inappropriate behavior without using punishment.
Simple training exercises to help you train your dog for confidence:
- Ask politely for everything. Have your dog sit or down before you pet them, give treats, feed, play ball, etc. This will help to build structure, which appears to be stress-relieving for dogs, and it teaches your dog to look to you for guidance and for the good things in life.
- Reward and mark desired behaviors. Reward all positive behaviors around people. For example, if you are out in public and your dog sits in the presence of strangers, “mark” the behavior with a word such as “Yes!” or “Good!” and give him a reward. If your dog politely approaches a friendly child, mark the behavior (click! or Yes!) and give your dog a reward. Give your dog rewards for these behaviors even if you did not ask for them! If you reward offered, appropriate behaviors, your dog may start to use them as a coping mechanism, which may help him reduce his own stress level.
- Train a default behavior.A default behavior (a behavior your dog offers when he doesn’t know what else to do) can be a great tool for an anxious dog. An excellent default behavior for fearful dogs is “Watch me,” meaning, “Look at my face and eyes.” This helps your shy dog orient toward you, as well as helps him disengage from people who are frightening to him.
While training specific behaviors can help to build confidence and teach your dog how to behave appropriately around the people who may frighten him, desensitization and counter-conditioning can be key to helping a shy dog overcome those fears. If you’ve ever encountered or dealt with fear, for example fear of cockroaches, you’ll probably understand that any exposure to cockroaches may make your heart beat faster and have sweaty palms. These are natural body reaction that you cannot control, which are similar to what your dog may experience – the emotional and physical reaction.