How to Get a Shy Dog to Open Up

by Lisa Finn
    A dog will often back up when he's anxious.

    A dog will often back up when he's anxious.

    Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

    Not all shy, timid dogs had a bad experience. Sometimes a dog was not socialized well as a puppy and now has some hang-ups about being around other canine companions or people. In addition, a puppy with a shy disposition may simply require time and training to get him feeling comfortable in his new surroundings. By using a combination of training techniques, behavioral modifications and patience, you can help your dog overcome his shyness.

    Put the dog in agility and training classes or begin training the dog yourself. The purpose of training is for dog confidence, trust and obedience. Use target training by holding a treat in your closed hand and making him sniff or bump your hand to get it. This teaches him to come close to you and others and rewards social interaction. Another way is to ask for everything and make him do basic commands for affection. Or, when he does something positive, use a clicker device, say "yes," and give him a treat. By showing the dog your leadership and giving him conflict-resolution skills, he will exhibit less anxiety around others.

    Games allow a dog to get his energy out, provide a mental break and are a stress reliever. A basic game is to have the dog associate his name with something he loves, such as a chew toy or treats. Only give him these things when he comes to you when called. Also use games that draw him close to you, such as fetch and tug-o-war. Make sure you start and end the game and put the object away when the game is over. Use agility play, such as setting up an obstacle course, and train the dog to go through the motions. Eventually, the dog will realize this form of exercise is exciting and he'll look forward to the activity.

    Use a combination of desensitization and counterconditioning to change a dog's emotional and physiological response. First find whatever it is, such as meat, that motivates the dog. Pinpoint the dog's source of nervousness, such as someone new in the house, and then make it happen at a sub-threshold level. Immediately begin using the motivator to shift the dog's attention and emotions. As soon as the person leaves, the motivator stops. After many attempts, allow the stranger to give the motivator to the dog. Another option is to put the dog in his crate. This immediately calms the dog and allows him to feel safe from the outside activity while he observes from afar.

    Let your dog open up to others at his pace. While on a walk, simply tell owners your dog is in training and ask that he not be engaged. If your dog chooses to go nose-first at a dog to smell him out, instruct the owner not to pet your pooch because it could make him withdraw again. It's also important to keep how you react in check. Stay calm and refrain from pulling on the leash or tensing up yourself when a dog or person approaches. Or, host a dog party at your home and invite smaller, friendly dogs. Remember, however, that coddling your dog when he's scared simply reinforces his behavior and perpetuates the shyness.

    Photo Credits

    • Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

    About the Author

    Based in Los Angeles, Lisa Finn has been writing professionally for 20 years. Her print and online articles appear in magazines and websites such as "Spa Magazine," "L.A. Parent," "Business," the Famous Footwear blog and many others. She also ghostwrites for mompreneurs and business owners who appear regularly on shows such as Ricki Lake, HGTV, Carson Daly and The Today Show.

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