A shy puppy can be sweet, but there's a point when his shyness crosses over into debilitating country causing him to cower in fear at every loud noise or even when you lift your hand to pet him. Shyness can be the product of a puppy's breed or caused by inadequate human interaction early in life. Whatever the cause, you can take steps to draw your shy pup out of his shell.
Start Early, But Take it Slow
The majority of a puppy's confidence develops over the first year of his life, minimally continuing past that point. That is why behavior specialists and trainers put so much stock in early socialization. If your pup missed out on socializing during his first eight weeks, you can still help him by getting started as soon as possible when he's home with you. Take him outdoors and let him experience new sights and sounds. Introduce him to new people, but never force him to interact with a strange person, dog or other animal -- that could stress him and increase his timidity. Instead, let your puppy decide whether he wants to get acquainted with someone new and respect his choice if he opts against it. Initiate play time and interact with him often to encourage his playful, active side. Also, don't leave him alone for long stretches of time.
Be patient and gentle with your shy puppy when you're encouraging him to be more active. It can be frustrating to work with your pup day after day without significant changes to his behavior. Don't take your frustration out on your pup or let it seep into your voice or your behavior toward him. Rather, keep your touch gentle and your voice reassuring. Making his world a safe place means taking the fear out of it to give your puppy room to grow into a confident, active dog. Plan ahead to eliminate chances of mistakes, like potty training accidents or incorrect responses to cues or new people, averting them instead of punishing your pup for them.
Encourage and Reward
Your shy puppy will be just as motivated to please you as any dog, if not more. He craves your approval and will be overjoyed from just a little encouragement or praise from you. Take advantage of this mindset by encouraging and rewarding him for even the smallest progress toward any social behavior. Whenever he initiates contact with someone new or takes the lead in playing a game, go overboard with the praise and give him his very favorite treat. You might be surprised how much progress he'll make through positive reinforcement.
Seeing your puppy cringing, his ears flattened in a submissive posture, can almost break your heart, especially if it's his usual stance throughout the day. It makes you want to rush to protect him from the cruel world, but that response from you will only make matters worse. Every time you soothe him and tell him "there, there..." you're essentially rewarding him and encouraging his shy, timid behavior. Remain gentle and encouraging in your manner toward him, but stay calm, upbeat and composed instead of baby-talking him back into his shell.
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.