Help for the shy dog

dog hiding under a blanket

We have all met a canine "wall flower." He's the skittish character that avoids or barks at anyone who isn't on his short "Favourite People" list.

Living with a shy dog can be extremely challenging. Non-confident canines require very gentle training and lots of patience from their owners. Shy dogs need to have repeated positive experiences with many different people. Unfortunately, a group obedience class doesn't count. Learning commands with a group of other dogs and owners can be helpful, but it is not a substitute for the everyday settings where your dog will encounter a wide variety of different people and animals.

Here are some training ideas that can help your shy dog come out of his shell and help him realise that interacting with people can be positive, comfortable and even fun.

Do not praise your dog when he is scared. When your dog is frightened, it's natural to want to comfort him and say, "It's OK." However, your dog assumes that you are praising him for being scared, which reinforces skittish behaviour. Save your praise for the times when your dog acts confidently.

Review the training basics. Then review them some more. A dog that can follow commands is a confident dog. Put your dog's leash on him, then head outside. Practice "come," "sit," "down," and other basic commands. Praise him when he exhibits any confident behaviour.

Practice people therapy. Have a dog-loving friend sit with his back to your dog. Place food treats in his outstretched hands. Tell him not to speak or make eye contact with your dog. Praise your dog when he takes a treat. If your dog is super-shy, start this exercise outside, then have your friend slowly move inside the house.

Yawn. Yawning is a calming signal for dogs. Once again, have your friend hold treats while looking at the ground, not at your dog. It might sound silly, but ask your friend to yawn repeatedly—and join in. You'll notice your dog relaxing the more the both of you yawn. Again, every time your dog takes a treat, praise him.

Chin and chest only, please. When friends come over, have them stand still with a treat and let your dog go to them first. Ask your friends to only pet your dog under the chin and on the chest after he comes to them. Kneeling down (as opposed to bending down) to your dog's level can be less threatening to him. Avoid letting anyone reach or lunge to pet him on the head or back.

Free play works wonders. Dogs that do not trust people can benefit from having other dogs as companions. Allow your dog to play freely with another dog in a fenced area. Have the owner of the other dog pet your dog, if possible. A tired, happy dog is often less skittish.

There is hope for your shy dog!

Most shy dogs can become friendly with positive human interaction. Usually these dogs must learn to trust individuals before accepting a friendship. Just be sure to let your dog set the pace of training. Never force your dog to do anything that makes him nervous.

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