For this ThrowbackThursday, I want to quote something I wrote about working with shy dogs from my post called Exercises for making a shy or cautious dog more confident and secure written on Dec. 3rd, 2012.
In other words, patience and understanding is the key. It doesn’t take a ton of skills to work with a shy dog, other than knowing when they are starting to feel nervous and when it’s starting to get bad. If you are sensitive to that, and can move them away from that to keep them “below threshold” (which essentially means they are able to “hear” you – for instance, if you have a really good sit command, will they do it? If not, they are probably beyond threshold).
Also remember that some dogs will never get to a place of comfort in every scenario like other dogs. Their issues may have been with them since they were born, or very soon after, in which case they will always have them. And remember that this is okay too – they can still be nervous around strangers, and lead an extremely wonderful, quality life. Just like the variety of humans in this world, many of whom are shy, it’s not true that every dog needs to be highly social, they only need to be happy and safe! It only takes an understanding household who lets them be who they are as dogs.
Working with shy dogs
I believe it’s important to remember that it doesn’t take a certain expertise or tons of experience with dog training and behavior to work with a shy or unconfident dog. It takes patience and effort. You need to get to know your dog well, to understand their signals. And most of all, it takes a few tricks under your sleeve to distract them away from whatever they are unsure about. Fearful dogs (as opposed to shy dogs) can be a lot more work, and may need a more experienced hand, depending on the level of fear (and what kind of fears are at play). But shy dogs often just need an advocate – someone who doesn’t force them to face fears, but guides them until they feel more confident in the world. And again, a leader who knows when to distract them so they don’t notice the scary element as much. So I implore – if you are looking for a new home for a shy dog, don’t discount someone who is not experienced. Give the less experienced potential owner some guidance, give them tips, and entertain a foster-to-adopt set-up where everyone can see if it’ll be a good fit and the adopting family understands how to work with the shy dog. You might be surprised how many households are up to the task.
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