Many of us dog lovers have found ourselves at one time or another, sharing our homes and hearts with a shy dog…one who tends to be anxious or fearful…reactive and misunderstood… especially when encountering new people and situations. It is up to us to teach and reassure them that their world is friendly and safe.
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Stay calm. Although you want to reassure your dog and protect him don’t inadvertently intensify his fears by acting in nervous or fearful in any situation.
2. Learn his signs of stress. This could be as lip licking, raised hackles, locked stare, yawning, shaking, and turning away. If you’re not sure what your dog’s signals are, have someone videotape him around the fear trigger. Play it back, in slow motion if possible, and watch for signals of nervousness.
3. Never force your dog to confront his trigger. You will make things worse or lose your dog’s trust entirely.
4. Never allow strangers to approach him too closely or touch him. Keep new people at a distance and never allow them to stand over your dog, stare at him, or attempt to pet him. This is extremely uncomfortable for shy dogs. It is also important that people not approach him directly but rather from the side with their eyes averted.
5. Desensitize him through exposing him gradually to scary things. For instance, if your dog is afraid of people, choose a helper and have her stay at distance that is comfortable (or safe) for your dog. When he takes his eyes off your helper (or the trigger) and turns towards you, reward him. Move closer and repeat.
6. Remember, you are his protector, should situations go sideways. Often people act foolishly and may try to greet your dog, despite your instructions. If this happens, step between him and the person and in a strong voice, tell the person to back up and turn sideways. Your dog will love you for it.