Timid dogs

Dogs that are afraid may look away, put their tails down, hide, cower, or tremble when they see scary things. Some may even growl and bark. If the person they are afraid of reaches out to pet them, they may snap or nip to keep the person away. Dogs that are afraid of people tend to be very friendly toward the people they know. By following these guidelines, you will be able to help your new dog be less afraid of new people and not react to them by growling, barking, or nipping. The following information can help you understand what they are feeling and give you ways to help them get better.

Why Are They Like This?

Fear is very common in all animals. A fearful dog may have suffered abuse or a bad experience; however fears usually result from a combination of genetics and inexperience, especially during the first months of life. For instance, a dog may have missed out on becoming socialized to certain kinds of people by simply not being around them enough when a puppy.

Different Kinds of Shyness

The most common kinds of shyness in dogs are:

Social shyness

The dog is fearful of unfamiliar people or certain kinds of people. Dogs like this are sometimes described as ‘taking a while to warm up’, ‘one man dogs’ or ‘protective’. They are usually fine with a certain person once they get to know them. Examples are dogs that are afraid of men in uniform or uncomfortable around children. Dogs can also be shy with other dogs.

Situational worried

The dog is afraid of certain kinds of circumstances. Examples are dogs that are afraid of going to the vet, panic during car rides or are uncomfortable in new places.

Sound sensitive

The dog is fearful of sudden loud noises. These dogs flatten and try to escape when a car backfires, or pace and salivate during thunderstorms or fireworks.

All dogs will need to be taught what they can chew, how they may greet you, where to go to the toilet and other house rules. A shy dog will also need some extra help from you to adjust to the new home. In the hands of an understanding owner, a shy dog can be a great companion and gain in confidence over time. Some of these animals may have never been in a home before. They may be hesitant to go through doorways and to go upstairs.

Shy dogs warm up and bond strongly to people they live with within days or weeks but remain nervous around new people. Take the initiative to coach people on how to remain passive and let the dog set the pace of contact. A good idea is to carry treats for people to toss to them – if they won’t eat; it’s a sign that they need even more distance. Get them far enough away so that they’re relaxed enough to eat as this helps them develop a positive association to new people.

When you first arrive home make sure the dog isn’t forced into any scary situations. As tempting as it might be to give hugs, a bath, take to people’s houses or invite over all your friends, it is better for the dog to explore the new yard, be given time to toilet and then explore in the home while you sit quietly, waiting for the dog to come to you when ready.

Do not punish the dog for being afraid, as this will only make them more fearful. Instead, try to behave normally, as if you do not notice the fearfulness. Let your dog seek their safe place if they need to, or to approach and stay near you but with a minimal of fuss and attention from you.

For toilet training use a long lead in the back yard or on walks. Even if your backyard is fenced, your new pet may be frightened to go back into your home, so keep them on lead to help them back into the home. It may help you to also use the lead if you are walking them for toilet breaks.

An indoor crate or fenced area is a good idea to give your new dog. Don't shut the door, just make it nice and comfy inside with food, treats and a bed. They may want a quiet place they can go into if they feel uncomfortable.

Make sure before you open any doors you have the collar and leash securely attached. Collars can easily slip over dog’s head if too loose.

Be careful of people who think they are ‘good with dogs and then try to approach too quickly or too close. Being forced into more than they can handle is never beneficial and can even make them worse.

Be very watchful of children around your shy dog. In a time of fear, dogs have two options: fight or run. If a child corners a shy dog, or takes away their option run, they may bite. To avoid any possible incidents, make sure to always supervise when children are around.

Take walks around the house and yard and let them sniff and thoroughly check things out at their own pace. Sudden noises or changes in the environment will likely make the dog flatten or try to run for cover. Your best option is to take them further away from the scary situation. Then, once settled down, encourage them to approach, as close as is comfortable, to what was frightening. Feed a few treats and then leave.  

Many brief absences in the first few days are great for learning so they understand that you are not always there, and that whenever you leave, you will come back. Exit and entry in a very matter of fact way and leave them in a dog-proofed room or yard with plenty of chew toys.

Positive experiences with what frightens them at an intensity they can handle is the best way to build up a shy dog. Some confidence building activities include teaching tricks and new behaviors using rewards, dog-dog play and agility training.

Many people may tell you that your dog just needs to be ‘socialized’ however; the best time for socialization is between the ages of three and sixteen weeks. You can still ‘socialize’ your dog, but now that your dog has become fearful, the socialization must be done slowly and carefully.