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Skittish Dog

9 Tips for Bonding With a Shy or Skittish Dog (Video)

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Most of the time I think of dogs as great big lovable goof balls – because that’s what Janice and Leroy are! But I was recently reminded that dogs are all different, and that some dogs are way more standoffish than my big friendly goofs. It can be hard to know how exactly to bond with a dog that is a bit on the shy side. Instinct for a dog lover says to be really friendly and fun, and surely that will make any dog love you back, right?

But some dogs don’t want you to get excited and try to play with them right away. In fact, some dogs take a while to warm up to even their owners. This was the case for a friend who adopted a shelter rescue about a year ago. We recently caught up via email, and she was telling me that her shelter rescue, who had always been very gentle but not very affectionate with her, had started curling up next to her on the couch in the past few months. She was so excited that her patience had finally paid off, and every day the dog lets her get a little more comfortable.

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But I can hear some of you asking already – I have to wait a whole year to have a shy dog like me? Well, not always. My friend’s approach was literally to let the dog come to her. I went ahead and did some research for you guys, and came up with some tips so that you can feel a little proactive if you are dealing with a very shy dog yourself. Here are nine ways that you can use to help a shy dog feel more comfortable around you. But do keep in mind that patience is going to be the key in all of these techniques.

(1) Do Go for Lots of Walks

Even if a dog doesn’t need a ton of exercise, they like to walk. Dogs like to explore and learn about new places. If you don’t expect them to do much more than let you put them on the leash, then taking a dog for a walk is a very low-pressure way to bond. You guys get quality time together, and you both get the benefits of walking. Your dog learns to associate you with something fun and interesting. It’s best if you do this during the quiet hours of the day, or head to a quiet area to take your walk, so that your dog isn’t being overwhelmed with a lot of people that want to pet her or other dogs that want to play. For now, if you do run into other people or other dogs, try to stay away. Remember, this is about you and your dog bonding first and foremost; bonding with other animals and people can wait for now.

(2) Don’t Punish Unwanted Behavior

One reason that shy dogs are shy sometimes is that they are afraid. If they are a rescue that has gone from home to home, or if they struggle with anxiety for other reasons, fearfulness can cause them to hang back instead of forming relationships. One thing you should not do around a dog with a lot of fear or anxiety is “punish” them for behaviors you don’t want them to do. It’s a lot better to positively reinforce behaviors you do want, and calmly redirect them when they are doing behaviors you don’t want. This will earn their trust a lot faster so that you can start building that relationship. If you haven’t heard of positive training yet, there are a lot of resources out there that can help you get started. I recommended two books to get you started:

  • Training the Best Dog Ever by Larry Kay
  • The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller

(3) Do Give Your Dog Time

I know I said this in the introduction, but it bears repeating. Dogs that are shy need to be able to approach you on their own time frame. The more patience you can show a dog, the more likely he will be to trust you in the long run. Learn to recognize dog body language so that you can tell when you aren’t giving a dog enough space. It’s a good idea to make sure that you treat a shy dog a little more delicately than you might any other dog. Telegraph your movements around this dog so you don’t startle him. Keep your voice calm and low-pitched. Get down on the dog’s level instead of looming over him. These are things that can help a dog feel more like approaching you.

(4) Do Create a Comfy Safe Space

Some dogs are shy because they haven’t really settled into their environment yet and they don’t feel at home. One thing you can do to help a dog open up and feel more comfortable is to give them a space where they can relax and feel safe. This is why I’m a big proponent of kennel training. Dogs actually like having a place where they have their own bed, and feel as though no one else will encroach on their territory. If you don’t plan to kennel train your dog, at least give them a specific corner where their bed or blanket goes, and let them claim that space as their own. You may also want to consider how comfortable the rest of your house is for your dog. Are they able to go outside often for exercise and bathroom breaks? Do they have to spend too much time in a small area? Is there an area of your home where they seem to like to hang out, and if so, could you make that area their official spot?

(5) Do Use Treats as Bribes

I’m not above using a dog treat as a bribe to get a shy dog to open up a bit. This isn’t an underhanded tactic. Dogs see food as a communication style. Getting food from you means that you are a trusted source of something valuable, and that’s a good thing. It’s one step towards being trusted by that dog. For starters, you can just use a few bits of their kibble any time they do something good, or respond to you in any way. This teaches them that coming to you and being around you means they get food. But if you’re dead set on using treats instead of kibble, just be sure you keep the calorie count in mind – when you’re using treats all day to reward a dog for opening up, they could overeat very easily. Choose a lower calorie treat to keep them from getting obese while you work on opening up.

(6) Don’t Baby Your Dog

One thing that many people tend to do with a shy or frightened animal is to go into that pity mode where they want to coddle the dog. They’ll baby talk to it, “Oh, it’s okay sweetie, no one wants to hurt you” in a high-pitched voice. They’ll coddle the dog, letting it get away with anything and everything. They’ll try to hug or cuddle the dog, thinking that they are showing the dog safety through affection.

But what these behaviors are actually doing is reinforcing to the dog that they have a good reason to be afraid. Think about it. If a dog is acting afraid, and someone starts treating him as though he needs to be protected, he’ll think “Wow, I must have really been in danger if this human is trying to keep me safe!” Dogs don’t understand what you are saying, remember, so he only has what he thinks is going on to go by. Acting as if everything is normal (which it is) is the best way to help your dog acclimate to the normal situation.

(7) Do Engage Them with Toys

One of the best ways for humans and dogs to bond is with toys. Whether your dog likes to fetch, tug, chase a flirt pole, play keep away, play hide and seek, or any other game, these are ways for you to begin to build a relationship. This is the way that dogs build relationships together, so the dog will understand naturally what you are trying to do. The hardest part is just figuring out what your dog likes if he’s been too shy to show you. It’s best not to start with anything too rough or something that requires you to be near their mouth, like tug of war. Try a simple game of tossing a ball around first, or a disc. Just use lots of praise when the dog interacts with you in any way, and keep things low pressure. It’s okay if he doesn’t fetch the disc. As long as he follows it with his head, or wags his tail, or gets involved at all, you’re doing great.

(8) Do Use Grooming Time as Bonding Time

Most dog owners don’t realize just how important grooming is when it comes to bonding with your dog. Dog mothers groom their babies when they are young, so to a dog, you’re doing something that was once a comforting thing done by a trusted figure. By handling your dog during grooming, you’re also getting her more and more used to your touch and presence. This can lead to a much more open and relaxed relationship. Not to mention, it’s vital for your dog’s good health. Without regular grooming, especially dental care and checking the ears, dogs can develop more serious conditions.

Once again, be sure to start slow and gentle. Don’t go for nail trimming and tooth brushing right away if a shy dog doesn’t seem comfortable. Try a brush glove that feels as though you are petting the dog, and just do a few gentle strokes at first. Be sure to lavish on the praise and treats if she sits still for even a few strokes. You can gradually add more strokes and other grooming activities over time until you’re able to groom her completely in one sitting.

(9) Maybe Try Out Pheromones

This last tip is a little bit odd, but what the heck. Dogs do have a specific pheromone that mother dogs emit to keep babies close by. This is a chemical that basically tells puppies where to nurse, and keeps them nice and relaxed while they are around their mother. There is a synthetic version of this called Adaptil that you can put on a dog with a special collar or a spray. If you use this when the dog is around you, he’ll slowly begin to associate you with the sense of being comfortable and nurtured. Studies only show this working for about 60% of dogs, but that’s still a pretty high percentage. Whether you use the spray or the collar, be sure to get the product near the neck, where the body heat will help the pheromones work better.

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Pet Bed for Dogs
Dog Training Treats
Paraflight Dog Toy
Pet Grooming Glove for Dog
Adaptil Spot Spray

The Final Word

I was really proud of my friend for sticking with her rescue until the dog was able to warm up to her, but I don’t think that everyone has to wait quite so long for their shy dog to feel comfortable. That may not even be the best thing for the dog – after all, would you want to spend a year in your own home feeling uncomfortable? So, if you are struggling to connect with your pet, maybe give some of these bonding tips a try. Combine the ones that work best for your dog and lifestyle, and I bet you’ll start to see a little bit of affection soon. All dogs are different of course, and not all are cut out to be the most affectionate dog in the world. Some breeds just prefer to be more independent. But no matter what you do, any of these tips will help to build trust, and that’s a win for everyone.

Sources:

https://stories.barkpost.com/so-youre-rescuing-a-timid-dog/

http://www.pawculture.com/tips-advice/bonding/7-ways-to-bond-with-a-shy-dog/

About the Author Ash

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