is very important that all dogs have constant interaction with
people and other dogs. This is known as socialization.
don't get socialization, they become introverted and as a result,
they can become shy or even fearful when they are exposed to new people, dogs or situations.
of shyness or fearfulness in a dog can usually be traced back to
several things. In adult dogs it can be due to the lack
of trust, a stressful environment, prolonged
isolation from outside stimulus or even physical abuse
puppies and younger dogs it can be due to the same
things during the prime socialization period from 6
weeks to 6 months of age. Other causes can be emotional
trauma or physical abuse. If left untreated, shyness can
develop into fear and then ultimately into aggression.
Owners who have a timid
or fearful dog can help these dogs develop into a confident,
happy dogs by carefully introducing them to other people,
other calm and friendly dogs and new environments outside of the
home. Daily "on leash" walks in familiar surroundings
can often be the most practical way to do this, but
remember to take it slow and go at the dog's pace.
Another great way to build confidence is to do frequent
but short obedience training sessions using tasty treats and large
amounts of lavish
praise. Play sessions can also be a great way to quickly bolster the self esteem
of a shy
or fearful dog. Just offer tons of lavish praise while
you are playing fetch, tug-o-war or other games. Make
sure you let the dog win these games. This will help
build confidence. When you want to end the play session,
simply pick up the toy and say "That's All".
Then praise the dog for ending the session. If you
choose Agility Training, stick to the basic to begin
with. It is important that your dog is successful in
order to build it's confidence.
Once your dog has
become comfortable and confident with an area or group
of people, you can start to slowly introduce new people, places
and things. The key here, is to make it fun for the dog and to
do it very slowly ... at the dog's
Set Your Dog Up for Success
It is important
that YOU have control of any situation you
introduce your dog to. Begin by working in a controlled environment
and find people you can trust to follow your
instructions to the letter.
Here's one approach I have used several times:
If your dog is afraid of people, have a trusted friend
enter the area very slowly with his back turned to the
dog. It is very important that the person entering the
room or area does NOT make eye contact, try to approach
the dog, touch or talk to
your dog. In fact, it would actually be better if
no one even makes a sound during this period of
Once the dog realizes
that the person is in the area, gauge the dog's
response. If the dog is calm, reward it with quiet
praise (such as a very soft "Good Dog").
You may also reward with the dog a treat.
the person is able to get to within 10 feet of your dog, have the
person drop several of your dog's favorite treats (one
at a time) in front of the dog so
that the dog sees that the person is a good thing to
If the dog reacts poorly, (depending on the severity),
adjust the position of the person and the dog (moving
them away from each other) until the
dog is able to relax. Once relaxed, reward with quiet
praise and a few small treats. Repeat as needed until the dog is
able to approach your friend without fear. The final
goal is to have your dog take treats from the
person's hand. But this can take weeks to do. Don't
get in a hurry. (The progression should be: take
treats from ground, then from the ground in front of the
person, then from the ground with person kneeling, then
sitting, then from the persons lap, then from the
desensitization period, If your dog tries to
hide behind you or looks for you to comfort it, you must
ignore it. The dog must have time to work out the
problem and find out that there is nothing to fear and
that the person is a source of good things. The more
times that your dog is exposed to desensitization, the
faster this will happen. But be careful NOT to flood the
dog with this stressful situation. "Flooding"
can make the problem worse. After a period of time, your dog will
gain more and more confidence and
begin to loose it's fears. As the dog become less fearful you can phase out
the treats. Keep in mind that this may takes several weeks
or even months to do. It
will probably not happen in one or two sessions.
Just be patient. The results will be worth the time you
The same methods can be
used for desensitizing the dog to anything it has a fear
of. The key here is to reward the dog for staying calm
and excepting any situation you introduce. The role of
the owner is to project a feeling of relaxation,
confidence, and complete control. It is crucial to show your
dog that there is nothing to fear.
When dealing with a dog
that is afraid of loud or sudden noises, the process
above still applies. A good example is a thunder
I had a dog that would
get up and run to the basement every time a storm came
rolling through. She would NOT come up from her
"hideout" until it was quiet again. She was so
afraid, she would sometimes wet herself. My solution was
to downloaded a thunderstorm soundtrack and put it on a
CD. When I knew she was relaxed I would put the CD in
and play it at very low volume. I slowly turned it up
until I saw her become mildly concerned. Then I called
her to me and rewarded her for coming. Then we would
play on the floor while the CD played. Each day or so, I
would turn the volume up slightly until she was used to
hearing it. After a few months, she was fine with
everything except those earth shaking cracks of thunder.
But I'd cut off her path to the basement and get her to
play with me. All the time praising her and telling her
(in my happy, playful voice) "wow, that was a big one!" "Come-on Let's
play", and "You're a Good Dog". By
conditioning her, and not making a big deal of it, she realized she was in no danger and
after a few minutes of this she was fine again.
Before trying to help a
fearful dog you need to eliminate any possible medical
reasons for the dogís behavior. An injured or sick dog
needs to be treated before you can effectively train or
Shy and fearful dogs
can be more frightened or traumatized by using any kind
of forceful or heavy handed training. Your first job is to gain the
dog's trust. Therefore, it is very important that you use ONLY
positive, reward-based training. This is also recommended
with puppies and young dogs.
Once trust is achieved,
building the dog's confidence will be easier. A trusting
and confident dog can be easily encouraged to do
any desired behaviors. For any behavior you want to
eliminate, a clear but gentle "no" or
"ah-ah." can usually get your point across to
NEVER coddle (pick up
or hold), your dog when it is fearful. (That's not to say you can't pat it on the head,
comfort it with a few kind words or ask it to lay down next to you). It's actually best if you don't speak,
but if you
feel the need to, speak ONLY in a calm, quiet tone. Use words like:
"that's enough, no, stop or hey" ...
By comfort your dog when
it is afraid, you are not telling it that's itís ok to
be afraid. You are in a sense, holding the dog's hand
and helping it realize that there is nothing to
Your dog can't reason
or rationalize when it is afraid. It simply reacts and
does what it has learned to do to protect itself. In
order to help your dog you are going to need to show
your dog that it doesnít need to worry anymore, and
that everything is alright.
When it is in a
fearful state of mind it becomes fearful. The best thing
to do is ignore the fear and move forward with
positive, upbeat activities as if nothing scary has happened.
Get the dog's mind off of what has caused the
fear and get it back on you. By doing this you are
helping your dog to change its behavior by changing the
way it feels during stressful or fearful situations.
Possible distraction suggestions
include: asking the dog turn around and sit, lay down,
speak, do a trick or something that can be rewarded by
you. When your dog completes
reward it. Your calm, confident, relaxed
verbal praise (in an upbeat or playful voice) should
fear or stress your dog is feeling. You can also start
up a play session with your dog's favorite toys. If you
do these kinds of things, your dog will soon figure
out that there is nothing to fear.
In Server Cases:
Server cases of fear or anxiety
(aka complete shut-down) are much harder to work through.
You will most likely need to consult a professional
animal behaviorist at one point or another.
one thing you must remember is that your are not
simply trying to training your dog to do a trick. You
are actually modifying it's behavior by teaching it that
something it now fears, is nothing to be afraid of. This
will take time and a lot of patience!
This is only done by
slowly building it's trust and confidence. Because the
dog has "shut down" you must first work to
build the dog's trust in you and any other family
members. This takes a lot of time so be prepared to
spend countless hours just sitting and playing with your
fearful dog. Do not put any demands on the dog at this
time. Just reward the dog for doing the things you like.
Ignore the things you don't like. If it sniffs you,
walks by you, lays down or what ever, give it quiet
praise and reward it. If it sits in your lap, licks your
hand or gets comfy next to you ... reward it. By doing
this you are giving your dog opportunities
to behave in ways that help it feel more confident.
All dog's have a sense
of who is nice and who isn't. Once your fearful dog
begins to trust you, things will move faster, but don't
push it. Work at the dog's pace.