For a dog lover, a shy insecure looking little dog can really pull at the old heart strings. You see this scared fur ball and want so badly to help him get over his issues and realize how great us human are. You also feel that, as a dog lover, it’s your duty to make him feel better.
So you try to show him how cool and nice you are by slowly moving toward him with your hands outstretched in friendship, while making kissy noises.
Although I know your heart is in the right place, by doing something like this you’re actually making the dog less trustful and more afraid. The rally cry of people who do this is often, “But dogs love me.”
I know you desperately want to help this poor pooch but the big mistake you’re making is that it’s not about you, it’s about the dog. The “But Dogs Love Me” people are usually very offended when instead of running into their arms with open paws, the dog runs as far away as he can get and gets even more reclusive.
When working with a fearful dog you have to remember that nothing the dog does has anything to do with you, so don’t take it personally. His shy behavior was shaped long before you got there and has been probably been going on for some time. So, it’s going to take some time and understanding to help him through it.
So what we need to do is make this less about you and more about the dog. So instead of advancing and trying to “win him over” on your terms, let the dog dictate the encounter by doing things on his terms. And that means doing something that is the opposite of what you want to do.
What you want to do is scoop this little scared guy up in your arms and show him all the love that’s waiting for him. But what you need to do is completely ignore him and let him get comfortable with you.
You’ll be amazed at how quickly some shy dogs will come around if you just do things the right way.
Here’s my list of things to do to help a shy dog overcome his fears:
1. Don’t make any direct eye contact with him. Look at him out of the corner of your eyes or just glance and quickly look away.
2. Never directly face the dog. Always angle your body so that you’re on an angle to him.
3. Be patient. As I mentioned, if he’s been in this unstable state of mind for a while, it’s going to take some time to change it. Always move at the dogs pace – which will seem painfully slow for you, but remember this is about him, not you.
4. Use some super yummy meat-based treats to try to encourage him to move out of his comfort zone. Something with a lot of scent to it. For fearful dogs I use grilled chicken, steak or hot dogs. Every so often throw the dog a piece of food, remembering not to look at him or face him. If he takes it, awesome. Next time throw it a little closer to you, and little by little have him have to move closer to you to get the food.
As long has the dog is taking the food you can proceed. If he is reluctant to come forward it means he’s not ready to get close just yet. Give him time and just work at the distance that he’s is cool with. The process could take minutes, hours, days, weeks or months depending upon the severity of the anxiety.
What if the dog is not food motivated?
I just had a case like this last weekend. This little fur ball wasn’t interested in food what-so-ever, so I had to find a different reward – a walk. He loved walking, so we went for a walk. And on the walk I stuck to the plan: no eye contact, not moving into his space – just walked with him. By the end of our walk he was much more comfortable with me and seemed to be less fixated on my movements.
The moral of this post is to think about what you’re doing. If you don’t take things personally, understand that this is all about the dog, respect his issues and do things on his terms and at his pace, you’ll be able to help him get over his fears and you’ll be hugging him in no time.
Have you had some experiences with shy dogs? Let me know in the comments below.