You are your dog’s best (and only) advocate!

Apology card image hi resI have a huge soft spot in my heart for shy dogs or ones who have had a less than ideal start on life. Often times these dogs find even the simplest things in life to be overwhelming. Life is hard, often scary, and it might be asking way too much of a shy dog to greet a visitor to the house or to be petted by a stranger on a walk. Your job, therefore, is to be his advance man, running interference and protecting him from the maddening crowds.

The first rule of thumb for a shy dog* is: No one touches Fido unless Fido seeks it out or permits it, and this includes his owners as well! Dogs view the world in terms of safe and unsafe. We all feel safer when we feel as if we are in control of a situation. Allow your dog to decide who he does and does not meet, and you will help him to be more comfortable and secure in his world.

Brad and Friend

This fellow ran up to my husband at a cafe in France, asking to be petted.

This dog doesn't know me well, so leans away to create more space.

This dog doesn’t know me well, so leans away to create more space.

So, how do you tell when she wants physical contact with you or anyone else? If he leans away, looks away or otherwise moves away from you or others, he is saying you are too close at that moment, so give him some more space and allow him to make the move towards you if he so chooses. If he moves towards you, leans on you, gets up on the couch and snuggles, or puts his head on you, this is him making the choice to interact and should be rewarded (with praise, food, gentle petting, but not on the top of his head!).

2) When you are walking him and you meet someone who may want to pet your shy guy, I suggest you say: “It’s fine with me, but you’ll have to ask Fido.” This will generally make the person pause long enough so that you can tell her to put her hand down by her side. Then, Fido can make the decision whether or not to approach her. You can also add: “If he comes over to you, you can pet him.” If Fido doesn’t move towards her, say something like: “I guess he isn’t feeling very social today, perhaps another time.” Then, prevent the overly eager dog lover from moving towards him by stepping in-between her and Fido, or moving away.  This will help Fido to feel as safe and in control as possible.

This dog is comfortable with my grandson partly because he can move his head easily.

3) Pay close attention to the space around his head. Most dogs are very sensitive to the area around their face and head and if you crowd them they get stressed. Let him make the decision to bring his face or head close to you.

4) When strangers come to the house, be sure that they do not try to pet him, but instead, keep far enough away from him that he will take treats in their presence. We want to pair the presence of a stranger with the presence of wonderful treats so that we begin to change his emotional response to strangers from one of fear/discomfort to one of “hey, this is pretty cool! New person, great treats!” Another thing to keep in mind: It is critical that the treats are only available when strangers are visible. If the person leaves the area, so does the treat. If the person is far away, the treats are fewer and farther apart. As Fido’s nemesis gets closer, the treats start coming in great quantity and frequency. If the person should get really close, Fido should be getting fistfuls of treats (think in terms of trucks backing up and unloading sides of beef for him) until the person moves away. As the “threat” recedes, so do the treats.

5) Once again, distance is critical. Work below the threshold point where Fido loses it, (freezes, hides,

 Run away! Run away!

Run away! Run away!

growls, or bolts, for example) and will not take treats. If you get too close to a person while walking, then do your best to remove him from the “threat” (and reinforce him when you get to a distance he can take treats again). This is the time to keep escape routes in mind! Some ideas for adding distance: back up, turn around and go in the opposite direction, cross the street, move into a yard, go behind a bush or tree. 

Shy dogs rely on us to be their first line of defense in a scary world. Being your dog’s best advocate will help him to learn that life need not be so hard, it might just be okay. Possibly even good.

People are good things for me!

 *Blogs on shy dogs:

Behavior or "What the heck?" General Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?" Shy dogs0 comments

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