Stand back Earthling!

Being forced to meet someone who scares or intimidates you is not fun, at all, ever.

For naturally extroverted people, this may be a rare occurrence, but ask any shy person (who you know well) what it feelsIMG_1275 like to routinely encounter someone who descends upon her with a boisterous voice, an overly eager handshake, and a million rapid-fire questions. Chances are this is her worst nightmare, and being told to “just get use to it” probably isn’t helpful, at all, ever.

The same is true for your shy, worried, or fearful dog. I once met a lovely woman with 2 small dogs, who were rather shy with strangers and not eager to meet me. So, I sat quietly at the kitchen table, ignoring them (waiting for them to make the first move to meet me), when all of a sudden the woman said, “This is Violet, she’s a bit shy but will be just fine.” Then, in one quick movement, she grabbed the little dog and plunked her in my lap. Violet and I were both caught off guard, and we both froze in place. After a moment, I gently petted her side and let Violet jump off my lap as soon as she could move again. Although I appreciated her attempt to help Violet get to know me, it didn’t help, and Violet never became comfortable with me, at all, 316073_288083711209743_119922748025841_1095669_199129324_never.

Forcing your shy dog to participate in the big, wide world, without the necessary support, can make her fears and anxieties worse. Reisner Veterinary Behavior and Consulting Services posted this on their Face Book page in January 2013 and I think it is a good reminder of what nervous dogs face and what our good intentions may actually mean to them:

If your dog is worried or nervous, especially if she is an adult, taking her to public places to ‘socialize’ her is not necessarily a positive thing to do for a few reasons: (1) it is not possible to control what other people do; (2) unfamiliar people may come too close, too quickly or touch and interact with your dog inappropriately; (3) it may be scary for her to be given treats by strangers; (4) it will not give your dog an opportunity to gain confidence at her own pace. This is a kind of ‘flooding’, which is not recommended for anxious dogs (at all, ever…). Instead, keep your dog at a safe (for her) distance*, using food (from you, not from strangers), voice and movement to counter-condition her anxiety. (Italics mine)

If you have a dog that is anxious and uncomfortable, call me, 740-587-0429. While I cannot promise that your dog will be nominated for “Socialite of the Year”, I do know that together we can help your dog become more comfortable with her world now and, perhaps, for ever.Apology card image hi res*A good rule of thumb for measuring a comfortable distance for your dog is the closest distance that a stranger can get and your dog will continue to take treats. For example, if your dog stops taking treats when a person gets within 6-7 feet, then a comfortable distance for strangers, for your dog, is 8-10 feet.


Behavior or "What the heck?" Shy dogs6 comments

  1. Sara Wyckoff says:

    An interesting side note: All species of animals are hypothesized to have a ratio of 5:1 bold vs shy members. The shy ones are the watchers, they are more physiologically open to sensory information, deeper processors and tend to wait and watch to assess a situation. More often then not, their assessment is spot on and when they do take action, it is successful more often than those of us who jump in fast (the bold 80%).

    • Julie Smith says:

      Thanks Sara, this is really interesting and makes a lot of sense to me on a variety of levels, including evolutionarily. It seems to me that a population with diverse temperaments, abilities, aptitudes, etc. is much more likely to be successful in adapting to a variety of environmental stresses and therefore more likely to pass its genes onto future generations.

  2. Beverly Webster says:


    Thank you so much for helping my daughter, Sandy Wolfe, with questions and problelms she is having with her three dachshunds. I passed on your blog to her, she lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I have talked to you on the phone several times about our dog Tillie. We want to bring her over to your obedience classes sometime in the near future. My husband is having surgery next week, so after he recovers from the surgery, we want to get her signed up for the class. Anyway, thank you again for helping Sandy. She wishes you were a bit closer so she could get your input with the dogs personally.

    Beverly Webster

    • Julie Smith says:

      Thank you Beverly. I am glad that you and Sandy are enjoying my posts. She and I have been in contact and I hope we will be able to connect this summer when she comes for a visit.

      Good luck to your husband and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

      I look forward to seeing you in class.

  3. This is spot on. I have a rescued puppy mill dog that Julie has done wonders with, just by making me more mindful of what his limits are. He has RARELY taken a treat in public under any (very controlled, very safe) circumstances, but he feels more secure every day, because we never “push” him. (Nor can we, really, since he’s a Great Dane and weighs 120 pounds; if decides not to move, he doesn’t move, no matter how much WE want it!) His shyness has a slight benefit: people always comment on how well-mannered he is. (Me: “No, he’s just puzzled and scared.”) He will now approach people in our own home and his joie de vivre, when he is completely comfortable, is remarkable.

    • Julie Smith says:

      Thank you Laura. I have enjoyed working with you and all of your dogs. Your dedication to providing the best for your pets in all aspects of their lives, your sense of humor, and your ability to understand that we pursue progress rather than perfection, makes it a delight to work with you and your dogs.

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