shydogThis information is provided based on experiences we have encountered working with shy or fearful dogs.  Please consult your personal trainer before starting any rehabilitation or training with your shy or fearful dog.

The foster caregiver of your adopted dog has been working to help your dog build their confidence and to become more comfortable with new people and new environments. We do not place our shy dogs until we have seen drastic improvement and feel they are ready to begin their new life.

We may have had your dog in our program for only a matter of weeks while others, we may have for months. We do not rush their rehabilitation, we look for the ideal adopter for these dogs, and we will not place them in their adopted home until we feel they are ready.

When we evaluate shy dogs for our program, there are certain attributes we look for. We want to make sure we have a foster caregiver that is experienced capable of helping and rehabilitating the dog. We look for dogs that would rather turn away, hide, or may be slow to seek out attention, rather than strike out and bite. These special dogs are only placed in the most experienced hands to guide them to feeling safe and building their confidence.

Each dog shy dog we rescue comes to us with difference levels of skills and socialization. This is general information about shy/fearful dogs and we recommend that you seek out a professional trainer that has extensive knowledge and expertise working with shy/fearful dogs to help you and your dog along your journey.  Contact your dogs foster caregiver anytime for assistance or resournces.

Reasons Why a Dog Is Shy or Fearful

  • Genetics: Certain breeds are more aloof and reserved than others and without taking extra steps during critical stages of development can result in a dog being shy or fearful. Make sure you have researched your dogs breed (even if it is a mix) and get familiar with their genetic traits.
  • Kept Isolated with Mother or Siblings: If kept with a shy mother or  littermates too long without other socialization opportunities, your dog may have learned this behavior from their mother and/or other littermates.
  • Lack of Early Socialization: This is the most common reason for a dog to be shy or fearful of new things. Even if they left their mother and litter at the appropriate age (7-8 weeks), they may have missed important social opportunities as a puppy during their critical stages of development. In addition, certain frightening things could have happened to them during these critical times and left a lasting impression.

Training using ONLY Force Free Positive Reinforcement

Counter Conditioning teaches your dog to associate a previously unpleasant thing or situation with something pleasant.

Desensitization is a training method that presents a stimulus (what the dog is afraid of) at a low intensity and then gradually increasing the intensity over time.

Redirect Get your dog’s attention using motivation in conjunction with a command and asking them to do something that requires them to engage in a wanted behavior rather than an unwanted behavior.

Reward: Instantly reward the newly learned or desired behavior by providing them their “motivation” (treat) and praise.

Capturing involves using a clicker or other marker to mark a behavior the animal performs naturally without being asked or prompted.

Important Safety Reminders

  • Be aware before opening any doors to unfenced in area.
  • ALWAYS use a no-slip collar (Martingale Style) on walks and outings
  • Use a seatbelt, crate or attach their leash to something when transporting your dog
  • The First few weeks, have a leash on the dog, even indoors. Never reach or grab towards the dog or their collar. If you must lead your dog to their crate or other area, step on the leash and gently guide them to you. Remove the leash any time the dog is not being supervised.
  • No Visitors for the First Week. If you take the dog for a walk, make certain the dog is wearing a no-slip collar
  • Control The Situations Your Dog Encounters. Always remember YOU are your dogs advocate. Intervene if needed to avoid an unsafe or unpredictable situation.
  • Hand Feed the Dog as Many Meals as Possible. Regular kibble may not be enough of an enticement for some dogs so you may have to resort to using canned food, cooked chicken or some other highly desirable food. Yes, this may not be ideal for you, but may be just enough for your dog to slowly learn to trust you and learn your hands are not to be feared. If the dog will not eat out of your hand, try again later or at the next meal.
  • Avoid eye contact. Use verbal praise and chest scratches as their reward.
  • Keep to a Schedule And Routine. This will help the dog settle in at a much great speed. Regular feeding times, crate time, walks, and bedtime.
  • The Dog Never Goes Outside Without a Leash On. If the dog gets away from you outside, even in a fenced yard you will not be able to catch them. Chasing will only make them distrust you more.
  • Potty Breaks. Once you get them outside, ignore the dog, and give him 5-10 minutes to go potty. Reward with a “super treat” as soon as they are done OR for dogs that are not ready to accept treats (still stressed) in a quiet, happy, friendly voice (but not too exuberant or overpowering), verbally praise them, step on the leash and guide them back into the house.
  • Do Not Give Them More Freedom Than They Have Earned. Though they may have earned certain privileges, like not being crated in their foster home, they have to begin at square one in your home.

While They Are In Their Crate. Yes, use a crate! Each person in the family (and visitors) should be dropping “super treats” (cooked chicken/cheese/hot dogs) inside their crate while they are resting inside.

Won’t Come Out Of The Crate? Open the crate, and snap on the leash. Try using “super treats” to lure the dog out. If they will not come out, leave the leash on, leave the crate door open, TOTALLY ignore the dog and when they do come out, ignore them, then calmly walk over, step on/pick up the leash without looking at them or speaking to them.

Leaving, Coming Home and Waking Up. Do not acknowledge or take the dog out of the crate for 3-5 minutes after you get home. Snap on the leash and take the dog straight outside, not making any eye contact. Praise!

When Leaving: Put the dog in their crate with a stuffed KONG, do not say anything to the dog… no long goodbye’s, just leave. (You are teaching the dog not to become upset, stressed, or overly excited upon your arrival or your departure.)

While at home: Until the dog has become comfortable with you and approaches you on their own, don’t approach the dog unless you absolutely have to; Let the dog come to you. You can call him to you but if they will not come, ignore them. ALWAYS offer a “super treat” anytime they come to you. Do not ask him to sit or do any other command if they come to you. All of that will come later. Just REWARD him for coming to you.

By the time your dog is placed in your home, they should be past the stage of wanting to hide in their crate or another room. Most dogs love their crate. It’s their safe place to go when thing are too overwhelming. For dogs that are in the early stages of training and still showing a lot of fearful behavior, that is the place they need to be for theirs and others safety. However, if you see they are becoming too dependent on it and using it as a way to avoid people or all other situations, this is the time to contact a professional for additional help in encouraging them to join the family.

Even Shy Dogs can get themselves into trouble. Any correction should always be verbal and gentle with a “hey buddy we do it this way” attitude. With most shy dogs, a simple UH-UH is enough.

Ignore submissive behavior and reward wanted behavior. Ignore lowered head, squatting, belly up postures, cowering body language. Do not make a big deal out of it just ignore it..

Never Reprimand For House Soiling/Accidents. Supervise them at ALL TIMES for the first several days/weeks. If they have an accident, clean it up and move on.

Be Aware Of Your Body Posture And Your Facial Expressions

  • No direct eye contact
  • No leaning over the dog - Kneel down instead.
  • Stand to the side of the dog.
  • Do not force the dog to sit or any other ‘command” by using any part of your body.
  • Use the treat/lure method and then wait for them to perform the behavior, click/YES! and reward with the treat or praise.

Do Not Force Your Dog To Interact With You or Other People. Allow your dog to approach you, new people, and experiences in their own time while rewarding them for each tiny step. Forcing them will only add stress and could set them several steps back. Fearful dogs that are pushed or forced into situations (over threshold) could result in a BITE. You can slowly expect more from them as time goes on but do not ask them for more than they are capable of giving. Continued successful rehabilitation is a SLOW process.

You are your dogs advocate! Control The Situations Your Dog Encounters. Though you do not want to encourage shy/fearful behavior, remember not to place them in to situations they are not ready for or where they will be uncomfortable and have no other option but to practice shy or fearful behavior. Everything MUST be introduced gradually and with the utmost patience.

Ask (Politely Insist!) Visitors To Ignore Your Dog.  Some visitors may tell you “all dogs love me!” A dog being shy or fearful has nothing to do with how much they love someone or someone loves them. Keep a jar of treats by the front door for when visitors come. REMIND visitors NOT to LOOK, TOUCH or SPEAK to the dog. All you are asking visitors to do is to NOT LOOK AT THE DOG and toss the treats on the floor near the dog. IF the dog approaches, have the visitor continue offering treats WITHOUT touching, looking or speaking to the dog until your dog signals (shown by behavior and body language) they are comfortable. Then the visitor can softly stroke their chest or under their chin (but not on the top of their head or touch their back!)

Praise and Reward Any Positive Curiosity or Interest in Things or People. If the dog is relaxed and glances at a person or thing the dog may be fearful of, reward them! You will have to be on your “A” game to catch this sometimes.

If You Are Rushed, Feel Impatient. Do not interact with your dog if you do not have the time or if you become frustrated.

Seek help if you feel you or your dog needs it.


Help for Your Shy Dog: Turning Your Terrified Dog into a Terrific Pet, Deborah Wood

Click to Calm, Emma Parsons

The Cautious Canine, Patricia B. McConnell