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Shy Dogs

Golden Retriever hides under a blanket

At BFF Pet Services, my favorite classes to teach is, “Confidence Building for Shy Dogs.”  I often find myself, during these classes, connecting with our clients and their dogs on a different level.  It is truly amazing to see a dog that lacks confidence gain even the slightest of momentum.  It is very rewarding to be a part of their journey. 

But what makes a dog shy?

Some dogs are naturally more reserved than others, and this can be due to a variety of factors. One of the most common reasons for a dog exhibiting timid behaviors is genetics.  Just like humans, dogs often inherit certain personality traits from their parents. Dogs that are bred for specific traits such as guarding or hunting may also have a more reserved personality to better suit their specific role.


The next likely reason for dogs to become shy is a lack of socialization.  And as many of us have seen, the recent pandemic that left us all confined to our homes for months on end, resulted in an excessive amount of under socialized dogs.  Puppies that are not properly socialized during their critical socialization period (between 3-14 weeks of age) may become fearful and shy as they grow older. Socialization involves exposing your puppy to a variety of people, animals, and experiences to help them learn that the world is a safe and friendly place. Without proper socialization, dogs may become fearful of new situations and people. And yes, proper exposure and socialization often starts with the breeder before the dog is ever sent home.


And of course, dogs can lose trust and confidence through a bad experience. Dogs that have experienced trauma such as abuse or neglect may develop shyness as a defense mechanism. These dogs may be scared of new people and situations because they associate them with the trauma they experienced in the past.


Health issues can also play a significant role in a dog’s confidence.  Certain health issues such as thyroid imbalances or chronic pain can cause dogs to feel anxious and shy. If you suspect your dog may be suffering from a health issue, it's important to take them to the vet to rule out any underlying medical conditions.


If your dog is exhibiting shyness, there are steps you can take to help them feel more comfortable. First and foremost, it's important to be patient and understanding. Forcing your dog into uncomfortable situations will only make their shyness worse. Instead, try to create a calm and safe environment for your dog. Provide plenty of positive reinforcement when they exhibit confident behavior and avoid punishing or scolding them for being shy. Socialization is also key to helping shy dogs feel more comfortable. Gradually exposing your dog to new people, animals, and experiences can help them learn that the world is a safe and friendly place. Consider enrolling your dog in a positive reinforcement-based training class to help build their confidence and socialization skills.


Our confidence building classes are much different from the fun sport class or high-level obedience programs.  We tend to create an environment where a dog has success for the small behaviors.  We want them to feel like they can learn to get over their fears.  For some dogs, we may not solve their fear, but we can help the owners learn how to better navigate their issues.   Feel free to ask us how we can help your shy dog.


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