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What to do when you have a shy dog

It’s quite possible to have a shy dog. Or to have one that is socially awkward. Heck, you might have a dog that really doesn’t enjoy the company of other dogs at all. Socialising your dog is an important part of your puppy growing into a healthy, happy dog. Yet not all puppies or dogs enjoy the company of other dogs. In fact, some dogs prefer to spend their time with minimal dog interaction. it’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all scenario.

It can be tough when your dog isn’t the most social of canines. Especially if you want to be able to exercise at dog parks or walk regular on leash or off. Yet it can be OK to allow your dog to exercise their preferences as well.

That’s why we’ve put together some information that can help you when your dog isn’t that into other dogs and is a shy dog or even a reactive one 

Respect the pre-history

shy dog looking up at owner wearing jumper

Photo by Mia Phoy via Unsplash

A shy dog or one that reacts when greeted with canine company can be down to personality. Most of the time however, it’s probably not. If you have a rescue dog or a puppy that hasn’t spent a lot of positive time in the company of other canines, their responses may be different than you expect.

For example, puppy mill puppies and rescue dogs may have a history of competing with litter mates, segregation from contact or other forms of triggers associated with dog-on-dog contact. or dogs that had an overwhelming experience during the fear stages isn’t going to always jump for joy when greeted with canine company.

Whatever the case may be, the foremost thought in your mind when socialising a reluctant dog should be with the potential of this pre-history influencing interactions.

Respect the dog’s choices

Secondly, regardless of whether your shy dog or reactive puppy is unsocial due to situations or personality, respecting your dog’s choices must be at the heart of any socialisation.

Think of an introverted or socially awkward human. Throwing them into the local Toastmasters speech finals or asking them to a massive party is going to be overwhelming. A human might voice their displeasure constantly, engage in anti-social behaviour and/or even do what they can to escape.

The same applies to your dog. If you choose to bring them to a dog park to “see what will happen”, you might get more than you bargain for.  Barking, howling, self-harm, harming other dogs, showing aggression, pancaking or desperate escape measures are not what anyone wants to experience. It’s not only embarrassing and could lead to dog altercations with terrible consequences, it does a lot of damage to your bond.

A cornered or overwhelmed dog may growl, bite, lunge or even attack. This is no picnic for anyone involved.

That’s why it’s important to exercise caution. Make exposure controlled and on a small basis. Don’t expect big moves from a stressed-out dog. And take precautions that minimise the chance of damage to dog and confidence alike.

Consider your role in unwanted behaviours

There’s no denying that a dog that reacts on leash, during walks or in public places can leave you feeling on edge. Yet you as their handler are a large source of cues. If you’re stressed and anxious, your dog will read this in your body language. They can take this information as a reason to be on high alert and awaiting trouble.

Obviously, this is not what you want.

Trust is a two-way street. Both you and your shy dog need to find a way to communicate with each other. Allay fears instead of feeding into them.

For you to be able to do so, you need to look at how you respond and react-

  • Is your body tense? If you begin a walk or public situation with tense shoulders and body, take a moment to centre yourself. Breathe and relax. It may seem like a small act, but your dog will read it and lower their temperature too
  • Be mindful of the leash. With a pulling, reactive dog, we can tighten the leash and make the situation feel all the more restrictive. Instead, look for any opportunity to take the tension out of the leash and allow for a free flow
  • Don’t make sudden, tense moves. Your dog’s issues with socialisation and public spaces need time. Hurrying the process can undo a lot of work. Resist the urge to pull back on the leash, rush your dog through encounters or move in a way that fortifies their fears
  • Make space to learn. Take the walks at a leisurely pace. Treat often and frequently. Teach your dog that if they are reacting or otherwise behaving badly, they need to sit and wait until they can move again
  • Avoid cuddling as a reward for poor behaviour. Small dogs are often prone to aggression as a symptom of social issues. This can often be traced to the owner choosing to pick up and hold an anxious small dog close. This embeds the behaviour as they appear to get cuddled as a reward. Do what you can to avoid picking up a dog in response to social anxiety

Continue the journey. It might seem better to leave your dog out of social situations, not walk them or not take them to the park. Yet a frustrated dog simply becomes more frustrated and their world, even smaller, if you reduce their exposure. Keep trying to work through issues in small doses. Patience, patience, patience!

If your dog is unresponsive and continues to struggle, consult one of our vets. We may be able to help with underlying causes such as an anxiety or behavioural issue. We also have a lot of dog professionals that may be able to help with specific social issues to help with the process.

You shouldn’t force your dog to be something they are not. But you should also give them the best opportunity to be their happiest self.

Want more tips on helping your shy dog or reactive puppy live a full, healthy and happy life? Call Fox Valley Animal Hospital of Wahroonga now on (02) 9489 4805

About the Author
Owner and Vet Alex Brittan, Vet Katie Syms and the team of Fox Valley Animal Hospital pride themselves on quality service. Fox Valley Animal Hospital is the one you choose for your family pet when the care your animal receives really matters.