When meeting new dogs I believe you should always be quiet and calm but this is especially true for shy or fearful dogs.
I know how tempting it is when you see a cute dog to immediately want to pet and interact with it. However, for a shy dog this is simply an overwhelming and scary situation. So, where do you start and what should you be weary of doing?
- The eyes.
You must not make any eye contact with a shy or fearful dog. Eyes are such a key mode of communication for a dog and shy dogs are overly sensitive to eye contact. If you make eye contact with fearful dogs they will retreat and may also bark and growl. If you make eye contact with playful, silly, social dogs they will most likely come to you excited and may even jump on you. I know this is difficult but be patient; if you do not put any social pressure on the dog curiosity will eventually override the fear.
- The nose.
Remember, dogs investigate everything with their nose. One little trick I use is to put game animal scent on a towel. Allow the scent to dry and then you can rub the scent on your shoes and pant bottoms. This particular smell is a very interesting and instinctual scent for the brain to seek out. You can’t force a dog to engage with you, he must do it of his own accord.
Out of all of the things to keep in mind when dealing with a shy or fearful dog is this: We must remember that petting is for people. For shy, fearful, and insecure dogs you MUST resist. By petting you can either make positive associations to negative feelings, or put yourself in danger because many people are bitten by fearful dogs as they reach to pet them. A lot of clients have a difficult time with this, “I can’t pet my dog!?”
The answer to this question is yes, you can pet your dog, BUT there is a right and a wrong time to pet you pup. After all, how often do you see a dog petting another dog?
All in all, rehabilitation cannot be accomplished until we get all of the people in the dog’s life on board with your new way of being. Dogs that are uncomfortable around other people need to learn to be around people first with no pressure from them. Shy dogs also need other dogs with them as they engage with other people. A dog that behaves like a social butterfly can be a great example for the nervous dog and many times they will follow them to greet people. Dogs learn much quicker by having other balanced dogs with them and as hard as we may try we are not dogs! So remember, playing hard to get is the way to go with the shy dog.