How to Socialize a Timid Dog
17 June, 2014

Most of our dogs are outgoing and gregarious and love people and other pets or animals. However, not all dogs are alike and you could have adopted or brought home a shy one.  Dogs are not always shy because they were abused or had a scary incident that they encountered.  Some dogs have a genetic predisposition to be less outgoing and maybe were not probably socialized as a puppy.  And sometimes this translates to the way they behave around new dogs.

Below are some tips to help those shy dogs come out of their shell!

Start by finding out why or what causes your dog to be afraid

The first step to helping a dog overcome shyness around other dogs is to figure out exactly why your dog is afraid. Sometimes it seems as if a dog who is shy or afraid is randomly afraid. But thinking through and identifying exactly when or which dogs cause him fear can be helpful.  Is it all dogs?  Small or big dogs?

Once you know who or what scares your dog, you can take steps to minimize his fear response until he can become more comfortable. Environmental management is your best friend in the early stages of helping a shy dog.

Once you know the cause, you can manage the situation

You can manage the events and/or problems or to help control your dog’s surroundings. Management alone won’t resolve fears of different situations, but it can help prevent your dog’s fear response – such as cowering, submissive urination, barking, or growling – until he can become more comfortable around what frightens him about other dogs.


Managing the situations that your dog encounters can help lower the stress for you and your dog and create an environment that makes training and behavior modification easier.

Train to help your pups’ confidence

Basic training is fun and builds your dog’s confidence. Teaching a dog a few simple behaviors such as sit, down, and stay can lay a good foundation for your dog to look to you for direction when he or she is uncertain. In addition, advanced level training such as rally obedience, musical freestyle, or agility can really boost a shy dog’s overall confidence.

Try to do the following exercises to help your dog’s confidence.

1. Ask in a nice soft voice for everything. Have your dog sit or down before you pet him, give treats, feed, play ball, open doors, etc. This builds a routine which is a good stress-relief for dogs, and it teaches your dog to look to you for guidance and for the good things in life.

2. Reward all positive behaviors around other dogs. Give your dog rewards for these behaviors even if you did not ask for them! If you reward offered, appropriate behaviors, your dog may start to use them as a coping mechanism, which may help him reduce his own stress level.

3. Desensitization is exposure to a fear-evoking stimulus (new dogs, for example) in a way that you can control (far enough away that your dog notices them, but is not upset).  For example, bring your dog to a dog park, but have him look through the gate.

4. Counter-conditioning is presenting a nice stimulus (such as a bone) in the presence of a scary stimulus (a new dog). The goal is to use the pleasant stimulus to change the dog’s emotional and physiological response to the stranger from fearful to happy and relaxed.

Let your dog set the pace

One of the most important things you can do for your shy dog is to respect his fears and let your dog set the pace for getting used to new or different dogs. Protect him from making behavior mistakes by providing comfortable situations.  Teach your dog basic behaviors so that he or she will know what to do in new situations and you can help teach him or her how to behave.  When your pup is social around other dogs, reward him with love and treats.

If you are patient and take the time, your dog will become less shy around new dogs

Whatever amount of time it takes, the time and effort will be worth it, both for you and especially for your dog! Helping a shy dog build confidence and overcome fears will make a happier dog who will get along great with other pets.

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