Health & Medical Mental Health

Helping to Build Confidence in a Timid Dog

    Recognize the Behavior

    • Timid dogs show their shyness in a variety of ways so it's best to understand the behavior before attempting to correct it. Many timid dogs appear fearful. A shy dog may shun touch, avoid eye contact, crouch down when approached, or urinate when frightened. Seemingly aggressive behaviors such as flattening the ears back, raising the hackles, growling, or even snapping or biting are also indicators of shyness. Because there are so many ways a dog demonstrates fear, recognizing the patterns of behavior is the first step in helping the dog better react to people and the surrounding environment.

    Behavioral Triggers

    • While many dog owners believe that timid behavior indicates previous abuse, the shyness can be a result of the breeding and personality of the dog. There are also various triggers that result in the dog's fearful demeanor. Change is a major trigger so taking the time to let the dog adjust to its environment and external changes around it is important, especially if the dog is new to the home. Watch the dog carefully to see what other triggers may bring timid behavior and introduce change slowly to the animal. For example, if the dog appears nervous around children, it's a good idea to keep him initially separated from the child until it feels more comfortable.

    Building Confidence

    • Once the triggers are identified, make the home environment a safe place for the dog. Give the dog space and let him react on his own terms to his surroundings. Increasingly social behavior should always be rewarded. Never punish the dog or scold it as this will only increase its fear. Praise the dog for coming up to you and reward it with petting and treats. Once the dog appears more comfortable, initiate play with toys. This will help the dog understand that you will not hurt it and instead, are there with love and affection. Recognize that in some cases, a timid dog will always be timid; it may be part of its personality. However, through positive reinforcement in a safe environment, a timid dog will become more open and socially responsive.

    Professional Training

    • If at-home methods are not working, it may be time to bring in professional help. Professional trainers will work with the dog, help you understand the causes of its behavior and give you advice on how to help the dog overcome its timid behavior. Trainers work by educating the owner as well as training the dog and can build confidence in the animal as well as limit or eliminate bad behaviors. To find a trainer in your area, contact your local Humane Society or American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

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