Why are some dogs shy and nervous?
Why are some dogs shy? Is it because of nature or nurture? The answer is generally both. Behaviors, even in dogs, are genetically inflected. Border Collies, for example, are predisposed to some behaviors that make them easy to teach to herd sheep, but shy and nervous dogs can also be a tendency of the breed.
Have you met a shy Golden Retriever? Maybe once, and that is if you work around a lot of them! It’s a breed you don’t see as having a shy disposition often.
Lack of affection
Younger dogs that weren’t given enough time to grow up among siblings and their mother can be predisposed to anti-social behavior. That’s because it’s an important part of youth development and only natural to grow up with siblings.
Unfortunately this isn’t always possible. There are many breeders who treat animals as a cash operation. Finding a reputable breeder who will give a puppy the time it needs to adjust is an important step in finding a healthy dog to add to your family.
Lack of socialization
Many shy dogs are not well-socialized. Their experiences of the world, or lack thereof, has lasting effects. Puppies that have been reared in isolation grew up to be shy and anxious. They tend to ignore or avoid other dogs and freeze up in new situations and avoid human touch too. After they were released from isolation, they improved.
As anyone who owns dogs knows, there’s always a friend who keeps their dog rooted to their house. They didn’t plan for raising an animal properly and life got in the way. Dogs are lovable and obedient creatures, but they need fun too. Especially with other canines. So if your dog hasn’t been to the dog park in a long time, do them a favor and get them out there!
You might even meet some nice people to chat with.
People and new interactions can be intimidating to unsocialized dogs
The first step to helping your doggo overcome shyness is to pinpoint who exactly your dog is shy around. There are times when shy dogs are just randomly afraid, but it is tremendously useful when you know the circumstances. Once you know what or who scares your dog, you can take the necessary steps to minimize his fear until he becomes comfortable.
For example, we’ve known dogs that were shy just around males. That’s probably because they had a bad experience involving one in their past. Our adopted Rottweiler Shadow didn’t like men. She had a history of abuse.
After a few years of being around me, she finally saw the light. It can take a long time of positive reinforcement depending on the situation that led to a dog being shy. Nothing beats love and understanding.
Actionable Ways to Help Your Shy Dog
Just because your dog is shy doesn’t mean that he has to be that way forever. Here are a few ways you can encourage your shy dog to bond with you, as well as give you an opportunity to give your dog the attention and assurance that he or she needs.
#1 Get to know your dog and give them unconditional love
It takes quite some time to earn your dog’s trust and especially so if your dog happens to be shy. You need to focus on what your dog wants rather than what you think might be best for him.
How can you determine what your dog wants? Get to know him, of course. Give your doggo enough space for him to make all decisions and if he growls or seems to move away, let him. A few signs that you can look out for that indicate that your dog wants to be alone are a tucked tail, yawning, lip licking, panting, and even growling.
Make sure that your dog does not view you as an intimidating figure. Keep calm and keep your voice low. Create an environment where your dog can thrive. Making them feel safe will encourage them to open up.
#2 Take a walk with your dog or take them to a dog park
Most dogs love walking and loves being walked by their pet parents even more. Walking is also a very good way to bond with your dog, and it has many benefits that will are difficult to replace. Dogs sniff around when they are out for a walk and through their nose, they learn so much about the world.
Start by walking your four-legged best friend in a quiet neighborhood or during quiet times of the day. When they seem comfortable, step it up and start exposing them to situations with people and other dogs.
If you have a dog that is easily triggered by or agitated by new people or other pets, remove him from the situation by walking away quickly or crossing the street.
#3 Give your dog a comfortable environment
If you have just brought your new puppy home, you have to be aware that he needs some time to adjust to his new space. A nice dog bed is also a plus. We all know how easy going dogs are so it can be an afterthought at times.
But dogs are also territorial. So maybe give a little bit of thought to where their domain will be in your house. If you have a small house or smaller backyard, it’s probably not the best to get a large breed of dog.
I knew someone who had a large breed of boxer kept in an apartment with no backyard. Sigh.
#4 Use food to foster closeness
Food is very useful when it comes to encouraging your shy dog so use it to your advantage. As with many species, food is tantamount to love for dogs and feeding your dog is a great way to bond. Sit in a room with your dog and quietly read your email or read your book while he is eating.
Stay for about 15 minutes and leave and do keep repeating this so that your dog learns that he is safe. Once your doggo starts responding positively, you can encourage him more with praises and more food. However, do refrain from picking up your dog or hugging him. Let your doggo set the space of how close they want to be with you.
#4 Obedience training
Giving dogs some obedience training is a good confidence booster. Never be intimidating and overbearing and avoid exaggerated or over-the-top praise. Stay supportive and calm but avoid coddling.
Toys and treats are very helpful because it helps keep your four-legged best friend upbeat during training. Begin obedience lessons in quiet indoor areas without distractions. Over time, you can gradually introduce distractions and eventually take the training outside.
#5 Brush your dog
Most dogs enjoy being groomed so brushing your pooch is another way to connect with him. As with anything done with shy dogs, it is important to look and see if your dog likes it and approach the activity slowly. If your dog’s body and eyes relax, you may continue but if your pet starts to pant, looks sideways, pants, or freezes, it means that either the brush or the person using it is making him tense and it is important to stop the session immediately.