Copyright by Cheryl May. May be reprinted without permission 1) if used in its entirety without editing; and 2) provided copyright notice remains in place.
As the handler of a shy or timid dog, you must behave with self-assurance. Your actions and attitude will show the dog there is nothing to fear. The shy and timid dog imagines threats are everywhere. You must be a strong, confident, kind and fair leader.
How many times have you seen a dog shaking or cowering and the handler "reassuring" it with petting and cooing? This may appear to be perfectly logical behavior, but is actually giving the dog all the wrong signals and rewarding it for being timid. The dog's shyness is reinforced.
Instead, the shy dog should be exposed to as many different situations as possible. Take the dog with you to the park, to ball games, on errands, on walks, etc. The dog should be told simply to heel or "come along," led into the chosen location on lead, and made to remain quietly at your side. Don't make a fuss over the dog at these times. You can say "good dog" if it is remaining quiet and behaving well.
Consistent treatment in this manner will begin to deliver the message to the dog that there is nothing to fear.
Do NOT cuddle the dog, or hug it and tell it there is nothing to fear. Dogs do not understand most of the words we say -- they understand our actions. If the dog gets a hug, it assumes it has done the correct thing.
For more information on dealing with a shy or fearful dog, read "The Cautious Canine: How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears" by Patricia McConnell. Available from Dogwise.
Another good resource is the ShyK9s listserv. A FAQ will get you started, and has a lot of helpful information. Shyness is a difficult problem to overcome, and takes patience, but you can definitely improve your dog's quality of life if you make the effort.
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