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How To Help a Shy Dog: 8 Tips To Get Them Out of Their Shell

February 9, 2022

When we think of dogs, many of us will immediately have images of a friendly, floppy-eared creature running through our heads. While some dogs might fulfill this vision, this is certainly not always the case with our pets. Instead of being so outwardly extroverted, a dog might instead be hesitant to reach out to people or other dogs. If this is the case for your pet and you would like to help them come out of their shell, this is the article for you.

Just like with humans, all dogs will have different personalities from one another. Some dogs might do anything for attention from a person and live an existence that is based around always being eager to please. Meanwhile, there will also always be dogs who are a bit on the shy side. Perhaps they do not feel completely comfortable in their new home yet or take a little while longer to warm up to new people. There is a multitude of reasons why one dog might be more closed off than others.

Why Are Some Dogs Shier Than Others?

First of all, it is important to note that shy dogs are equally as deserving of love and care as their more extroverted counterparts. It is true that they might need an added dose of patience and understanding, but they can be just as loving and affectionate when given enough time.

If your dog is shy, it is possible that they were not socialized enough as a puppy. If you adopted your dog when they were an adult, or rescued them from a shelter, it is likely that you do not know their precise history when it comes to socialization and people. There is also the possibility that their prior interactions go beyond simply not having enough socialization. In some cases, timid dogs were treated poorly in their previous circumstances, or possibly even abused.

There is also some evidence that breed can play a role in how outgoing your dog is. Though this comes as a surprise to some pet parents, a few large dog breeds are actually significantly shier than their peers. Lastly, there might just be elements of your dog’s personality that make them naturally shy, without any traceable cause. The good news is that no matter the reason your dog appears to be on the shy side, the ways to help them grow more confident are much the same.

How Do You Know That Your Dog Is Shy?

You may expect your dog to come to you for countless pets, cuddles, and kisses the moment you bring them home. However, you might discover that this is not always the case. Oftentimes, a dog will need some time to grow accustomed to their new environment. Especially if they were just brought home, they have likely already had quite an overwhelming day. It is crucial to be patient during this time as they grow more and more comfortable.

That being said, shyness can go beyond just the occasional withholding of affection. You should remember that shyness is generally a fear response in dogs, and as a result, the ways that they display shyness are also how they would show other kinds of fear. Once you identify your dog’s fear response, you can then take in their surroundings.

With all of that in mind, some of the most common signs of shyness and fear in dogs include:

  • Avoiding social interactions
  • Attempting to escape or hide
  • Tucking their tail between their legs
  • Vocalizations (such as whining or barking)
  • Excessive licking
  • Unexplained panting
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Assuming a submissive posture
  • Urination
  • Fear-related aggression

1: Help Your Dog Grow Their Confidence

Now that we have established some of the basics about shyness in dogs and what you can expect, it is time to get into the good stuff. There are many ways that you can help your dog to come out of their shell, but they all revolve around one key principle. Your dog needs to grow their confidence, and you have the ability to help them do just that.

When your dog is more confident, everything will seem more accessible to them. Much of their fear surrounding social situations was likely a result of a lack of confidence. Helping them to feel more self-assured will make your dog more prepared and content in social situations with both dogs and humans. However, the benefits of a confident and well-adjusted dog go far beyond just that. When your dog is happy and has properly adapted to their environment, all of their stress levels will go down.

2: Give Them a Safe Space That Is Just Theirs

When you first bring your dog home, you are going to want them to first build up confidence and comfort in their new surroundings. Undoubtedly, there is an abundance of new sights, smells, and possible items of furniture to jump on (whether you want them to or not). While this can be exciting to dogs, it can also be overwhelming. An overwhelmed dog is a shy dog, so it is best to get them feeling more at home as quickly as you can.

One of the most effective ways to make your dog feel safe and secure in a new environment is by offering them a space that they know will always be there for them. For many dogs, this space comes in the form of a comfortable crate. By getting your dog the perfect crate for them, you are sending a clear message that they can always go there for comfort. Essentially, a crate functions as an excellent home base for your dog. They can go to that space whenever they need to relax or process a situation.

Crates inherently help dogs feel comfortable because they appeal to the instinct to take shelter in a den. If the crate is the right size, then it will spark these calming instincts that tell your dog that they are in a safe space. The crate should be big enough so that your dog can stand up and turn around comfortably, but not much bigger.

How Can You Make Their Crate Even Cozier?

Your dog’s crate should be a constant presence in your home from the first day they are brought home, if possible. They will learn that it is simply part of the house, and its presence is a constant that they can rely on. However, there are some ways that you can make the space even more appealing for your dog, such as a soft memory foam pad will make it an ideal spot to sleep in, promoting relaxation and tranquility.

Once your dog establishes more preferences around the house, you can also put in some of their favorite toys. Some soft blankets are also always a welcomed addition when it comes to making a crate a home for your dog.

3: Associate Socialization With What Your Dog Enjoys

Once your dog has started to feel more comfortable in your home, you can work on getting them to gain confidence in socialization. The best way to do this is to form positive associations in your dog’s mind regarding these kinds of interactions. Your dog might just be fearful from a lack of socialization in their past, but building up new positive memories is the key to helping them. If your dog has a history of being abused, this process might require a bit more patience. However, your dog is sure to appreciate and love you for it.

The exact way that you are going to help your dog to create these positive associations will depend on your particular pet. At this point, you are probably starting to get more of a thorough understanding of their likes and dislikes. When you really think about it, what seems to motivate your dog more than anything else? For most dogs, their preferred forms of positive reinforcement will come in two major categories.

Offer Your Dog Plenty of Treats

The first possible category of positive reinforcement that will get your dog especially motivated is anything having to do with food. We have all seen our fair share of dogs who will do almost anything for a treat. These dogs can often be somewhat simple to train since food motivation is typically easy for people to understand.

If you have a food-motivated dog, being aware of their preferences will help you greatly in any kind of training. This idea also holds true when it comes to helping your pet to become more comfortable with the act of socializing. Whenever your dog approaches someone new, offer them a treat. Similarly, when your dog displays calm and curious behavior about new people, give them a treat. This will strengthen the positive associations that your dog is forming regarding socialization and interacting with different kinds of people.

Teach Them That Time With People Can Be Fun

For those dogs who are not quite as food motivated, it can at first be a bit difficult to find  how to best encourage them. However, dogs that are not as motivated by food are likely even more motivated by something else: play. If your dog fits into this category, regularly play games with them such as fetch, as well as anything else your dog seems to enjoy. By understanding your dog and catering to their needs in this way, you are sure to foster more of a bond with them before you know it.

In order to use your pet’s love of fun and games to make them more social, introduce new people by having them play together first and foremost. This will immediately create an association in your dog’s mind that this person equals fun, and is not at all someone to fear. Not only will playing with your dog have the wonderful benefit of helping them feel more comfortable with you, but getting them extra exercise has a whole host of other advantages as well.

4: Play With Your Pet, and Get Them a Lot of Exercise

Playing with your pet can absolutely serve to strengthen your bond with one another, but there are more benefits than just that. A dog who has gotten enough exercise over the course of the day is going to be tired out at night, causing them to sleep peacefully. However, they are much more likely to be in a wonderfully relaxed state due to getting so much of their anxious energy out.

While your dog is in this tranquil mood, they will tend to be less shy or nervous. This is a great time to try petting them and showing them the many wonders of affection.

5: Teach Your Dog Certain Commands and Cues

This next tip goes back to trying to increase your dog’s confidence in themselves. In situations where your pet is overwhelmed and might be having some difficulty processing their surroundings, giving them a command that they know can be centering. If you teach your dog a cue like “sit” or “lay down” ahead of time, then you can use it to help calm them down. Correctly performing the requested action will make your dog feel more self-assured.

When your dog is working on turning your words into action, they will also have something else to focus on other than their environment that is currently causing them stress. The process of teaching them the cues in the first place will also be one that builds trust between you and your pet, giving you both an excellent foundation to build on in the future.

6: Know When To Push and When To Relax

Helping a shy dog to come out of their shell will inevitably require pushing your pet outside of their comfort zone. This is to be expected and is a completely normal part of the process. As long as you are patient and aware of the signals your dog is putting out, you should be able to determine when to let your dog destress for a while. This is an adjustment for your dog, and it will take time for you to see the results in them that you are looking for.

Always be aware and cognizant of the signs that your dog is putting out, and give them a chance to calm down when it all becomes overwhelming. If you push your dog too much, then they are likely to form even more negative associations regarding socialization, which is the opposite of the goal.

7: Identify Your Dog’s Triggers

After determining the circumstances of the situation, determining whether this reaction is due to their shyness will become a much easier feat. Are there other dogs around? Are there more people in the room than your dog is used to dealing with? Is your dog being introduced to someone new? All of these questions and more should be asked so that you can figure out your dog’s triggers.

Really inspect the occasions that your dog seems to display more of the fear or shyness signs that we mentioned earlier in the article. First of all, you should take them out of the situation if at all possible. However, you should also pay close attention to the circumstances of that scene. From there, you can determine if you should work with your dog to make them more comfortable with that specific stimulus.

8: Talk To a Veterinarian

If you have tried these tips and tricks but your dog still does not seem to be coming out of their shell, it might be time to take them to a veterinarian. Your vet will be able to determine if there are any health issues causing their shyness, which are always better addressed sooner rather than later. It is also possible that the veterinarian could prescribe some kind of anti-anxiety medication to help your dog feel more comfortable.

No matter what, taking your dog to the vet will allow for more personalized advice that could help the both of you be your best selves.

Take It Slow

No matter what, you should always be patient with your dog. In order for them to overcome their shyness, they will need your understanding and willingness to work at their speed.

This could come in the form of waiting to pet them until they are actively asking for it by leaning into you, or it could be giving them their own space as they adapt. In any case, helping your dog to become less shy is incredibly rewarding, and your dog will certainly appreciate it.


Common Fears and Phobias in Dogs and How To Help Treat Them | American Kennel Club

Signs of Anxiety in Dogs and Puppies | PetMD

Tips & Tricks To Help Shy Dogs Come Out of Their Shell | Modern Dog Magazine

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