Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tips for Walking a Shy or Fearful Dog

By Langley Cornwell

Most of us have met or at least seen a shy, fearful dog at some point. Maybe a neighbor has one, perhaps you’ve seen one in a shelter, or you may be like me and share your life with one. You’ll know a dog is shy and fearful because he will look at you out of the corner of his eyes, never making full eye contact. He may act as if he wants to greet you, but stooping down to say hello elicits raised hackles and growls or barks. If he does allow you to get close enough to pat him, even if you take it slowly he will likely flinch and step out of range.

When we rescued our dog, she was painfully shy. She wouldn’t even stand up on 4 legs; she did the belly crawl with her head hung low. Still, she reached in and grabbed my heart. There were other, equally needy pups that needed a home at that time; well-mannered dogs that seemed happy even in the face of horrific conditions. I would have taken them all if possible but I had to pick one. I knew the little white dog that tried to be invisible would take a lot of work but I couldn’t imagine going home without her. And so the work began.

Our dog came to live with us when she was approximately 10-months old. Dog experts seem to agree that nervousness and fearfulness develops as young dogs mature, and that the problem often stems from improper socialization during their prime puppyhood socialization window.

Puppy Socialization Window

The American Kennel Club (AKC) website outlines critical periods in a puppy’s development, which they call “socialization windows.” Almost all of a puppy’s personality is shaped during his first year of life, and the first 12 weeks are the most important. The AKC website cites the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) when reporting that sociability outweighs fear in a puppy’s early stage, making this “the primary window of opportunity for puppies to adapt to new people, animals, and experiences.” It is during this time that a puppy first learns to enjoy the company of people, to act properly around other dogs, and to experience a range of circumstances and situations without fear.

After the first 12 weeks, most puppies move into the fear-inclined phase of development. After this, if the young pup has not been socialized properly, it may be extremely difficult for him to adapt to unfamiliar people, dogs and experiences. This is more than a simple inconvenience; shyness and fear can lead to aggression if not handled appropriately.

What Can You Do?

If you share your life with a shy and fearful dog, be a responsible pet owner. Help your dog mature into a confident, stable companion by cautiously but consistently introducing him to other people, other well-socialized dogs and new surroundings outside of his home. Daily walks on a leash are usually the most practical way to do this.

Tips for Walking

• Establish a walking routine. Dogs like consistency and knowing what’s going to happen next.

• Start every walk from a sit position. Give your dog the sit command and calmly attach his leash.

• Be relaxed yet confident as you start the walk. Shy dogs are easily influenced and feed off of your mood and attitude.

• Keep a brisk pace and walk with a purpose. Venture into busy, unfamiliar areas.

• Reward your dog with a CANIDAE TidNips treat when he acts brave, and ignore him when he acts fearful.

This method works for us, and we’re finally to the point where we look forward to our daily walks. We have not mastered going into dog-friendly stores yet, but we’re working up to that. With plenty of time and love, I believe our sweet dog will get progressively more confident.

If you have a shy, fearful or insecure dog, you may be interested in reading How to Train a Fearful or Insecure Dog.

Photo by Hitchster

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. This some really good information. I have only taken one dog to obedience school and boy it made a difference in her social skills. All my other dogs were around lots of people but I have had one or two that were shy.

  2. I was going to 'Like' this post until I read the tips. While there is some good information here, there is a lot I strongly DISAGREE with. You cannot help a shy/fearful dog by making him/her "face their fears". In fact, with fear-aggressive dogs this can be downright dangerous! Walking shy/fearful dogs can also be dangerous due to the risk of them slipping their collar/harness, running away & being nearly impossible to retrieve!

    We adopted a hoarder rescue, approx. 2 yrs old, from a shelter & she was a terrified mess when we got her in Oct. 2010. With loads of research, the help of expert advice from a Yahoo group called "Shy K-9s", anti-anxiety medications, lots & lots of patience & understanding she is now doing quite well. We're almost ready to try short walks in quiet areas now.

    While she will never be "normal" & will probably never interact comfortably with strangers (even though she goes to work with us at our store everyday), she is now comfortable in her own skin & a very happy, playful girl with us in our home. That is all we ask of her & we wouldn't trade her for the world ♥

  3. I'm happy for the progress you and your rescue dog are making, Anonymous. Congratulations. And thanks for letting our readers know about the 'Shy K-9s' Yahoo group.


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