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Stop trying to make shy dogs outgoing

I’m asked some dog topics so frequently that I’ve decided to write posts about them in an effort to help more dogs. And one of the most common topics I’m asked to comment on is the issue of shy dogs.

I’ve typically seen fear manifest in two ways: 1)timidity/retreat and 2)aggression. Below I will give you an example of each.

I was at a dog event recently where many dogs were running around in a small space. Their owners were with them, but many were off lead. It was a rambunctious crowd. Most were having a ball, but there was this one dog cowering in the corner. That poor dog was terrified. While I know the owner was hoping this kind of experience would help his dog “come out of her shell,” it was not at all having that effect.

Look, not all dogs are appropriate for all situations, plain and simple, and we shouldn’t force them into situations that are not suited for them. I personally would not have brought this dog to the event. I would let her live a peaceful, quiet life. I’d have her interact with one dog at a time, and match that dog to her temperament and comfort level. This will never be a dog who enjoys being bombarded with active dogs.

While the fear the dog above experienced manifested as timidity and retreat, it can also go the other way.

For example, a friend recently asked my advice about a family member’s dog. The dog was timid (we had talked about her before), so the family decided to enroll her in “doggie daycare” to make her more outgoing. They wanted her to be a dog they could take everywhere, and who would be comfortable and outgoing in all situations. But that just isn’t this dog. In fact, she failed the daycare enrollment test. The owners were told she was aggressive with the other dogs and could not come back.

Now this is a dog who has successfully interacted and played with other dogs before and had not shown signs of aggression. But the dog was very scared in the daycare setting, and she expressed that fear through aggression. I really hope her owners listen to what she is trying to tell them. What did I suggest? That she is not a good dog for this setting or any like it (i.e. dog parks!). Hire a sitter to come in their home to take care of her when they are out of town or away for long hours. And don’t expect her to be that outgoing dog they have in their mind, because she is not.

Let me end with something I say a have to meet dogs where they are. Time and patience will reveal to you the true personality of your dog. Listen to what they are telling you, and then do your best to accommodate that. It may look a little different than you had hoped, but it can still be wonderful.

Note: I only speak from my own experience, which is substantial. But please use common sense if your issue requires the assistance of an “expert.” Your primary care veterinarian is a good place to start.