Shy Dogs: Training and Socializing

Guest Post: Elliot Harvey’s Natural Health Column:

A name is important in establishing communications with the dog. It also helps her to feel like a valued member of the family.  Use her name frequently until she learns it.
Positive training and exposure is the real key to building a relationship and developing a bond of trust with a dog. Punishment during the early development stages can adversely impact on building self-esteem and learning to trust. Avoid training with any method that involves physical discipline, such as swatting the pup, thumping it on the nose, or rubbing its face in a mess.  Even avoid a loud or harsh voice.
Remember that she may have never experienced the normal household sights and sounds which could account for some of her current state of fear. The whole transition to a social environment may be very traumatic and overwhelming.   Initially she will need some quiet time to settle down and process all the new things that she’s being exposed to.
She’s glued to her crate because it is a den where she can "hide" and safely observe the household routine.  Leave the door open to allow her to make the decision to stay or leave her den but close the door for short periods to allow time to relax and de-stress.   When she is spending these short time outs of the crate, ignore her.  Keep in mind that although it is tempting to keep the dog with you and cuddle it all the time to make up for the previous owner or breeder’s failure, it is very unsettling and stressful for these puppies to go from a "nobody" to suddenly being the center of attention.
Always move slowly and speak softly around the dog.  Keep children away as much as possible. See if the dog will accept food or treats from you – there is a good "first step" toward gaining her confidence. If she will not accept them, that is okay. Wait a few days and then try again.
At least she appears to be food motivated, so use food, something really delicious like freeze dried liver as a treat.  Always have something in your pocket to use as a reward for behavior that you want from her like leaving her crate.  As mentioned, leave the crate door open so she can come out when she feels safe but don’t force anything with the puppy.
When you feed her, sit on the floor with the food bowl in your lap and have her eat her meal while the bowl remains in your lap.  Don’t touch her or force her to accept you yet—let her associate you with the pleasure of having a full stomach.  It will take some time but eventually, she will become curious about you and at least begin to spend more time out of the crate near you.  Talk to her in a low reassuring, “HAPPY” voice and when you feel that she will accept your touching while eating, reach over and very gently scratch her neck.  Avoid the top of her head in the beginning because it can cause some anxiety.
Introduce new sights, sounds, people, and other pets slowly. Having never heard a vacuum cleaner, door bell, telephone, etc., these things can be terrifying to the dog. THINK before turning on that food processor…it would be a good idea to put the dog in another room first. Give her time and permission to explore her surroundings. It is not necessary to immediately correct her when she investigates things that may be off limits in the future…let her look them over. Chances are she will not bother them, but she just has never seen anything like that shoe (or magazine, or vase, or whatever) before.


Patience, patience, patience!!!!!  Remember, a dog that has been kept in a cage all of her life has never been trained to "hold" it and has NO concept of the idea. It can take time to see any headway in this area. Take the dog out frequently praising her whenever she goes. Always take her out upon awakening and after eating. Keep a very close eye on her when she's loose in the house – the more accidents she has in the house without correction, the harder it will be to get the idea across. DO NOT rub her nose in it or scold her! When you catch her in the act tell her "NO" and immediately take her to the appropriate place (either outside or her papers).
Crate the dog whenever you’re gone or busy – dogs naturally do not like to soil their sleeping area. A treat might also be in order when she goes out as requested. Accidents WILL happen – simply take her outside (or to her papers) and tell her to "Go Potty". Don't make a big deal of an accident – but DO make a big deal of it if he goes out as requested and does her business. Leaving a small piece of urine-soiled paper on top of her piddle papers/pads will also help her identify "her" spot to go. Likewise, clean all other accident sites with a neutralizing cleaner to remove all traces of her scent.

Dog Socialization

Contact with people other than the immediate family should be discouraged until the dog is comfortable with your family and has developed some trust. Once the dog is comfortable and secure in you home and with your family, now is the time to begin socializing her with other people. Invite a friend over to visit and slowly introduce them. If the dog is timid, let her make the advances and check the newcomer out. They might want to offer her a treat as a gesture of good will. The dog should pick up cues from you that this person is welcome and accepted in your home. Be patient – the scenario may need to be repeated several times before the dog does not feel threatened by a new face.
As the dog warms to family and friends without showing signs of fear or aggression, you may begin outside socialization on your own. When you begin to feel comfortable with your dog's behavior take it out into public every day. First you MUST examine your own fears! If you feel anxious about being able to control the dog or wary of whether or not your dog will bite, your anxiety will travel right down the lead. Your dog will read the anxiety as fear and will likewise be fearful. Your anxiety will place your dog on alert and she will read this as: "Mom/Dad is afraid, I must be on watch." At all times, your attitude should be warm, and friendly to strangers, and you should be completely void of anxiety. To encourage her to accept strangers, especially small children, carry a supply of treats and give the treats to the stranger to give your dog.
Parks and pet supply stores that allow pets are good choices. Encourage people to talk to her and pet her. Once she's comfortable, give her time to look around, check things out, and investigate new things. There's a whole, big, wide world out there that she's never seen before.  End each outside trip with a special treat—for example, drive through McDonald’s and get her a small hamburger!
Take your dog to a park, parking lot, or place that will allow dogs. Petsmart or Petco allow dogs into the store. Take her through the store and even allow her to select her own toys and treats. This is a perfect place for really positive, fun outings and the employees have always been very helpful with this when you explain the situation.
Enroll in an obedience class.  Manners are wonderful, but more importantly, when dealing with shy dogs is the ability to create confidence through obedience exercises.
As she becomes more stable, you may wish to begin desensitization, which is 'controlled' conditions without threatening gestures that acclimate and stimulate the dog into new and different situations such as someone wearing large oversize hats, overcoats, dark glasses, or walking on crutches or walker. Bike riders, skate boarders may all cause some anxiety.  It is imperative that the dog not be overly stressed for the first few outings or all of your hard work will be undone.

Do you have experience with training a shy or unsocialized dog? Share tips with us in the comments!

This post was written by Elliot Harvey MH of Author of “The Healthy Wholistic Dog,” Elliot has years of experience in animal health and wellness. Pet Assure is not affiliated with and does not endorse Great Life Performance Pet Products. Pet Assure is presenting this guest post for the benefit of its readers and retains no financial interest in any future transactions.

If you have any questions-please contact me at

Elliot Harvey

About Elliot Harvey

Elliott Harvey MH is the author of the natural healing book "The Healthy Wholistic Dog." He founded Great Life Performance Pet Products in 1996 to provide quality pet products based on nutritional and field studies. Elliott is a contributing writer for Animal Wellness Magazine and a consultant to Pet Product News. He utilizes his experience in natural health and wellness to write for Pet Assure on a monthly basis.

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