How To Help A Shy, Fearful Dog

Posted by Heidi Caccamise on

How To Help A Shy, Fearful Dog

Do you have a dog that is shy and fearful?  You know the dog I am talking about.  It won't approach new people and is very fearful in new situations and environments. 

I understand this type of problem and I also realize how concerned you are that your dog is suffering.  Here are a few things you might want to try to help the situation.

Obedience Training

Yes, the very first thing to do for a shy fearful dog is to do some obedience training.  Training can give a shy dog a new level of confidence and a feeling of accomplishment.  Since your dog is uneasy in strange places training should be done privately in your home where your dog is very comfortable.  In this type of case group training is not the best fit.

Limited Socialization

What I mean by limited socialization is to start taking your dog to new places.  For example, you might go to the parking lot of the local strip mall.  Take your dog for a walk around the outer perimeter of the parking lot just to get it used to being in strange new places.  As the days go on and the dog gets more and more comfortable in these new surroundings start moving in closer where you might walk in proximity to other people without actually coming into contact with them.

As the sessions continue you should get to a point where you can take your dog on the sidewalk outside of a store while people pass in and out of the stores.  You should see your dog getting more and more comfortable as the sessions continue.  Please keep in mind that this is a slow process.  How slow, depends on your particular dog and the extent of the problem.

I always suggest that this limited socialization should be done 3 times a week and be sure to vary the location.

I have personal experience with a fearful dog but unfortunately, we didn't realize he was fearful or that he lacked any kind of socialization the first few months of his life.  We ended up making some mistakes that forever changed his life and ours.

We adopted/rescued Frisbee at 6 months.  My husband was so happy to have some "testosterone" in the house (we have 3 daughters and had two female dogs).  He named Frisbee and they fast became best buddies.  He took Frisbee everywhere.  And by all appearances, it seemed that Frisbee was eager to go.  In fact, it was a routine for Frisbee to lay, stretched out, in front of the door each morning as if to send a message, "you aren't leaving without me".

What we weren't expecting or even remotely knew anything about is that these outings seem to have become too much for Frisbee to handle emotionally, probably due to his lack of socialization at an early age.  

We knew nothing about reading a dog's stress signals or body language so probably missed many warnings along the way.  

One day Peter had Frisbee at Home Depot and a lady was petting him just fine when a little girl came up and tried to hug his head.  Instead of backing out of the "headlock", Frisbee went at the little girl.  Luckily, no harm was done but this was our first warning that something wasn't right.  

You can actually read Frisbee's whole story in a  8 part series of posts I shared here previously.  There is a lot to be learned from his story.  That's my guy, Frisbee below.

So, back to some options to deal with shyness and fear...

Thunder Jacket

Something that may help a fearful dog is a Thunder Jacket.  They are available at the big box pet stores as well as online.  It is a fabric jacket or wrap that goes around your dog snuggly.  The effect of a thunder jacket varies widely from dog to dog.  Some dogs are immediately helped when wearing the jacket while others get no benefit at all.  I always tell my clients to save the receipt and all the packaging so you can return it after you have given it a few day trial if it does not work for your dog.

D.A. P.

D.A.P. is a product that you may want to try to help your dog feel more comfortable in stressful situations.  It is a pheromone that mimics the smell of a lactating mother dog and supposedly dogs never forget that smell and it relaxes them.  It is available as a collar, a spray and also an atomizer that you plug in the wall.  Most of my clients prefer the spray.  They can use in on a neckerchief around the dog's neck or even on a pillow in the car or other location.

If you have a dog that suffers from shyness and fear give these tips a try.  Do not expect instant success.  It will take some time so be patient.

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  • This was a great post for me because I have two rescue dogs and one of them seems to be a little shy or reserved while the other is not. I will use the tips in this post to try to help my shy guy gain more confidence. Thanks for sharing this.

    Jordan Warrick on

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