Shy dogs need their space, with the right approach they may be able to open up to you. While dog lovers tend to be more extroverted, many dogs are actually quite the opposite. At DogBoy’s, we like to affectionately call these dogs “wallflowers.” These dogs feel the most comfortable when out of the spotlight.

So, how do we properly interact with our introverted dogs? Especially if we’re tempted to dogpile them with love and affection? Here’s our guide to why dogs are shy, and what you can do to help them feel more comfortable.

What Are The Main Causes Of Anxiety And Shyness In Dogs?

Every dog’s situation is different, but there are three main explanations that we can trace shyness and fearfulness from:

A dog will express their fear and anxiety differently depending on the cause. A dog might be frightened of hats because they were never exposed to them as a puppy. They may also associate them with past abuse.

You need to be patient with shy dogs, wait for them to come to you. In most cases, it should be easy to tell that a dog is shy or nervous. However, shyness can be confused with separation anxiety and other problems. Watch for these key symptoms of anxiety:

  • Trembling or Shaking
  • Hiding often or withdrawal
  • Tucking of the tail
  • Barking at people and/or dogs
  • Growling and/or backing away

These typically indicate that a dog feels threatened or frightened by something. Separation anxiety requires a different approach to prevention than phobias, poor socialization, or natural shyness.

How To Properly Interact With A Shy Dog: Lower Your Expectations

Interacting with a shy dog is similar to greeting a dog that you’re unfamiliar with. The keys are to respect their space, be cautious, and do your best to signal to the dog that you’re not a threat.

Calming signals are incredibly important to know when greeting a shy dog. These body language signs are well understood and instantly recognizable to canines as non-threatening. If you want to reassure a dog you can:

  • Avert your eyes
  • “Paw” the ground like a dog would with your foot
  • Yawn
  • Lick your lips
  • Scratch your stomach
  • Turn your body sideways to the dog
  • Slow your movements
  • Crouch down

Your body will be softly whispering “hey, I don’t want to hurt you.” This might get the dog to open up to contact or other means of greeting. Remember, try to avoid doing anything sudden or surprising, or you’ll risk spooking them.

During interaction with fearful or shy dogs you have to lower your expectations. These dogs often never fully open up to anyone other than their owners, and will remain somewhat guarded despite your best efforts.

These dogs may never jump up into your lap, or accept a bear hug from you. And, if you try to force that upon them or get in their face, you’ll just be distancing yourself from them further in the future.

Being a shy dog doesn't mean you can't have fun!We have a large staff dog at the Ranch who is terrified of people. We’ve learned to ignore him, and carry on if he’s in the room. This way he can take his time and come by to sniff or rub past our legs. To us, this is a victory, not a compromise.

For a nervous dog, just being close to you is a huge sign of trust. They’re saying “Hey, I don’t really know you, but you seem pretty nice.” The more you reinforce this, the more you get to bask in their presence!

At DogBoy’s, we absolutely adore our shy dogs. We understand that they need extra care to be properly accommodated. That’s why we occasionally have specialized classes exclusively for shy and nervous dogs. Private lessons can also make a huge difference if our current class schedule doesn’t contain a shy dog class.

When looking for classes or trainers, check to see if they have similar accommodations. If you have questions about how to handle shy dogs or need help finding a good trainer, feel free to contact us today!




Image Permissions:

Shy Dog by Lucas Lima 91 

Happy Shy Dog by Jeffrey Avellanosa

Elbow dog by Ben Yanis