Shy dogs can be shy due to genetics or through the lack of socialization. Usually, it’s the latter – pups get few chances to meet a wide array of humans, and that causes fear. Also, abuse could have been involved when they were very young, or they were taken away from mom too early.
Whichever the cause, you are presented with a shy, fearful dog. The process of counter-conditioning this behavior should start with great care. And be prepared for a long road to recovery. Important, just because your dog is timid doesn’t mean you should be as well. It’s important to remain upbeat and positive when meeting strangers. Your energy travels down the leash to your pup, keep that in mind. Also, keep in mind that depending on your dog’s history, genetics, and prior trauma, they may not fully become that open, friendly dog you wanted. Sometimes, counter-conditioning can only take you so far.
So when a new human visits your home, make sure they know to ignore your pup – no eye contact, no talking to the dog, no kissy noises, nothing. Give your guest some treats to toss on the floor near your pup. If this happens regularly, your pup may start associating the new person with rewards. It’s a known fact that pups are more likely to be afraid of men vs women – you will have to work more slowly with men in this case. If your pup starts moving toward your guest, have your guest toss a few more treats while you tell your pup “yes! Fido, good boy!” to get reinforcement from you for the good move.
Give your dog a couple of spaces to retreat to if she is overwhelmed, like a bed and/or a crate. Assuming your pup moves closer to smell, just remind the guest to remain calm and do not make eye contact or bend down to pet your pup. Soothing voices are important, but only from you, your guest should not speak yet. After 10 minutes into this successful encounter, your guest should still be randomly tossing treats, and may begin to move either left or right or in a circular motion around your pup – just not directly forward toward her. Perhaps after a half-hour (yes a long half-hour), your guest can go and sit down and begin conversing with you, but tell him to keep his voice low and soft for a while.
You should talk to your Vet about your dog’s fears – she may have some other ideas or medication that may help the process. In addition, there are many homeopathic remedies such as “Rescue Remedy for Dogs” which is derived from organic flowers by Dr. Bach – I have some customers that claim it really helps their dogs remain more calm. There is also the thundershirt – a compression shirt that goes over your pup’s torso to give them a cuddled feeling.
I can’t stress enough that this will take a while – sometimes many months of having guests over. Be patient and follow the guidelines above – eventually you will see some improvement, maybe even a generous amount, depending on the dog.
If your pup snaps or growls continuously at your guests, I would recommend contacting Top Dog Training for additional support.