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Why Shy Dogs Are Shy

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Is your dog shy? Do you ever wonder why shy dogs are shy?

Shy dogs lack confidence and are often turned in to shelters because they are not much fun.

shy fawn chihuahua dog


Symptoms of shyness in dogs

Shy dogs are those who cringe in the back of their kennel when someone tries to pet them. They are the dogs who submissively urinate, or tuck their tail and try to hide when approached. Sometimes, a shy dog will growl, bark, snap or bite.

How does a dog get shy

Sometimes dogs just seem to be born this way but many times the root of shyness is a lack of confidence.

Dogs who have been punished harshly lose self confidence or become afraid . Dogs who have been struck may become hand-shy, but not all shy dogs have been abused.

Some physical problems such as blindness and deafness, as well as chronic pain or chronic hunger can be frightening or confusing for the dog.

If a veterinarian has established that the dog is healthy, the case may be that he has learned shyness if his mother was shy.

In other cases, a dog who has never been properly socialized with people, other dogs, and environments will be shy.

A dog who spends most of his time in the backyard away from people and stimulus will be unsure of himself in a different environment.

During development, a puppy will go through “fear periods” at 8 to 11 weeks and again around 4 months, when he may be very cautious. Frightening experiences during these “fear periods” can stay with him the rest of his life, causing shyness.

chocolate Chihuahua puppy

How to help your shy dog

Do you have a shy or nervous dog who is unsure about meeting new people, dogs, or in new environments? The tips below will help you build your dog’s confidence, reduce their social anxiety, and develop a partnership between handler and dog.

  • Don’t over baby! It’s easy to get wrapped up in a rescue dog’s past, a sensitive dog’s emotions, or a nervous dog’s anxiety. But keep in mind you don’t want to accidently reward shy or nervous behavior with excessive praise or coddling. Instead, try to be jovial and show your dog that you are relaxed and at ease with whatever is making them upset.
  • Don’t force social interactions. Remember to let your dog choose when and who they interact with at their own pace. You cannot force your dog to suddenly enjoy social interactions. Instead you can read their body language and manage the people and environment around them so that your dog learns they will never be forced to interact when they aren’t ready. With time, they will gain trust and comfort and their shyness will diminish.
  • Don’t correct fear based behaviors. If your dog growls, barks, or otherwise shows behavior you don’t like but that you can attribute to fear, correcting is not the way to handle it. A fearful dog should be removed from the fearful situation in a calm fashion and reintroduced in a structured way when you’re ready to deal with the behavior (perhaps with the help of a qualified trainer). Correcting a dog verbally or physically for being afraid damages your relationship and can actually increase your dog’s stress and anxiety.
  • Don’t overreact…calmness is key. Always keep in mind that your dog looks to you to determine how they should react. If you are calm and in charge, your dog will find it easier to relax and you’ll feel better too!
  • Don’t be in a rush…shyness takes time to overcome. Use baby steps and take time to acknowledge even little successes. Just like with people, dogs can have good days and bad so progress doesn’t always go in a perfectly straight line.
  • Don’t get frustrated. Shyness can be a complicated behavior for all involved. It’s not like teaching a dog obedience commands or tricks. Shyness deals with deep seated instinctual behaviors like fear and self preservation. With patience and consistency, progress can be made but avoid getting upset, angry, or overly eager to push too fast to avoid making negative progress.

Although dogs will have individual personalities, gentle patience and proper techniques can build confidence in the shy dog.

Let us know about your shy dog in the comments! And if you have been able to help your dog overcome shyness, please let us know how you handled it!





Charlynn Clark

Wednesday 25th of October 2023

My Scruffy was a rescue too. He was two when he came here almost four years ago. He still has issues but is so much better. Key is to not add to the stress. I wish I could know what preceded his coming to me. I think he had a loving home which he lost somehow and had a rough life afterwards. He had lots of fears which include other dogs, people, vehicles and starvation. He chewed holes in clothing for a long time. I had a large dog which he feared then fell in love with but I had to put him down about a year ago.Six months ago I adopted another rescue Shitz Tsu and they are a perfect match so maybe having a buddy would help. Anyway I love both of them.

Cathy Bendzunas

Wednesday 25th of October 2023

Yes, I think having a buddy helps a lot. Thanks for sharing your experience Charlynn.

Susan Hammond

Thursday 25th of March 2021

I understand exactly what she's saying. I adopted a 5-year-old Chihuahua from a puppy mill rescue. I have had her around 6 months she does exactly what is listed every time you come near her she crouches she is afraid of everything but every day she is getting better and better because I always use the same tone of voice lots of reassurance tons of patience and of course love she is an amazing little creature and you have to remember it takes a lot of time a lot of patience and never ever get upset with them they don't know that is the bottom line I have a 2-year-old pug that I rescued also and a year and a half later she is an amazing little creature but she still has her issues and that's okay we all do


Thursday 25th of March 2021

Thank you for rescuing those fur babies and having patience with them!