Local Woof: How to Help the Shy or Reserved Dog

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Editor’s Note: The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

I found myself talking to a lot of people with shy and reserved dogs this week. I was repeating the same advice over and over again so I thought I would share it here.

Shy and reserved dogs will exhibit similar behaviors. They may back away, duck out from under an attempt to pet them or simply not approach new people. In severe cases they may even growl or bite. The difference between shy and reserved dogs can be very subtle, however shy dogs are often experiencing underlying fear and anxiety about meeting new people. Reserved dogs usually just prefer to not interact with new people without the element of fear. In either case, pushing a shy or reserved dog past its limits can have serious consequences.

The first thing to remember is that all dogs should be permitted to choose if they want to meet someone new or not. Friendly dogs will usually rush in to meet someone new before you even get a chance to ask them. Shy dogs will not. When meeting a new dog it is best to invite the dog to approach you. This can be done by offering your open hand to the dog below its chin, crouching down to the dog’s level a few feet away or offering a treat in an open flat hand. All of these situations invite the dog to come to you. If the dog does not move toward you, it is best to back off and ignore the dog. Over time the dog may warm up to you and you can try again later. Taking a low stress approach will communicate to the dog that they can trust you not to push them beyond what they can handle. If the dog trusts you to move slow, things will usually get better.

If you are the owner of a shy or reserved dog it is your responsibility to provide the dog with a safe place to retreat to. If you are out on a walk, be ready to ask people to not pet your dog. Well meaning people can easily overwhelm your pup. A scared dog on a leash is in a serious predicament. In a fight or flight situation where flight is not possible because of the leash, the dog has only one option left. Always make sure your dog has the option of flight, even if it is just a short trip to hide behind your legs. Never ever restrain your dog and force them to tolerate attention that they would rather avoid.

If you are home, the same rules apply. Make sure the dog can leave the party and go hang out in a safe place. No introvert wants to be forced to be an extrovert. If your dog isn’t the super friendly type, respect their wishes and give them an option.

But all is not lost. When given the time and space that they need, shy and reserved dogs can make real progress. Shy dogs can become more confident and reserved dogs can expand their circle of friends. The most important thing to remember is to respect how they feel and proceed at a pace that makes the dog feel better, not worse.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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