Tips on Raising a Shy or Fearful Dog
Something that not many people don't know is that Pixie is a very shy or fearful dog. One day she will be totally fine with a person or dog and the next she is completely terrified. She's gotten a lot better over the years through training and working on ways to help her go from being scared out of her mind to cautiously curious about a situation. And we're not really sure where it stems from as she was raised in what we think was a good foster home until she was eight weeks old when we adopted her. After that it was just a lot of being stuck indoors as the winter was a harsh one and she was really small so she couldn't really track through the snow for walks or outdoor adventures. So the lack of social interaction with others outside of my mom, sister and I was probably the main cause. But there were steps we took to help her get past her fears so she didn't get aggressive towards different situations. And I know many people deal with similar things when they are training their dog or trying to help it in different situations. So I thought I would share my tips on things we did with Pixie to help her out.
Meeting New People
Pixie is all for looking like she's super excited to meet someone, but the second someone tries to approach her then her behavior can quickly change. I normally have to ask people not to approach her until she approaches them. This is the biggest tool when it comes to getting past Pixie's defenses as she needs to be ready to say hello and doesn't like when someone "charges" at her. For other situations, it also helps to crouch or sit next to her when she's greeting someone as it helps to watch her body posture and calm her down as she then can better sense that I'm not feeling threatened by the person.
Meeting Other Animals
Pixie loves meeting other animals but one too many aggressively playful dogs at the dog park kind of made it so Pixie is freaked out by any new animal. Even years after the event and nothing similar has happened since then. So my best approach to these situations is to have Pixie sit down then I go introduce myself to the other animal. Once Pixie sees that the dog or cat or whatever is friendly towards me then she'll go near it without the hair standing up on the back of her neck.
At the dog park, we just make sure we always have a tennis ball so if there are more aggressive dogs in their attitude towards playing we can quickly chuck the tennis ball and the two are all for chasing after it rather than whatever they were about to do before. Pixie doesn't feel bullied and she gets to play her favorite way with the other dog.
Another thing we did was take Pixie to Doggie Day Camp at a Petsmart down the street from our house so Pixie could socialize with other dogs. The first few weeks she was very timid but slowly learned to enjoy it once she got to know the other dogs and the trainers in the room. Now any time we go to Petsmart she practically is running to get to Doggie Day Camp even if that's not where we're going in the store for the day as her vet office is in the same building.
Pixie loves doing tricks and will readily do all of them before you command any if there are treats involved. Obedience training was also a great way of gaining confidence for Pixie as she got rewarded for doing a command correctly like "Sit", "Stay", and "Come." My best tip for eliminating behavior you don't want is to simply ignore it as a "No" can just become a game. Shy dogs do not take well to leash corrections or other negative enforcement techniques many trainers use. As it can just trigger their fear even more. Distractions work wonders especially when it comes to barking. Eventually, they learn that nervous barking is not an effective response especially if you do the ignore response.
Those are just some of the things we do to help Pixie with her shyness and fear. What are some of your tips for dealing with dogs who are quite often scared of new situations? I would love to hear about them.