Advice needed for a shy puppy

Question: Advice needed for a shy 16 week old puppy

Until you help the pup with her/his fear issues, you are going to have to be extra vigilant around front doors, when on leash walks, and in the back yard.

If the dog is afraid of you, she might try to make a run for it if she has the opportunity.  Make sure the pup is in another room or in a crate when you open the front door.  Make sure she is walked on slip leash or martingale collar (safer than slip leash) or a harness.  A harness if safer that a buckle collar but some dogs can get free from a harness.  Dogs can easily slip a buckle collar.  But he should wear a buckle collar for ID and the dog should wear ID at all times. Pay attention to the leash at all times, and make sure you have a good grip. If the dog gets spooked on a walk and you aren’t prepared, the leash could easily be dropped. As an added precaution you can attach the leash to your person using a dog walking belt or a euro leash  around your waist or across your shoulders.

Never leave the pup outside unattended. A scared dog might try to find a way to get out and it will be hard to catch a dog who is afraid of you.

Experts differ slightly the socialization window – that critical window of time when a pup needs to be exposed to new and different people, dogs, experiences, environments so that he/she can grow into a well developed dog. It’s usually somewhere around 6 to 20 weeks.

There is hope for any dog, no matter how old. But the older the dog, the harder the rehabilitation might be and the dog might not ever be completely “normal.”

At age 16 weeks, there is probably still time to turn things around, but you will have to go very slowly or you might make things worse.

Some trainers advocate flooding. I’m completely against this unless absolutely necessary.  

A human example of flooding:  You have a child who doesn’t know how to swim.  You take him out on a boat in the middle of the lake and you toss him in.  This child might learn to swim this way or he might develop an unnatural fear of water.

A better way to teach your kid to swim would be to slowly acclimate him/her to water and teach small steps until he is swimming with confidence:
– start with wading in a shallow pool; then have her try ducking her head under water, then hold him above water while he paddles, then try some floaties; then maybe let him try some doggie paddling.

If your puppy is afraid of men, don’t put her in a man’s lap.  Instead, slowly desensitize her to the presence of men.  Use counter conditioning to make him feel better about men.

Go to a quiet place, have a male subject stand far enough away that the dog doesn’t become fearful or agitated, and pump the puppy full of  tasty treats.  How far is far enough? It depends on the dog. It could be 300 feet or 20 feet.  Watch for signs of stress, anxiety or fear in the dog.  If the dog is at all anxious, the man should be further away or you should quit and try again another day.

After the dog is comfortable at a distance of 300 feet, then try 290 feet for a few days, then 280, etc.. As you can see, this will take a while.  As men can come closer, try different types of men – tall, short, heavy, thin. Try different clothes, hats or shades. If at anytime the pup becomes fearful, then go back a few steps or quit for the day or even quit for a week if the exercise is too difficult for the dog. Once the man is able to come close enough to toss treats, then have him do so.  Once he can come close enough to hand feed the pup, then have him do so.

I just used fear of men as an example because that seems to be common among shy dogs.  Your post didn’t mention any specific behaviors that demonstrate your puppy is shy. What ever her fear – men, children, loud noises, being touched, etc.. all can be addressed with desensitization and counter conditioning and patience – lots and lots of patience.

A shy pup is going to need a quiet, calm, patient household. Many shy dogs are also afraid of kids.  If children are present, they might have to leave the puppy alone for a while until she feels a little better about her situation. It can be extremely difficult for an adult to not touch a cute puppy. It’s going to be next to impossible for a child, but you will have to persevere.  Children (nor adults for that matter) should be making a lot of noise, moving about quickly, etc…while the pup learns new coping skills.

The pup should never be scolded, yelled at, hit, grabbed abruptly, pushed, poked, shaken, alpha rolled, etc.. – well this goes for any dog.

While you don’t want to treat the dog harshly, you also should not coddle the pup.  A fearful puppy probably does not want a lot of hugging and snuggling; and you might reinforce some fears if you often sooth the dog when she is afraid.  Some comforting (if the puppy actually wants it) can sometimes be okay. Just be careful.  See my video on rewarding desireable behaviors and ignoring undesireable behaviors
Also see my video on Things Human Inadvertently Teach Their Dogs

When working with the pup, constantly look for signs of stress: yawning, feet sweating, tail between the legs, trembling, feet sweating, large eyes, dilated pupils, eyes darting back and forth, lots of whites of the eyes showing, panting when it’s not hot, grimacing, tight lips, nose running, inappropriate elimination, etc… An excellent book on deciphering doggie language is On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals. It’s oly 78 pages and it has a lot of pictures. It can easily be read in one sitting.

I mentioned earlier that I don’t like flooding. But there are some times when flooding might be necessary.  Soon or later, you pup will have to go to the vet.  If he needs a shot, you can’t wait 2 months while the pup learns to trust the vet.  Something you can do to minimize the trauma:
While your dog doesn’t need vet care, go into you regular vet’s office for just a couple of minutes and sit there and hand out tasty treats. Pick a time of day when the vet doesn’t have many people in the lobby.  Do this every once in a while until your dog needs to actually get shots or have a procedure.

Going to the vet is just one example.  There are plenty of things you should be getting your pup use to before needed.  Maybe you want her to get acclimated to wearing a muzzle, or getting her collar grabbed, etc.. use desensitisation and counter conditioning as well.

Training can help the pup focus on the something besides her fears.  Make the training as hands off as possible. A hands off approach can be much easier for a scared dog but mostly importantly, a hands off approach can help the dog think for herself.   Basic obedience commands like sit, stay, lay down, etc.. can be taught through capturing, free shaping and luring. Not need to physically put the pupy into a position and no need to say “eh eh!” when the puppy makes a mistake.

Everything that goes into helping a shy pup can’t be addressed in this one post.  A whole book could be written on the subject.  And there are several out there.  Right now, I’m reading Scaredy Dog! Understanding & Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog by Ali Brown. I highly recommend it. It gives some great exercises and training tips.  It also talks about benevolent leadership and diet. All important factors in helping a scared dog.

Other books I like that touch on this subject:
Click to Calm by Emma Parsons
Fiesty Fido by Patricia McConnell

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