One Shy Dog- A Woman’s Quest to Socialize Her Scared Dog

by on January 4th, 2010 at 7:00 am

Last weekend I had a couple of friends come over for dinner; these are friends that have known my dog Atticus since he was a puppy. Atticus (Atti) loves it when he gets to play with other dogs, and it just so happened that these friends that were over have two lovable pups that play well with Atti. Usually, when Atti is at their home playing with their dogs, he could care less if anyone was around; so you can imagine my surprise when this 60lb shoe chewer turned into a whimpering mess in the presence of my dinner guests.

I have to admit that most of the time, I like the fact that he loves to cuddle and wants to be by “mommy”, but this was not the best night to have a whimpering dog constantly at my heels. Since I’ve had Atti, a lot of research has been done on his behalf, asking the internet questions such as “how many cups of food should I feed my dog?” to “how should I hold the leash when I walk my dog?”. So here came the new question: “Why is my dog so shy around people?”

He actually deals well with other animals, but it’s humans he has an issue with. I’ve seen this sometimes when we take a walk, and he gets a little skittish when a stranger approaches him. I know that Atti wasn’t abused as a puppy, and when interacting with me he loves to get rowdy.  So the shyness was a sign of something else, and that something else was answered with the fact he doesn’t get socialized as much as he should with people.

Here’s what I found:

There are ways to ‘teach’ socialization. But how can I socialize him when he just wants to be unsociable? What would help– exercise, affirmations? Maybe I should try them both.  There are some techniques I am willing to try easily, like taking him to the dog park more often so he socializes with other dogs and their owners, and taking more walks where he can see more people. I also decided to try positive reinforcement training; it seems effective and definitely more pleasant than using words like “calm down” and “it’s ok”.

Positive reinforcement training helps to make a once unlikable occurrence likeable. He gets upset when people come over to the house, so Atticus needs to learn to associate this “bad thing” with a “good thing”. Positive reinforcement may include treats, games, toys, praise or petting.  For example, the next time I have guests over, when he allows someone to pet him he will get a treat. When we go out for a walk and he doesn’t try to run away when someone walks by, I will praise him. This simple training may be just the trick that will soon get Atti on the right track to being a bit more sociable.

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