Monday, July 19, 2010

Shy Dogs - Recognizing Shy Dog Behavior

 Shy Dogs
You've probably seen them - the ones who duck or back away when you try to pet them
Many people assume these fearful dogs were probably physically abused by someone in the past.  This might be true but many times, the only abuse is neglect.  Dogs that miss out on human socialization during critical periods in the their life can grow up to be shy.  [img][/img]One or two trainers have told me that the critical period is between 6 and 20 weeks.  Sadly, there are a lot of dogs who go years without any positive human contact. Some of them have survived on the streets or in the country on their own for a while and sadly some of them had a "home" where the "parents" simply left them outside all day..maybe throwing out some food and water occasionally.
These dogs can grow to like humans and enjoy their company. It just takes a little patience and time.  Humans have to learn how to "speak dog" to help these babies come out of their shells. They are well worth the wait.
If you are like me, you love doggies so much that you want to pet and hug and squeeze and kiss just about all of them.  It's especially tempting to try to "comfort" a fearful dog.  Shy dogs like affection but you have to take it slow and only do it when they are ready
Imagine if you were in a strange land where all the beings were 4 times taller than you and they spoke strangely and moved strangely.  Now imagine if one of them tried to make you feel better by walking over to you and giving you a big hug while you were backed in a corner.  You might just feel worse. You'd probably want to spend some time understanding their customs and their language first. You might want to make sure they are not a threat before you let them touch you.
How do you know a dog is shy? Look at their body language. Their eyes are darting back and forth - probably because they want to check to make sure there is a safe place to retreat to.  Their tails are tucked - sometimes plastered to their belly. They might stick out their tongues a lot.  They might crouch, duck, try to run or at least back away when approached.
Caution: A fearful dog is just as likely to bite as an aggressive dog.  Make sure that the dog feels like he has an escape route.  Cornered dogs,  are highly likely to bite. A dog on a leash who can't get away might also bite.
How to "talk" to shy dogs
In dog language, a direct stare can mean confrontation.  When dealing with a shy dog, use your peripheral vision or look over their heads. Don't face them directly but have your side facing  their side.  Note: with some extremely shy dogs, I have walked backwards or crawled backwards to approach them but I don't recommend this with an unknown dog.  A fearful dog could nip you on the butt or heels when your back is turned.
Don't approach a shy dog directly (normally you don't approach; let them come to you). Walk in an arc and make sure your movements are fluid and smooth. Not jerky or quick.  Crouch and move slowly but not too slow. It can make a scared dog suspicious.
Make yourself appear smaller and less threatening by crouching or squatting or getting on your knees.  Note: dogs really appreciate when you get down on their level.  But (just personal experience) it seems to me that they prefer the human to crouch or sit rather than lay down flat. But you are less threatening laying down than standing up.
Offer a cupped hand or open palm or forearm only after the dog seems a little curious about you or is approaching you.  When trying to pet the dog, make sure your fingers are cupped - not spread out towards the dog.  According to one researcher, fingers pointing directly at a dog can look like bared teeth.
Never try to pet a shy dog on top of the head.  Start low, scratch their chest, maybe under their chin.  If they seem to enjoy it, you can try moving slowly up to their shoulder.  If you really want to pet them on the head, you can move from the shoulder to the back and then to the ears then pet their head from the back (only if they are comfortable).  Going over their head from the front can scare them.
You might notice that many shy dogs are more fearful of men and children. Could it because a man or child abused them in the past? Could be but.. men are bigger; their voices are louder. So they can be scarier. Children move in weird ways, they wave their hands all about, they make strange high pitched noises and they run directly towards dog.  Of course children should always be highly supervised around pets. This is especially important with shy dogs. Most dog bites happen to children and many of those bites are on the face.  Children must be taught when a scared dog has "had enough"
So, why is it that a well-adjusted dog doesn't mind when you stare at him or pet him on the head or go to pet her with your fingers out?
This is La Trenda's philosophy (haven't read this anywhere)
Well-adjusted dogs are "bilingual" - speaking human and dog.  You'll see a dog greet another dog with eyes averted (dog language) but that dog won't mind when you stare at him (human language).  So dogs who received human socialization when they were younger understand that a direct stare is okay in human language.
Dog who like cats are also "bilingual" or "trilingual".  In cat language a tail that points straight up means the cat is in a good mood. In dog language, a tail putting straight up could mean confrontation is about to happen.  But a dog who "speaks cat" doesn't mind when kitty walks around with her tail sticking straight up:
For more info on speaking dog, Check out "How to Speak Dog" by Stanley Coren.
Also see: