"Photo Copyright, Bruce Fizzell"
Most Timidity Is Preventable
When it comes to raising a confident well-adjusted puppy, an ounce of prevention
is certainly worth a pound of cure. By socializing one's puppy early on with a
variety of new and unfamiliar people (including calm and gentle children), on a
regular and ongoing basis (for at least the first two years of the dog's life),
you can help prevent serious behavioral problems such as shyness, timidity, and
aggression from developing as the puppy matures. Once a puppy has all of his
puppy shots (usually by 16 weeks of age), he should also be socialized with
other friendly dogs, and acclimated to new environments beyond the owner's home
and property, by being taken for regular daily walks on a leash.
Puppies raised in country and suburban environments should be gradually
acclimated to city noises such as traffic noise, crowds of people and other
everyday life scenerios early on. A weekly visit into town (beginning when the
puppy is around 8 to 10 weeks of age) can be very helpful in preventing
environmental phobias. In order to prevent exposure to disease, puppies with
fewer than 3 or 4 series of vaccinations, should avoid contact with unfamiliar
dogs, and be carried (in a Sherpa Bag, Snuggly or crate) to avoid contact with
the sidewalk (or any other public areas where other dogs may frequent).
What To Do If Timidity Has Already Taken Hold
While preventive steps are best, should your puppy or adolescent dog already
show signs of timidity, he should be gradually introduced to many new and
unfamiliar people, until your puppy develops more confidence and trust. The
following tips may be useful as a general guideline:
Visitors and passersby should avoid suddenly reaching out to pet your puppy, as
allowing a stranger to approach a timid puppy right away is likely to increase
the puppy's fear as well as his inclination to react defensively. In fact, when
a timid puppy is first introduced to someone unfamiliar to him, the person
should remain relatively still and quiet, avoid eye contact with the
puppy, offer non-confrontational body language, and allow the puppy to approach
the person and initiate contact. The puppy should never be forced or dragged
over to meet someone he is fearful of.
Asking the visitor to crouch down near the floor, with their body facing at an
angle AWAY from the puppy, and their hand slightly extended to the side while
holding a small puppy treat, may help the puppy to gain enough confidence to
approach. The puppy should be allowed to sniff the person, and to take the
treat from their hand, without the person talking to or reaching towards the
puppy. Even if the puppy continues to show fearfulness, the owner should remain
upbeat, and resist the temptation to coddle or "poor baby" the puppy.
Once the puppy appears to feel a bit more secure, the visitor should slowly
begin petting the puppy under the chin, and continue offering him small treats.
These steps should be repeated with as many new people as possible, in as many
new environments as possible, until the puppy develops sufficient confidence
around new people.
Timidity Around Other Dogs
Fully immunized puppies who are timid around other dogs, should be socialized
with other friendly, easy-going puppies (and dogs), begining with small to
medium-sized puppies, then very gradually introduced to larger, more active
ones, over a period of a few weeks. Observe both puppies' body language as the
meet, interact, and get to know eachother. For especially timid or sensitive
puppies, one-on-one puppy play sessions are usually best.
Supervised puppy play groups and puppy kindergarden classes may also be
helpful, provided that bigger, more dominant puppies are not allowed to bully
or intimidate the more timid ones. Puppies should be properly matched by size,
age, dominance, activity level and temperament. Unsupervised group
"free-for-alls" can in fact be very counter-productive.
Ideally, an experienced dog trainer or behaviorial consultant should supervise
all play activity and be present to prevent any overly aggressive interactions