The American Dog Trainers Network


a little dog with horses
a rainbow-colored separation bar

"Photo Copyright, Bruce Fizzell"

Early Environmental Socialization 

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 between puppies.



Puppy Socialisation and Habituation
(David Appleby, APBC)




Copyright 1995 - 2000,  Robin Kovary

Photo Credits











Robin Kovary is the American Dog Trainers Network helpline director
 and canine behavioral consultant.