Tips for Greeting a Shy Dog

Many times a dog that has been mistreated or has not interacted much with humans or other dogs is shy. One way a dog deals with greeting someone new is to be fearful and possibly aggressive. I have a shy dog and these guidelines are invaluable in ensuring her interactions with strangers are positive. Here are some important tips to remember when faced with a shy dog.

Fear Aggression

Before you greet a dog you know or suspect may be fearful, you MUST be aware of fear aggression. Dogs, like most animals, have a fight or flight response. If scared, they will either run or fight. Some fearful dogs, especially if they are on leash or backed against the wall of a kennel and feel they have no way to run, become aggressive and will bite out of fear, hoping you will leave them alone.

Signs of Fear in Dogs

  • Stiff body posture
  • Low tail carriage not typical for the breed
  • “Turn and freeze” – meaning when you reach your hand toward them, they will quickly turn their head toward it and then “freeze.” This is a warning that they can and may bite
  • Whites of the eyes showing
  • Ears low and/or back if it is not typical for the breed
  • Baring of teeth
  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Lunging

Dog BiteThe last three tend to cause the most confusion for a dog owner. They see a dog at the end of a leash acting like that and they immediately assume the dog is dominant, wants to greet, is excited, etc. However, some dogs are using this as a way to say, “I’m scared. Go away!” Regardless of the reason, if a dog is giving you those signals, it’s best to stay away.

Greeting the Shy Dog

If the owner says “My dog is shy,” PLEASE listen to the owner! It is really best to just ignore the dog. Does a shy kid want every single person coming up to them and not only talking to them but trying to touch them? No and neither does the shy dog.

If you must greet…

Sometimes you may need to touch the dog – groomer, pet sitter, dog walker, family member, vet assistance, rescuer, potential adopter, etc. If so, follow these tips to make sure the greeting is a positive one, and to help prevent getting bit by a scared dog.

  • Move slowly! Fast movements make a nervous dog even more worried about you
  • Approach from the side
  • Avoid direct eye contact. Keep an eye on the dog’s face and emotions by taking quick glances from the side, do not stare into their eyes, as this is threatening.
  • Treats. Do not underestimate the power of food! Start from a distance by tossing food to the dog. This associates you with something good.
  • Listen to the DOG, not the owner. The owner may tell you it is fine to pet their dog because they are not good at reading her signals. Use your judgment. If the dog’s body posture says “go away,” – heed the warning.
  • Do not reach for the head. If the dog’s body signals are telling you it is okay to pet them, reach for under the chin or the chest. Most dogs do not enjoy having their head touched.
  • Do not bend over the dog. Instead, kneel, sit, or crouch near the dog. This is a lot less threatening than you looming over him.
  • Speak softly, calmly, and soothingly. Loud, high pitched, or gruff tones will make the dog more nervous.
  • Pet softly, slowly, and no patting! A shy dog may have been abused, even a soft pat could be taken wrong. Use soft, slow strokes.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it will help you learn a bit more about dog body language and how to have a successful meeting with a shy dog.

Remember, the best advice to avoid being bitten is: IF YOU ARE IN DOUBT, DON’T GREET THE DOG!


(This information was summarized from THIS WEBSITE.)

julia sig

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