Monday, April 3, 2017

5 Tips for Meeting a Shy Dog

Whether you’re a meeting a friend’s furry companion or working as a pet care provider, at some point you are going to encounter a dog that is not immediately enamored of you. Some dogs have past trauma that has made them distrustful of new people, while others were simply born less outgoing than the average canine.

If you spend much time around dog owners, particularly those who are active in obedience and agility clubs, you’ll hear the terms alpha and omega get thrown about. An alpha dog is a natural leader, with a dominant personality. These dogs can be challenging for first-time dog owners, because they try to make their own rules, which may not agree with their human’s boundaries. Conversely, omega dogs are at the other end of the spectrum. They are easily cowed, submissive, and are sensitive to loud noises and other unexpected events. Dogs like this can be loyal companions, but require some extra care, especially at the beginning of the relationship.


As a lifetime pet owner who has accumulated over 9 years in professional, hands-on animal experience through employment, education, and volunteering, I have compiled 5 tips to help you put your new acquaintance at ease. There is nothing more rewarding than getting an exuberant greeting from a dog that was once withdrawn.


1. Eye contact When dogs meet for the first time, they try to determine who is more dominant. They may do this by affecting an aggressive stance, barking, or other posturing, but one of the key behaviors is eye contact. Just as children hold staring contests to determine a winner, the dog who maintains eye contact longer is dominant. If you are encountering a shy or nervous dog, do not look directly at her for more than a couple seconds. You don’t want to start a staring contest with Annie, which would make her more upset, and could, in extreme cases, cause her to react defensively, perhaps even trying to bite.


2. Get down Particularly for small dogs, a person standing over him can be quite intimidating. Adult humans are not only taller, we outweigh most dogs by a significant amount. For domestic canines, humans make up part of their pack, or family group. Dominance in canine packs is determined by strength and leadership, so a larger, heavier individual has an advantage over a smaller one. Since you are not trying to assert dominance over Scruffy, get down on his level. Sit on the floor, and watch his reaction. In some cases this is all it takes to win over a shy dog.


3. Bribery If you’ve been warned ahead of time that Shelby is shy about meeting new people, bring an extra-special treat! Salami, cheese, or hot dogs are something she likely doesn’t get on a regular basis, and if she associates you with yummy treats, she’ll soon be wagging at the door when you arrive. Be sure to clear any treats with her owner before-hand, you certainly don’t want to cause her a tummy ache, if she has a sensitive stomach. Our dogs have always enjoyed carrots, which are an inexpensive, healthy treat you may already have in your refrigerator, and our veterinarian agrees that vegetables are a great addition to their diets.


4. Slow and steady Some dogs, like some people, have high startle reflexes. If Buddy is already nervous, he’s not going to react well to sudden movements or loud noises. This can be a hard lesson, especially for children, who are themselves bundles of energy, and move erratically. You’ll also want to keep your voice low and soothing. It’s okay to say things that would normally sound silly. Buddy can’t understand what you’re saying, but a soft “Gooood boy, Buddy,” can reassure him that you’re not someone to fear. Using his name reinforces that you are part of the pack (at least peripherally), because you know the name his family calls him. I tend to talk a lot to new dogs, whether they’re nervous or not, so they get used to the sound of my voice.


5. Don’t force it You’ve tried everything you can think of, and still the dog is cowering behind her owner, or worse, in her crate, and wants nothing to do with you. That’s okay! The worst thing you can do in this situation is to force attention on Roxi. So ignore her for a few minutes. Talk to her owner, look out the window, and most importantly, put some distance between the two of you. This will let Roxi calm down, and after a few minutes, she may come out of her shell, especially if you still have that yummy-smelling treat (dog treats in the pocket work wonders).


It may take repeat visits before the dog accepts you, but with these tips in mind, you’ll have some ideas for approaching the dog positively. If you have other suggestions, please comment, I’d love to read your experiences and feedback.


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