Timid dogs have a hard time socializing. Though their owners still love them unconditionally, they may shy away from contact or spend their time shuddering in a corner. If you find yourself with a dog with a sensitive temperament or poor social skills, here are some tips on how to bond with a timid dog.
Create a safe haven. Give your dog a quiet room in the house. You can use baby gates to create a boundary. Make sure that there is nothing in this room that your dog finds menacing.
Spend time with your dog in the sanctuary you’ve created. Make sure to bring a book or your phone to pass the time as you sit quietly with your timid dog, especially since even eye contact may make a timid dog nervous. Sit on the floor so you are not an intimidating presence. Read or scroll quietly, like your dog is not even there.
Scatter treats on the floor near you—but not too near at first!— so your dog begins to feel comfortable approaching. Speak to your dog in soft, calm, and positive manner as they snatch up their tasty treats. This will help your timid dog to begin to form positive associations with your voice.
As your dog grows more and more comfortable over multiple visits, scatter the treats closer to yourself. Eventually, try to feed your timid dog out of the palm of your hand by sitting entirely still on the floor with a treat in your open palm. Be calm as they approach. If they approach you to gobble up the treat, again give them positive reinforcement. As they grow more accustomed to your presence, begin to add normal behaviors, like making eye contact, moving around more regularly, or sitting in a chair.
If your dog responds well to the addition of these behaviors, continue increasing their exposure to different experiences. Still, you should make sure that they are controlled so if there is a negative reaction, the experience can be ended quickly. If your timid dog does well, you can reward them with a treat, some head scratches if they permit contact, or positive verbal reinforcement.
As your dog grows more accustomed to your voice, begin obedience training. This will help you and your timid dog bond as well as give them the skills to deal with a stressful situation. As you teach them simple commands or tricks, your dog will be easier to focus on a command like “sit” or “come” instead of a stressful stimulus.
If your dog becomes timid as a reaction to something in their environment—like a child or another, bigger dog—you can use similar methods as the sanctuary method above. Make sure they are in a controlled environment and introduce the stimulus at a distance. Give your dog treats as the encounter occurs. This will help them change their association from negative to positive.
After the brief encounter, give your dog a rest. Next time you stage a similar encounter, have the distance between the stimulus and your dog be slightly less. Continue this pattern until your timid dog does not shy away as the stimulus approaches. Ideally, they will be able to interact casually with the stimulus that initially caused a scared or shy reaction.
Writing about timid dogs in Whole Dog Journal, Pat Miller observes, “They tend to develop close relationships with their humans, make excellent companions, and do exceptionally well in training. They just don’t do well in chaos.”
However, she also notes that the time it takes to bond with a timid dog can vary greatly depending on their past. Some dogs will bond more quickly with their owners while others take a long-term commitment all while providing the necessary training and care.
Learn more about bonding with your dog in “5 Awesome Dog Bonding Exercises” and “6 Ways to Bond with Your Dog“.