Got a scared puppy? Almost all new dog owners know it's a good idea to socialize their young puppy. They envision a happy puppy getting treats from cooing kids and being gently petted by elderly folks. But what happens when this goes wrong? You've got your adorable puppy and your willing greeters but the puppy is getting anxious. What if your shy puppy wants nothing to do with these well meaning people?
My dog trainer colleague Aryn Hervel and I were discussing just this situation and I wanted to share her ideas which I don't think are mainstream and can be very helpful for shy puppies.
When you have a scared puppy that is fearful of people, keep up your socializing efforts, but with a twist. Your new goal is to work on making people "no big deal".
To begin making people "no big deal" take your puppy for a walk and simply walk past people without stopping. If the people want to stop and pet puppy, tell them "No, sorry he's in training right now." Another way to do this is to sit at an outdoor cafe table and allow your puppy to sit underneath, that way the puppy can watch the people without be noticed by most of them and if they do come close he can retreat if he needed to or you can toss a treat under there if someone is a bit difficult in taking no for an answer about interacting with your puppy.
If your puppy barks at people, ignore the barking and move away to a place to give your puppy distance from the people. Slowly work at lessening the distance.
Harness the power of "cookies" to speed up the process! When your puppy notices a stranger approaching, call your dogs name and when he looks at you, say "yes" or click a clicker and reward with your puppy's favorite treat. This accomplishes two things: First, it helps with your training your puppy to pay attention to you even when distracted and second, it associates strangers with yummy treats. (For best results, practice this at home first. Call your puppy's name and when he looks at you feed him a treat. Check out our article on Name Response for more tips.)
With several sessions of practice of making people "no big deal", your puppy should start to feel more comfortable with people coming and going around him. Continue not allowing people to greet your puppy until you start to see him getting interested in other people and perhaps begin to want to go up to people and greet them. At this point it is important to be very careful that your newly sociable puppy does not get in over his or her head. Ideally, his first social experience after coming out of his shell a bit should be with someone who is low key. If your puppy moves away from the person or shows anything less than clear happy interest don't allow petting or interaction. The bottom line is that the person should leave the puppy wanting more of their attention.
Once you puppy has a few experiences of interacting with low key strangers and that is going well you will be ready to start introducing your puppy to more and more types of people. (Check out our socialization article for hints on how to do). The key is to not allow people to go overboard and scare your puppy by picking him or her up or being really loud and effusive. Always remember the rule of leaving the puppy wanting more!
Happy socializing! Let us know if you have any comments for us. If you liked this article, please consider supporting our small business by becoming a customer or by sharing our site with your friends. Thanks! ~ Jess