How to help shy dogs, nervous dogs and anxious dogs what can you do to help?

I found a shortlist titled Shy Dog Breeds. Hold up a second! Do shy dogs exist? How can a dog be shy?

Well, there are many reasons why a dog can be shy, and understanding this will prepare me for the plethora of variables that I need to consider when deciding on getting a dog. These conditions and variables are things I’ll also need to be aware of in the early stages of my dog’s life as a puppy.

puppy dog laying on the flow with yellow dog chew toy

In order for me to be able to decide on a dog breed to get, I’m learning about the characteristics and temperaments of different breeds, and I’m working on creating a shortlist that associates these attributes with specific breeds. This shortlist will also help me decide on a breed that I don’t want to consider. Below is a shortlist of dogs that are naturally shy.

Dog breeds that are naturally shy

  • Spanish Sighthound
  • Neapolitan Mastiff
  • Chinese Crested Dog
  • Greyhound
  • Beauceron
  • Norfolk terrier
  • Akita Inu
  • American Akita
  • Swiss White Shepherd
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Shiba Inu
  • Lancashire Heeler
  • Siberian Husky
  • Airedale Terrier
  • Pekingese
  • Cane Corso
  • Australian Cattle Dog
  • Dalmatian
  • Spanish Greyhound
  • Whippet

What are the pros and cons of having a shy dog?

I suppose that a dog that is naturally shy shouldn’t be of concern, because shyness is innate in its nature.  I’m a bit of an introverted personality. I like my own space, and I enjoy my own company. Sometimes when I’m swamped with my own obligations and commitments, I  prefer to communicate with people who I feel like, when I feel like it, in order to efficiently fulfill my obligations and be productive. This is how I get things done.

I’m totally comfortable being like this; this is the way I believe I’m naturally inclined, and, let’s just say I’m comfortable keeping myself company. I know this about myself, and I know that some human beings, more than others, have a predisposition to being shy. But how can someone say, “Oh, my dog is shy?” It just doesn’t seem natural.

I’m trying to imagine a wolf in a pack. Yes, there’s an alpha wolf, and other members of the pack acknowledge the alpha as the alpha, but if a member of a wolf pack began to cower, whimper, and hide and shake, then you would have to question and ask what happened to the wolfiness (is that even a word?).  I think that this is the same question that should be asked when you encounter an unnaturally timid dog.

Like my favorite dog behaviorist always says, “it’s never the dog, it’s always the human.” And in this particular case, I agree one-hundred percent. I agree because I’ve discovered that some dogs go through traumatic events during their lifetime. I would like to think that dog care charity donations and sponsorship adverts that appear during YouTube videos or are sandwiched between shows on TV have created a general sense of awareness of the fact that dogs experience trauma that has been inflicted by a human.  These ads display the effects of cruelty that has been carried out on dogs, and if you have seen these ads, you may probably notice that the narration provides indicative reasons as to why some dogs become timid and shy.

Furthermore,  I’ve since discovered that maltreatment from humans is one of the biggest factors that can cause a dog to become unnaturally shy.  A shy dog can also be considered as a fearful, anxious, or feral dog. I hear you ask the question, “How can you spot a dog that is shy just by observation?” Well, the key thing to consider when suspecting a dog to be shy is to observe the dog’s behavior.  A shy dog’s behavior can fall into one of the following categories listed below:

Shy Dog Behaviors

  • Shakings

  • Urinating

  • Hiding

  • Whining

  • Barking

  • Bowering

  • Avoiding eye contact

  • Tucked tail

These behaviors are important facts to know, especially when considering the possibility of adopting a dog. If you do decide to adopt a shy dog, you will definitely have your work cut out for you, as seen in the video below.

The video captures the recovery process of a dog who had become timid because of its traumatic negative life experiences. However, what I can say based on the ending is that a dog that has encountered trauma can recover if provided the right amount of attention, patience, and love.

A dog that developed shyness as a result of traumatic life experiences can discover happiness and have a happy ever after, as Homer, the dog in the video below, proves.

Socialization, socialization, socialization, and dog fear periods

Having discovered some of the causes for dogs developing shy personalities has definitely influenced my method and approach to shortlisting the breed of dog I plan to get, and where I will get him from. I plan to get a puppy, but you would think that getting a puppy will solve the problem of not ending up with a shy dog. Oh, no. That option brings its own set of challenges.

The first being where I choose to get my puppy from. Yep, that plays a HUGE, HUGE role. After learning about pet store puppies and their relationship with pet puppy mills, I have decided on getting my puppy from a reputable breeder.

I have documented an expose on puppy mills that you can read more about here, or just google puppy mills. If you don’t already know what a puppy mill is, then what you discover will shock you, as it did me. I was devastated to see that these puppy breeding farms are motivated by profit, and, on top of that, these are where a lot of pet stores get the puppies that they sell to oblivious dog owners. Oh, please, no.

I make an emphasis on highlighting puppy mills and pet store puppies because good early socialization with other dogs is one of the things that is stressed when raising puppies. Additionally, a dog’s early years are some of the most important periods of its life. Now, when you see the horrific conditions that some puppies have to endure in these puppy mills, one can argue that the period of time a pup experiences in a puppy mill and the negative socialization experiences could potentially cause a long-term negative impact on a dog, and this impact could manifest in a dog through shyness or timidity.

Socialization, socialization, socialization. This is a recurring word that I continually come across when trying to learn about raising a puppy. But what a lot of the resources out there don’t explain is that if you get a puppy, at specific stages of its growing life, you need to be extremely mindful and watchful of the socialization encounters the puppy has. This is because if a puppy has a negative socialization experience at specific points during its puppy stage, this experience can have extremely negative effects on the entirety of your dog’s life. Yep. THE REST OF YOUR DOG’S LIFE!

Sounds crazy, right? But it is true. These crucial stages in your puppy’s life are known as fear periods and single learning events. Oh, how I enjoy learning and finding out new things. I always feel empowered when I discover something of significant value. Forgive my indulgence. According to Dr. Jens Blog, a blog run by a dog professional dog trainer, the fear periods, and the single life experience of a dog can be summarized in the following way.

Fear periods -1

The first occurs fairly predictably at around 8-10 weeks of age. The puppy is very young at this point and owners are (hopefully!) managing her environment carefully and exposing her to lots of great stuff for socialization purposes, so often times this first fear period passes without any obvious signs or behavior changes – many owners never notice that it has taken place.

Fear periods -2

The second is more variable, but for most dogs, it occurs as a 2-3 week period in late adolescence, somewhere between 6 and 14 months of age. This one is sneaky – it pops up when owners least expect it, long after their tiny pup has become an independent teenager. By this point, most of us are giving our dogs more freedom and no longer micromanaging how they interact with the world. It can be a shock, then, when something happens at this age that turns all of our assumptions upside down.

Single event learning

This is when a young dog experiences an event that stays with them for life. It is essentially a survival mechanism that has been bred

When all these fuse together and are considered holistically, then you can understand why trauma at these stages can lead to a lifetime of social imbalance, and answers questions like, “Why is my dog shaking when he’s around other humans?” So consider a dog or a wolf in the wild. Learning a lesson in the wild will equip them with the skills for survival, how now that dog experiences that they encounter server them no benefit at all, and they end up being a fraction of the dog they can be

A story in Dr. Jens Blog explains how an adolescent dog that experienced an accidental electric shock while playing with another dog then became aggressive with other dogs.

Heidi’s front yard had an underground electric fence paired with a shock collar, commonly known as an Invisible Fence type system.  She also had a particular dog friend that she enjoyed playing with, a young Labrador mix who belonged to a neighbor.  The dog often came into Heidi’s yard to play with her, and the two could be seen wrestling and chasing each other all around the house almost every day.

One afternoon when Heidi was around seven months old, something happened.

She and her doggy friend were playing and wrestling as usual when they inadvertently strayed too close to the boundary line.  Heidi received a shock from her collar, yelped in pain and confusion, and redirected aggressively towards the other dog – who, for his part, reacted defensively and fought back.  A full-blown dog fight erupted in the blink of an eye, and the dogs had to be physically separated to calm down.

Under most circumstances, this type of incident would be scary and unpleasant but quickly shaken off.  But for Heidi, it was life-changing.


The long term effect of this was a single event learning experience that caused the dog to associate other dogs with that moment of pain and confusion. Dog shyness, anxiety, and fear, if untreated, can eventually turn into aggression.

It’s quite sad to see dogs acting shy or fearful because that is not a natural state for the dog. Some of the videos I’ve seen depicted dogs genuinely looking fearful, some barking, and demonstrating aggression, because they are genuinely fearful. The eyes just give them away, and others literally have their tails between their legs.

When you hear a dog trainer explaining the dynamic and what the dog is going through, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the dog. I was always under the impression that it was humans that had the capacity to be fearful of dogs. But I’m surprised to discover dogs cannot only be shy, they can also be fearful of humans. Having a shy or fearful dog is something that I cannot comprehend. The ones I have seen in videos are almost sad to the observer because I know that shyness or fearfulness is not a dog’s natural state.

How to help shy dogs or nervous dogs gain confidence?

Helping a shy dog gain confidence can be achieved through training, using various forms of training methods. According to The Whole Dog Journal, dogs can be trained to gain confidence. The Whole Dog Journal suggests that teaching a dog basic things like sit down, and stay can lay a good foundation for a dog to look back to when a dog is uncertain. The Whole Dog Journal also recommends training a shy or nervous dog to look you in the face when it is frightened or nervous about its environment. I like the idea of training and getting the dog to solve problems. Building structure around your dog, rewarding a dog with petting, positive reinforcement, and treats around people are also recommended.

Early socialization to a variety of situations and people environments is recommended for all dogs, and an absence of this can cause a dog to become anxious when being introduced to it for the first time. A dog will, therefore, need to be desensitized and counter-conditioned to overcome the anxious emotional and physical response to people. From the video above, the key takeaway from Zac Georges’ dog training advice for nervous dogs is that with time and training, the problems that shy dogs have can be fixed.

It’s quite sad to see dogs acting shy or fearful because I now understand, first, there is a root cause, and second, this is not likely the dog’s disposition. I was always under the impression that it was people who were or are fearful of dogs. But I’m surprised to discover that dogs can be shy and fearful of humans. Having a shy or fearful dog is something that personally, I don’t think I have the skills or experience to manage or even comprehend. The nervous and anxious dogs I have seen in videos are almost sad to observe because I know that shyness or fearfulness being displayed is not natural.

Final thoughts

So for someone like myself, my plan is to get a puppy from a reputable breeder. I’m not an experienced dog owner, so I don’t think I’m suited to adopting a dog. I don’t think I have the capacity to care for a full-grown, fearful dog. I sound like someone who is trying to avoid a partner who has baggage from a bad relationship. Hmmm? Maybe.  But I’m speaking honestly. With my level of experience, I would rather buy or adopt a puppy because I will have the opportunity to control and oversee my dog’s crucial growth stages. This decision will give me the chance to manage the growth of my dog from infancy and hopefully eliminate the possibility of raising a dog that is shy, fearful, or anxious. 

What would you do if you had the option to adopt a shy dog or get a puppy?

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