There is help for your fearful puppy
Anticipating bringing home a new puppy for most families is fun and exciting. Most families have an idea of the type of puppy personality they desire. Often times that includes, a puppy who is fun, playful and outgoing, so what do you do when you have a shy puppy?
Is my puppy fearful?
When you meet your puppy for the first time, some simple observations to determine if you have a shy puppy:
- Is the puppy’s tail low and tucked between his two back legs?
- Your puppy’s head low, ears flat, and eyes looking away?
- Have you noticed your puppy shivering or cowering?
- Does the puppy stiffen when you go to pet him/her?
- Does the puppy snap at people or dogs who come near?
- Do you notice the absence of the puppy’s tail wagging?
- Is the puppy hiding?
If you answer yes to most of the questions above. It is safe to assume your puppy is exhibiting why and fearful behaviors. The good news! There is help for your fearful dog or puppy.
In an attempt to help your puppy “overcome” shy behavior. Most owners spend time over compensating for their puppy’s fear through coddling. Coddling can include cradling, stroking, speaking consoling words such as “its ok”, “don’t be scared” etc. The reality is the puppy does not understand any of what is being said. However your puppy does respond to the attention he / she is receiving and interprets it as: its really ok to be fearful. The more you reinforce fear the more the puppy continue shy/ fearful behavior. So what have we done? we are simply telling the puppy “yes this is how I want you to behave”.
What can you do to help your puppy overcome fearful behavior?
If your puppy shivers, holds his head, ears and tails down. If he has his tailed tucked between his legs, hides, or even snaps when interacting with people or other dogs its a sign your puppy has been severely under socialized. My recommendation is to pay the shy puppy little attention during these “undesirable” behaviors and simply WAIT, when yo see your puppy showing signs of improved confidence i.e. starting to investigate, coming out of hiding, these are the times to reinforce your puppy for confident behavior, in doing this you are are communicating to your puppy, “yes this is how I want you to behave”. More confident behavior gets my attention! Always reinforce behavior you desire, and ignore undesirable behavior.
How can I socialize my puppy?
One of the biggest mistakes people make is to assume that immersing a shy puppy into environments where there are lots of people and dogs will socialize them and make them feel better. This is a huge mistake. What this does is confirm to the puppy that people and dogs are frightening, and they lose trust in you as an owner (our job is to help our puppy develop confidence, but in the meantime the puppy needs to trust us to keep him / her safe).
Yes socialization is important for a every puppy but more so for a shy puppy, but it must be done slowly and in a way that is going to help improve your puppies view of the world, otherwise it could backfire i.e your puppy could feel a need to defend himself and start snapping at people and other dogs resulting in fear aggression as the puppy gets older.
How to help your fearful puppy. I would recommend you have strangers give your puppy special “high” value treats. Once the puppy begins to feel that he / she is under no pressure to interact, he will begin to develop confidence and be more apt to want to engage with people more each time he / she comes into contact with them, until his / her fear goes away. Always allow your puppy the option to identify a safe threshold, so he/ she can feel safe to retreat if the situation gets too scary and he can continue to move forward at his own pace.
Follow these instructions and you are on the right track to helping your puppy develop into a calm more confident pup.
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