Scientists have found the gene for shyness. They would have found it years ago, but it was hiding behind a couple of other genes. — Jonathan Katz, American humorist
Shyness can be crippling. But some of the most presumably outgoing people are also the most famously painfully shy: Robert De Niro, Lucille Ball, Barbara Walters, Johnny Carson …
So if people can overcome it, what about dogs?
The following letter from a reader chronicles the difficulties for a dog burdened with shyness — and demonstrates the patience required of its owner.
“I adopted an Australian/German shepherd mix almost two years ago. She is about 5 years old and very attached to me, but it’s taken a long time for her to come out of her shell.
“When I first got her, she trusted nobody and would run away and hide all the time. I don’t know whether she was socialized as a puppy. I’ve put everything into getting this dog to trust me and can honestly say she now does. She never takes her eyes off of me.
“The problem: She’s insecure with everyone else. When my kids (10 and 14) are home, she stays in my room. I have to close the doors to all the rooms to keep her from hiding. At that point, she stays right by my side or under my feet, always happy to see me, but never excited for anyone else. She will take treats from my husband, but she runs behind the chair to eat them. If she is panicked, she won’t take treats from anyone. She’s scared to death when walking on a leash with my husband or my kids, but walks great with me. If I’m outside with her, she’s pretty good, but if anyone else comes into the yard or she hears a strange noise, she runs to the door to go inside. She’s afraid of all noises.
“I don’t understand why she is afraid, especially after all this time. I was going to take her to obedience classes to socialize her, but I don’t think she would do well being around so many different people and pets. Do you have any ideas?”
Build confidence. This is the key to combating shyness in a dog. Depending on the dog’s age, the degree of shyness and the reasons behind it, this process can take weeks, months or years. But every effort will help.
How do you build confidence in a dog? Desensitization and obedience training using love, praise and affection.
Desensitization is the process of gradually introducing the dog to those things he is afraid of: people, noises, places, objects, circumstances. The trick is to introduce the frightening situation and let the dog approach at his own pace. Do not force anything, but rather, reassure your dog that you will not push him too far past his comfort zone.
A method of training steeped in love, praise and affection is what I recommend for all dogs, but especially for the nervous, shy or timid. Stern or angry words will only backfire when working with these personalities, and your success with desensitization depends on the dog believing he has an ally in you.
For a more in-depth examination of canine shyness and techniques for relieving it, check out “When Good Dogs Do Bad Things” and “I Just Got a Puppy. What Do I Do?” or visit www.unclematty.com.
Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com, and visit him at http://www.unclematty.com. Send your questions firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.
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