I am a volunteer at Best Friends Animal Society. They have wonderful training programs for their volunteer staff. One of the programs that benefitted me the most in my business has been the shy dog trainings. I love the shy dogs. There is a sense of real accomplishment when you can help a dog progress from hiding into the back of their kennel to being happy to see you and allowing you to leash and walk them. At the Rescue, this process can take days, weeks, or months. The progress depends on the dog. The dogs are never pushed or forced into progressing faster than their comfort zone allows. It is for this reason, that I am writing this post. I see an alarming number of dog walkers that are inexperienced with shy dogs that use treats to lure a scared dog into a forced dog walk. They think that if they chase a dog under a bed and can capture it without the dog biting them that they are being successful. This causes more harm than benefit. I urge you to reconsider having strangers come to your house to walk your shy dogs that you have not properly vetted. Not all dog-walkers (or family members) are a good fit for a shy dog. Here is what I learned from working with rescue animals:
1. Spend time near the dog without talking to them or looking at them. Be calm. Do not make a lot of loud sudden movements. Make the dog know that you are safe. Sit on the ground and ignore the dog. Look at a book, toy, or even your phone. Wait for the dog to come to you.
2. Once the dog starts to come to sniff you, give them treats.
3. Speak softly to the dog. Do not make eye contact. Look away and watch the dog with a side eye. This is non-threatening body language to dogs. Licking your lips is also "dog" for "I'm no threat". So is yawning.
4. Petting the dog on its sides or it's chest very softly if the dog gets close enough is the least threatening method. Do not rush petting. Many shy dogs do not want to be touched. Do not lean over the dog. Do not hold your hand over their heads or pat their heads. Do not hug your shy dog. It is not comforting to them. It's intimidating in dog language. Learning about dog body language is invaluable with shy dogs.
5. Get everyone on the same page. You want the dog to feel safe around people. There are many popular app-based dog walking services. These can be great for well balanced confident dogs. There is a wide range of experience on these sites. I started caring for pets through exposure to these sites. It is where a lot of pet professionals start. So, I am not saying they are all bad. However, I strongly caution against using a total stranger with a shy dog. I recommend meeting the walker in person with your pet present. See for yourself how they interact. You want someone that you can coach and build a relationship with your pet. We love bringing shy dogs into their full doggy potential. Whoever you choose, we want it to be a positive interaction for your dog.