Not sure how to interact with a shy dog? Canine trainer reveals all

Shy dog muzzling his mouth into his paw
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Meeting new dogs, especially shy ones, can be an exciting yet delicate experience. Whether you're encountering a friend's bashful pup for the first time or crossing paths with a shy dog during your daily walk, it's essential to approach these situations with care and consideration.

As humans, we have a responsibility to ensure that we don't inadvertently escalate a shy dog's nervousness. Anxiety in dogs can surface when faced with new people, making it crucial for us to be mindful of their needs and emotions. But how exactly should we go about it?

Certified dog trainer Emily Fitzpatrick, who holds her credentials from the prestigious Victoria Stilwell Academy (VSA-CDT), is here to guide you through the intricacies of interacting with shy dogs. 

Fitzpatrick, known for her expertise in canine behavior, has shared her invaluable insights on the Misunderstood Mutt Instagram page, helping us understand how to make these interactions smoother and more comfortable for both us and the shy dogs we encounter.

1) Ask the Guardian for Guidance

Fitzpatrick's first piece of advice underscores the importance of communication. She notes, "Ask their guardian how they like to be greeted, they know them best so let them guide you through this experience."

By respecting the owner's wishes, you can help to create a more comfortable and reassuring environment for everyone.

2) Toss Treats to Away From You

The second tip focuses on the power of treats. Instead of feeding some of the best dog treats directly to the dog's mouth, she suggests tossing them away from you, even if the dog is approaching you. 

This approach has a twofold benefit. It allows the dog to engage with you at a comfortable distance and relieves some of the social pressure they might feel. Treats become a bridge that encourages positive associations, helping the dog relax in your presence.

3. Wait for the Dog's Cue to Pet

"Refrain from reaching, leaning over and petting the dog. Instead, wait until they ask for pets and if they never ask for pets then don’t pet them," says Fitzpatrick.

Patiently wait until the dog expresses interest in being petted. This approach respects the dog's boundaries and autonomy, ensuring that greetings are comfortable and not aversive. By allowing the dog to initiate physical contact, you build trust and create a positive interaction.

Fitzpatrick's advice provides a helpful roadmap for making encounters with shy dogs stress-free and enjoyable for everyone involved.  The next time you meet a shy dog, take it slow, be considerate, and let the dog guide the way to a positive interaction.

Jessica Downey
Staff Writer

With over a year of writing for PetsRadar, Jessica is a seasoned pet writer. She joined the team after writing for the sister site, Fit&Well for a year. Growing up with a lively rescue lurcher kindled her love for animal behavior and care. Jessica holds a journalism degree from Cardiff University and has authored articles for renowned publications, including LiveScience, Runner's World, The Evening Express, and Tom's Guide. Throughout her career in journalism she has forged connections with experts in the field, like behaviorists, trainers, and vets. Through her writing, Jessica aims to empower pet owners with accurate information to enhance their furry companions' lives.