What To Do When Shyness Stands In The Way Of Training

If you’ve tried training a dog who struggles with shyness, you’ll know that it can feel like an uphill struggle.

Things that seem to come easily to other more confident dogs can take months for your dog to master.

The good news is that shyness is a common problem for all kinds of dogs from all kinds of backgrounds. 

However, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

It’s a case of finding the right approach for your dog.

At Tug-E-Nuff Dog Gear we are big believers in training through positive reinforcement. Any method that involves of ‘forcing’ them into changing their ways is a bad idea and could actually do your dog’s confidence more damage, and set them back further.

It can really help to talk to other dog owners to share ideas about how to conquer shyness and find the right approach for your dog.

For this blog, we’ve taken tips from Jacqui Payne. She’s the owner and trainer of adorable rescue pups Dillis and Basil. She’s also part of dog display team Paws For Thought, who are proudly sponsored by us here at Tug-E-Nuff Dog Gear.

Shyness is something Jacqui has become something of an expert at tackling after both her dogs struggled with it.

She recommends thinking carefully about your dog’s personality and their likes and dislikes and using this information to make them feel more confident and happy during training.

Jacqui says: ‘Unlike lots of dogs, Basil rarely asks for cuddles and attention. He’s quite happy to take himself off to bed and do his own thing around the house. However, I know that learning to trust people and enjoy contact is a key part of helping him overcome his shyness.

‘I decided to do a dog massage course and now I spend some time every evening massaging and stroking him. It’s really helped bring him on and I’ve noticed him starting to accept attention and fuss from strangers much more than he used to.

‘Some close physical contact, even if just for a few minutes, can make a big difference. Just follow your dog’s cues and stop when they stop enjoying it.’

Play is key

Like with most training problems, play is a useful tool.

Jacqui’s dog Basil didn’t know how to play when she first brought him home, but learning how to has helped bring him out of his shell.

She says: ‘I encourage Basil to play by grabbing his favourite Tug-E-Nuff toy (the Sheepskin Bungee Tug) and moving it around quickly in front of him. It sparks his interest and we soon have a game going on. He has now learned that when I say ‘leave’ he has to drop it, wait a few minutes, then the game is started all over.

‘It may not sound like a big deal, and it’s something lots of dogs would do easily, but for a dog like Basil who had shut down and wouldn't even give eye contact, this is a huge step in the right direction.’

Give your dog quality time 

Along with play and a tailored approach, tackling shyness in dogs takes time, patience and plenty of TLC.

Jacqui says: ‘Building confidence is a long process and you might not notice any difference for ages, then all of a sudden the penny will drop.

‘My best advice is to have fun with your dog, sit on the floor and give them a massage, play tug with their favourite toy, or just curl up on the sofa if that is what they prefer. This time spent with your dog is invaluable and will really help them come out on the other side of shyness.’

What are your tips for conquering shyness? Share them in the comments below.

For more words of training wisdom from Jacqui, check out her top tips for trick training here.

Previous article How Choosing The Right Toy Can Skyrocket Your Training Success
Next article How To Come Back From Injury Stronger Than Ever


Ruth Gray - April 19, 2018

I also think that putting NO pressure on a shy dog and especially one that shuts down is very very important. Take things at the dogs pace. Food scavengers, especially in a ‘noise box, is a game mine loves and they quickly learn not to be afraid of the noises when there’s great sweeties in there. I scavenge the charity shops for noisy items!! A very wise Yorkshire lady advised me that my girl should never be wrong, in training, and it’s paid off so well you wouldn’t know it’s the same dog from two years ago.

Marion Becker - April 13, 2018

I love working with shy dogs! From my experience with shy dogs that attend my day care/boarding business I find it tempting to leave them living the way they are familiar with. But spending their life on the sofa-comfy and safe as it is – is boring and not helpful to overcome their shyness! I like to find out what tickles a shy dog, what can they engage with and what new skills can they learn, what things can enrich their life experience? I like trying all the different tug-e-nuff toys with shy dog and always there is a little surprise moment, which I love, when the dog in front of me engages in that toy and starts playing. Among my favourite toys to try with a shy dog is the clam! They all need to eat, so why not from the clam which I can hide or chuck out to get a fetch game going or tie to the whip and move it, the options are endless! The other toy I had great success with a noise-sensitive shy dog that runs away from squeaky toys is surprisingly the green ball! The key is always try a new toy every day and if there was no success the first time find another that works and go back to the one that didn’t after a few successes. The more they play the more they love it and ‘forget’ to be shy!

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields