Playing “Hard to Get” with a Shy Dog

Working with fearful dogs


Meet Spunky.  She’s gorgeous, loved by her mom, Jan, and seems like a happy confident dog.  But don’t shuffle your feet, make sudden moves, or approach her too quickly.  Spunky has some shy and fearful issues that could make her disappear into another room if you do not honor her need for space and time. In situations like this, where dogs may have lacked socialization prior to rescue (or for whatever reason), I sum up the management process as “play hard to get”.

I originally worked with Spunky to create some harmony when she was adopted into a 2 cat household.  Jan’s retirement plans led her to the Midwest where she could enjoy her daughter and be a part of her grandchildren’s lives

Jan was concerned that Spunky would not warm up to the extended family, so I gave her a plan to make the introductions successful.

1) Play “hard to get”.  Have guests ignore the dog upon arrival.

2) Once seated comfortably, allow the dog to approach guests and reward heavily with treats for any curiosity that leads to approaching the stranger.  Do not coax or coerce any greetings.  Allow the dog to decide to approach and reward that confidence!

3) Try introducing games that encourage approaching strangers.  Hand targeting or the “touch treat” game is a great exercise to stimulate curiosity in hands and strangers.

Click here for a tutorial on hand targeting by Victoria Stilwell.

So… did it work?  Allow the pictures to tell the story!  Jan’s granddaughter Katie is thrilled to have her new BFF waiting for her after school!

children and fearful dogs       fearful dogs