Learning how to get a scared dog to trust you can be challenging, and it does take some effort. If you have a shy or nervous dog, a little patience and a lot of love will go a long way.

Here are some tips to help your dog get over their fear and become a furry friend who will be a fantastic companion.

Your Dog’s Behavior: How To Get A Scared Dog To Trust You

If you’ve ever been around a shy dog, you know: sometimes, no matter what you try, you just can’t get the dog to relax. It might run away or simply ignore you. That doesn’t mean the dog doesn’t like you. The pup may simply be scared of humans.

One of the best things you can do when you encounter a shy dog is to remain calm. It’s easy to get excited when you approach a dog. Often dogs are equally as excited to see you. But with shy dogs, you’ll want to rein it in. A nervous or shy dog may not be excited to see another person. They might run away or cower in fear.

If you speak softly and calmly, you might be able to put the dog at ease.1

Other Ways To Get A Nervous Dog To Accept You

giving shy dog a treat

If you know that a dog is shy or has a fear of humans, wait for the dog to approach you first. The dog will come to you when they’re ready. When the dog allows you to pet it, try to avoid touching the paws, tail, or ears. These can be sensitive areas. Gently pet the dog’s back or side instead.2

A pet may sometimes show fear because you’re simply around them. A piece of food, such as a slice of cheese or a pet treat, could help the dog get over that fear. Show the food to the dog, and then drop it to them as you walk by.

Talk to the dog, but don’t stop to pet them. Do this a few times a day, and the dog may start to perk up as you approach. Once this starts to happen, try dropping the food and staying nearby. The dog may eventually associate your presence with something positive and start to relax as a result.3

Getting A Dog Used To Your Presence

You can do other things besides give the dog food. Scent is a powerful thing for a dog. If the scared pup associates your scent with something good, that could help lessen their fear. Put a few of your personal items around the home, such as t-shirts. Put one of your socks in the dog’s toy bin. This might help a scared dog get used to your scent.4

Taking a walktaking shy dog for a walk will be another good way to reduce a shy dog’s fear. Try to go on your walk during a time of day where there probably won’t be other people walking their dogs.5 Be gentle when putting on the leash, and slowly coax the dog to go outside with you. Have a few treats handy just in case the dog needs some extra motivation.

Another way to get your pet to bond with you is through grooming. A gentle brushing may help soothe your pet and help keep them calm.6

Why Dogs From A Shelter Or Rescue Group May Be More Nervous And Anxious

dog in shelter sniffing a person's handIf you have adopted a shelter dog or brought home a dog from a rescue organization, congratulations. You’ve saved a life – and that’s one of the best things anyone could ever do. But there’s a chance your new pet will be shy or fearful. That could very well be due to the dog’s upbringing.

The shelter or rescue group may be able to give you a general idea of the dog’s previous life. But they probably won’t be able to provide the full picture. The dog could have been neglected – or worse – when they were a puppy. The pooch might have experienced some sort of traumatic event.7

There is also a chance that the dog wasn’t properly socialized as a puppy. Socialization often begins as young as 4 weeks and can last up to 18 months.8 If a puppy is abandoned or grows up in a shelter, that socialization might not happen the way it should.9

Positive Reinforcement And Reward: Never Use Punishment Training A Nervous Dog

giving a dog a toy for positive reinforcementTrying to change a dog’s behavior through training can be a challenge. When you teach your dog, always use positive reinforcement. Never punish a dog, especially a scared or nervous dog – that could make matters much worse.

In a nutshell, positive reinforcement is providing a reward, such as food or a toy, when a dog exhibits the right behavior. The dog associates something positive with that good behavior. As a result, they may be more likely to exhibit that behavior as time goes on.10

The theory behind positive reinforcement is simple. When good behavior is rewarded, that behavior is likely to be repeated. Instead of focusing on what a dog does wrong, positive reinforcement focuses on what the dog does correctly. It can have a powerful impact on helping a dog get past their fear.11

When Is It Time To Seek The Help Of A Veterinarian Or Dog Trainer?

No matter how hard some pet parents try, sometimes they just can’t get their dog to relax. A pet might be deathly afraid of loud noises, hiding under a bed for hours. Or a dog might fear other pets in the home. There are some instances where bringing in another person, like a professional dog trainer, will be needed in order to try and change this behavior.

Talk to your vet about the possibility of having a trainer work with your dog. They may also want to run some tests to rule out a physical problem. When a puppy pees inside, for example, that’s often a sign the pup needs house-training. If an older dog does this, it could be due to a medical issue.12

No matter how hard it may be having a scared dog in your home, don’t give up. It may take some time, but the chances are your pet will eventually become a loving, loyal friend for years to come.

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About the author

Dr. Gary Richter

Dr. Gary Richter

Dr. Gary Richter loves animals, and is passionate about keeping them healthy and happy as long as possible. He has received more than 30 awards due to his expertise in the field, and The American Veterinary Medical Foundation recently named Dr. Richter “America’s Favorite Veterinarian.” Dr. Richter has been at the forefront of pet nutrition for two decades, and he is also the author of the bestselling “The Ultimate Pet Health Guide.”