Sheltie Planet

How to Socialize Your Sheltie Puppy and Prevent Shyness

By Rebecca Turner

Shelties can be shy dogs that panic and flee from strangers. But it doesn't have to be this way. Learn how to socialize your Sheltie puppy and reverse shyness in adult dogs.

Shelties Can Be Shy Dogs

Shelties can be shy dogs

While the aim is to breed self-assured, confident Shelties, there is no denying that sometimes these can be very shy dogs. This is usually a result of poor socialization when they are young, although there is an underlying genetic component to this trait.

As a result, some Shetland Sheepdogs can grow up to be fearful of strangers, causing them to alarm-bark or run away altogether. This is not a good trait to see in your Sheltie. It just makes them an extremely Nervous Nelly.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Socializing Shelties when they're young does not take much effort, and it can seriously boost their confidence for the rest of their lives. While you can't undo their genetics, there is still a lot you can do to help your pooch overcome her instinctive shyness and feel better about the big wide world.

What is Sheltie Shyness?

We first met Piper when he was nine months old - well past the ideal window for socializing puppies. We immediately saw how incredibly shy he was. We were complete strangers to him, and so he balled up like a hedgehog and refused to come any closer than arm's reach.

Piper was also very hand shy, meaning he flinched whenever we went to pat him. This doesn't mean he was abused - in Shelties, this is just another form of shyness. He also tensed up his whole body when we picked him up; another mark of his nervousness around strangers. He was also extremely wary of young children.

These are all typical traits of shy dogs, who often haven't had sufficient variety of human interaction growing up to understand what kind of people are "safe". However, over the next few months Piper started to overcome his shyness as he got to see the wider world. Unfortunately though, his inherent shyness means that he is not nearly as confident as his half-brother, Howard, and this can make his life difficult sometimes.

A Guide to Socializing Puppies

Socializing Shelties

Howard met lots of people as a puppy

Howard shows none of the Sheltie shyness. We put this down to good breeding plus the fact that he received a copious amount of socialization as a puppy.

The best time to socialize your puppy -- with both humans and other dogs of all kinds -- is 8-16 weeks old. After that, the window for socialization closes and it's much harder to influence your dog's underlying attitude and behavior.

Studies also show that puppies who don't receive enough contact during 5-12 weeks of age can never react normally with humans again. This is an extremely sensitive period of a dog's life and is also when they form their strongest bonds (8-12 weeks).

Here's a quick-start guide to socializing puppies and overcoming shyness in dogs:

  • At home - The first time you bring your new puppy home, allow them to safely explore the whole house and all the new smells it contains. You want your Sheltie puppy to quickly settle in to its new home environment.
  • In town - Carry your new puppy to the coffee shop and allow strangers to stroke it and offer treats. There will be lots of new noises and smells for the puppy, but they are still completely safe under your protection.
  • On the street - Traffic can be terrifying to shy dogs so you need to have the opposite reaction. Every time a noisy car or bus goes by, make silly noises, offer treats, and generally act excited. This will distract them from having a fear response.
  • Meeting people - Socializing puppies with humans is easy. Take them to a gathering of friends and family, and let everyone take their time to say hello. Try to not overwhelm your Sheltie, but let them meet everyone in their own time. There will be lots of different smells, voices and behaviors for your dog to assimilate.
  • Meeting other dogs - It's important to socialize your puppy with other dogs in a controlled environment like puppy school. They can start to meet other puppies after their second vaccination.
Singing Sheltie

Thanks to this socialization, Howard is a very friendly dog. We even have a running joke that he thinks he's famous because he frequently runs up to strangers to ask if they know him.

Naturally, this developed into an animated video of Howard Woofington Moon in Concert.

Socializing Shelties as Adults

Socializing Piper was a lot more difficult, because he was already resistant to new experiences and new people. We had to be very patient with him and give him a lot more encouragement when meeting strangers in certain circumstances.

Shy dogs are fearful of almost anyone new and/or dominant in their behavior. Their genetic instinct, along with their early experiences as a puppy, creates an automatic stress reaction. It's your job to give them lots of new, positive experiences with all kinds of people and wean that behavior out of them.

When socializing Shelties as adults, follow the same advice as socializing puppies, but with a few key differences:

  • Meeting people - If your Sheltie is afraid of a particular new person, tell that person to move away and ignore your dog. Then approach that person and act friendly and jolly, so your dog can see that you accept them. Throw a couple of treats to lure your Sheltie closer, and have the stranger crouch down, but without making eye contact with the dog. The idea is to allow the dog to approach in its own time without feeling threatened. Praise and reward your dog for coming closer, and eventually allow the stranger to rub the dog's chin and chest - but don't let them pat the dog on the head as this can be a threatening move. Once your Sheltie has the chance to smell and interact with this non-threatening person, they can become friends for life!
  • Meeting other dogs - This is a bit trickier, because you can't entirely predict the other dog's behavior towards your shy dog. Ideally find a friend's dog who has a gentle and submissive. It can be a big dog - in fact, you'll often find that very small dogs like Terriers can be more snappy and unpredictable, while large mountain or sheepdogs can be gentle giants. Introduce both dogs in a neutral territory (so neither one is the "invader") and off the leash (so neither is restricted). Ideally, your Sheltie will have the opportunity to approach the other dog in its own time and sniff all the necessary places. This is a much better experience than a dominant dog catching your Sheltie off gaurd.

Although he is the first to give alarm-barks, Piper is now used to people coming into the house, and after a while enjoys when we have lots of people round. He is really good with some kids but unfortunately there are still some that send him fleeing into the corner because of their loud noises and unpredictability. Repeat exposure with a positive result is what's needed to reassure shy Shelties that children are ok.

Cute Shelties

Piper and Howard hug up

Remember that around their trusted owners, shy dogs can act just the same as confident dogs. This shows just how comfortable they feel around you. And if they can feel this relaxed with you, then they can feel this relaxed around anyone, given time and encouragement.

About The Author

Rebecca Turner is the creator of Sheltie Planet where she writes about her love of Shetland Sheepdogs, inspired by her two Shelties, Howard and Piper. Learn more about Rebecca. Chat with our online Sheltie community on Facebook, Twitter and our Sheltie Forum.