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Shy Dogs: How to Socialize Puppies
to Prevent Sheltie Shyness

  By Becky Turner Visit The Sheltie Forums

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?

Shelties Can Be Shy Dogs
Shelties can be shy dogs

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 is also extremely wary of young (noisy) 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 - firstly with us and then with a broader range of complete strangers. However ultimately his inherited shyness means that he is not nearly as confident as Howard.



A Guide to Socializing Puppies

Howard shows none of the "Sheltie shyness". We put this down to good breeding (he and Piper are half-brothers, with the same father) plus the fact that he received a copious amount of socialization as a puppy.

Socializing Shelties
Howard got lots of different human attention as a Sheltie puppy

The best time to socialize your puppy (with both humans and other dogs) is 2-4 months 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, and learn how to behave around other dogs.

Singing SheltieThanks to these tips, Howard is a very well-socialized dog. We even have a running joke that he thinks he's famous because everyone seems to know him already! He runs up to complete strangers on the beach, begging the question: "Excuse me! Have you heard of me before? You must have seen me somewhere before - otherwise, how do you know me?"

Naturally, this developed into a Flash animation video of Howard Woofington Moon in Concert.


Socializing Shelties as Adults

Socializing Piper was 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 non-threatening demeanor. Often you'll find that small dogs like Terriers can be hyperactive and snappy, 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 appropriate places! This is a much better experience than a big dominant dog lumbering towards your Sheltie in the park.

Piper is now much calmer with new people coming into the house, and clearly enjoys when we have lots of people round, so long as they are all friendly to him! He is really good with some kids but unfortunately there are still some that send him fleeing. Repeat exposure with a positive result is what's needed to reassure him children are ok.

Remember that around their trusted owners, shy dogs can act just the same as confident dogs - showing 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.

Cute Shelties
Piper and Howard - two devastatingly cute Shelties!

Becky TurnerAbout The Author

Becky Turner is the creator of Sheltie Planet. She lives in New Zealand with her partner, Peter, and their son, Fox. Becky is 100% owned by Howard and Piper Woofington Moon, the Shelties who inspired this site. Visit them on Facebook or The Sheltie Planet Forums.


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