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Shy and nervous dogs tend to be anxious, insecure, and easily stressed. More than one behavioral trait can add to a disposition in the dog that makes the dog more anxious and nervous. Some dogs are shy, while other dogs are highly reactive, or highly sensitive. Some dogs may have a combination of all three issues. Shy dogs are dogs who have social issues. The dog tends to want to avoid interactions with either people or other dogs. Some can be shy about both people and other dogs. Highly reactive dogs will react to things in the environment that other dogs ignore. Sudden noises or action may upset the dog. Highly sensitive dogs may react to a "no" as if you smacked the dog. Any single, or combination of these traits can create a dog who is very insecure and anxious. Some of these dogs learn to become too clingy to their owners and show separation anxiety when their owners leave. To get these dog on more stable ground you need to learn the secrets of how to deal with these training and personality challenges.

Question: Can a shy dog ever be totally confident?

If you grouped dogs into three categories, the first would be green for the kind of dog who seems born socialized, the second would be yellow for dogs who have a reserved nature, and the third would be red for the shy dog. Reserved dogs warm up to people, but will do so at their own pace. Shy dogs who seem born with a mistrust of people they don’t know. With the right socialization you can change a red dog into a yellow dog, but their nature will prevent them from reacting like a green dog. A yellow dog may become a green dog with enough socialization, or may always be a bit reserved.

Question: Do all shy dogs bite?

Although any dog can bite, we often associate fear biting with the shy dog. But this can also be a problem with a highly reactive dog. These kinds of dogs try and avoid contact with people and some will quickly defend themselves by biting. But, not all shy or highly reactive dogs are quick to bite like those termed as fear biters. However, fear biters seem to have the philosophy "bite first" and decide if that was a good idea later.

Question: What is the difference between a shy and reserved dog?

If you walk up to a reserved dog and stop a few feet away, that dog will want a moment to decide he or she is comfortable enough to approach at your invitation. A shy dog may tolerate you standing a few feet away, but will not approach at your invitation and will typically want to avoid your approach.

Question: How much socializing with a more shy dog do you need to do?

The younger you begin socializing a shy dog, the more success you will have. However, be aware that although a dog with normal social skills will seem to be fine by the time the dog reaches adolescence, shy dogs will need strongly socialized until the dog is over a year, and sometimes until the dog is three years old. You need to do the socializing correctly to accomplish your goal.

Question: Can some dogs be shy around other dogs, but not people?

Yes. Some dogs will be dog shy and some dogs will be people shy. Some dogs can be both people and dog shy.

Question: My dog seems to get rattled at noises. What is going on?

This kind of dog is termed highly sensitive. Some of they dogs are also shy, but some are not. This kind of dog needs a lot of desensitization and confidence building.

Question: How to deal with Separation Anxiety

Shy, highly reactive, and highly sensitive dogs can be more prone to separation anxiety. If your dog suffers from that problem, please view my YouTube video on that subject.

Resolving Issues with Shy, Sensitive, and Highly Reactive Dog

Working with these kinds of dogs takes time and effort. To achieve success, you need to use the right techniques. You’ll find techniques as well as pitfalls to avoid in the book "Training the Hard to Train Dog" in the chapter on Nervous Nellies. You will also find that these dogs greatly benefit from leadership training. When done right, leadership training helps the dog build confidence in both you and himself.


You will find that doing any kind of punishment with these dogs when looking to correct unwanted behaviors only works against you. You will also find that what you consider harsh and what the dog considers harsh is quite different. Even saying "no" may be too harsh for some. You will find several ways to correct unwanted behaviors without being to harsh in the book "Training the Hard to Train Dog." You will also find the technique called "Upping-the-Steaks" in the book can help you learn how to resolve issues without becoming too harsh for what each individual dog can tolerate.

Articles on this website
Shy or Abused (DWAA finalist)
A Matter of Misunderstanding (DWAA Winner)
Building Confidence

For dogs that have separation anxiety or need confidence building, click here for videos

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