I have a one-year-old rescue dog named Ted. He is a Wheaten Terrier. I don’t know his past. He is very social with other dogs but is extremely shy with people. He wants to approach others but darts away if they try to pet him. This includes my family who sees him on a regular basis.
I have tried to research how to handle this, but all the suggestions recommended giving him treats. Ted will not take treats when he is stressed around people. I have noticed improvement in his behavior when I am walking him on a leash and we pass strangers on the sidewalk (he used to strongly tug on his leash to get away), but it would be nice to get some advice on how I can help my dog relax around those I consider friends in my own house. It is very discouraging to my family that Ted will not let them pet him. I want them to love him as much as I do.
— Karen, Las Vegas, Nevada
Most trainers recommend tossing treats to dogs, so they make a connection between yummy treats and meeting new people. But stressed dogs often refuse treats making this a difficult training method to use. So, let’s not worry about making him happy around people; let’s just try to reduce his overall stress around people.
Ideally, the more a dog interacts with people, the more social they become, but he may not have learned social skills as a puppy and so is a nervous and shy dog now. Ted may always be a bit nervous and shy, but you can do things to build his confidence.
First, ask family and friends to not reach out to Ted anymore. He needs to know he can visit with people without people assuming that he wants to be approached or petted. The only time any dog should be petted is if the dog approaches and appears to invite the person to do so. And, the only time Ted will let people pet him is if he feels comfortable and confident in his surroundings.
Next, put Ted in an Anxiety WrapTM or ThundershirtTM too. In fact, he can wear it all the time if it relaxes him. Combine this with some plug-in dog pheromones around the house, so he connects the relaxed feeling with a soothing scent.
Finally, there are chewable calming aid supplements often produced in treat form. These supplements are mild, but when combined with body wraps and scent, can reduce stress and rebuild his confidence around people.
Search online for “anxiety supplements for dogs,” and keep me informed on his progress.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal