What Do We Know? The Greek philosopher, Socrates said it best, “The only thing I know, is that I know nothing.” Dog psychology is an expanding field that is still in its infancy. When it comes to the animals in our care, what they think and how they feel is still a best guess. From a behavioral standpoint what we can do is make observations, take note, and continue to learn.

Due to the decreasing dog population (spay/neuter) and increasing no-kill movement, we are seeing more and more of these types of dogs in shelters. The question is: How do we help them? We are constantly searching for answers and solutions to ensure the best possible quality of life for dogs, as well as their fosters and adopters. We strive for balance. What we do know is that dogs are individuals, just like humans. Behavior solutions are not a one size fits all. What we do know is that these dogs are at-risk for shelter decline. Just imagine living every day of your life in terror. Imagine that everyone you have ever known or loved has abandoned you and left you swimming in a sea of strange people, animals, smells, and noises. What we do know is that these dogs, now more than ever before need your help.

Observations and Possible Solutions

  1. Observation: A pack mentality. We have observed that many shy or fearful dogs (that get along with other dog, as many of them do) tend to show decreased stress and increased confidence.
  • In Shelter: Help decrease shelter stress by placing dogs in play group.
  • In Foster: Place dog in foster home with other social dogs.
  • Adoption Counseling: Recommend that dog be placed in home with other social dogs to help increase confidence and decrease flight risk.
  1. Observation: Flight Risk. Shy/Fearful dogs and dogs with separation anxiety can be a flight risk onced placed in a home.
  • Keep dog in confined area or crate until dog begins to adjust.
  • Leave the dog on a drag leash when letting the dog explore the house and yard (supervised).
  • Start small: Begin short separation exercises, start with a few minutes, and build up time. Try separation in a different room, then work up to shorter and then longer separations with you leaving the house.
  • Let the pack assist. Many shy dogs (that get along with dogs) do better when placed in homes with other dogs. They feel more confident and comfortable as part of a pack. Once the shy/fearful dog has grown accustomed to your dogs, try short separations where you leave the dog out with your other dogs. Some dogs will not want to run if they are left with companion animals.
  1. Observation: To crate or not to crate? Some dogs do well in the crate, others do not. Sometimes kenneling shy or anxious dogs can end up increasing anxiety and cause them to try and escape, injure themselves in the process, and cause property damage if they do escape successfully when left alone.
  • Solution: Depends on the dog. Observe the dog’s behavior in the crate during short separations or overnight.
  • If the dog tolerates the kennel well, this provides a solution to separation anxiety induced destruction and house soiling.
  • If the dog constantly tries to escape, seems stressed, or is a crate breaker try short separations in a confined area (baby gated area of the home, single room) or try leaving the dog for short separations with your dog pack. The dog may feel more comfortable unconfined with companion animals.
  1. Observation: The shy/fearful dog is taking a much longer time to adjust to a new environment.
  • In Shelter: Office foster until a foster home is found and anxiety meds.
  • In Foster: Be patient! Shy dogs can take more time to adjust. Consult the shelter staff for guidance. The shelter can provide anti-anxiety meds to help if needed. Some shy/fearful dogs do not do well at off-site events or going back and forth from the foster home to the shelter. The constant change of environment can cause some fearful dogs to regress. If you feel like your foster cannot handle off-sites, please consult the shelter. For some shy dogs adoption straight out of the foster home is your best bet. Marketing is largely up the the foster of the shy dog. Please send the shelter pics, videos, and bios to post. Post about your foster on your personal social media. Tell your friends and family! The shelter can list the dog on the Community Pets Page and out of shelter meetings can be arranged at the convenience of the foster.  
  • Adopters: Shy/Fearful dogs can be some of the most loyal and loving dogs once they adjust. Please be patient. Do not be afraid to consult a vet about possible anti-anxiety medicine as a short-term solution to help your dog through the transition. Consider consulting a professional dog trainer for an in-home consultation to target specific behavior issues.