There's no way of knowing what your rescue dog has been through, but don't let their past affect their future.
By the time a rescue dog makes it to a shelter, they could have been abused, neglected, and they were undoubtedly abandoned. Somewhere down the line, humans let them down, and those bad feelings could be a hurdle stopping them from forming strong bonds with new owners.
You want your rescue dog to feel safe and comfortable in your care, and above all, you want them to see you as their best friend. It won't happen overnight, but even shy dogs can learn to break down barriers. They just need your help.
Here are a few things to try if you're having trouble bonding with your shy rescue dog.
1. Give Them a Break
The day a dog gets adopted is supposed to be the best day of their life. But between the scary shelter and meeting new people in new places, it's also in the running for being the most stressful. They're dropped into an unfamiliar place, and it's important not to expect too much from them too soon. The new situation can be overstimulating for a nervous dog.
Your first instinct is to shower your shelter dog with love and physical affection, but for shy dogs, that might not be the right move. Instead, stand back and let your rescue grow accustomed to you and their new environment on their own terms.
2. Spread Your Scent
Dogs depend on their sense of smell to guide them through life, and it's how they get to know people. Your house obviously already smells like you, but reinforce the idea that your smell is a good thing by strategically placing your personal items around your dog's favorite things.
Use a t-shirt to line their crate or dog bed, place your shoes next to their food bowl, and you can even hide a sock or two in their toy bin. Associating your scent with good things will help them get used to you even when you're not there.
3. Go for Walks
Spending a few minutes together on a walk is a great bonding opportunity. Dogs love to walk, sniff, and explore the outdoors, and having you on the other end of the leash will be a subtle comfort.
If your dog is shy around you, there's a good chance they're also shy around other new people and new dogs. Schedule your walks during a quiet time of day when you're less likely to come across strangers. If you do see someone, switch directions or cross the street instead of forcing your shy dog to interact.
Small car rides can also help you and your anxious dog get to know each other.
4. Appease Their Appetite
Once your dog realizes you're the bearer of tasty treats, they'll be more interested in bonding. Be careful of overfeeding, but make it a habit to keep healthy, bite-sized treats in your pocket whenever your dog is around.
Start at a distance and toss the food in their direction. You eventually want to encourage them to take the food only from your hand. It feels like bribing the dog with special treats to be your friend, but it opens the door for you to work on more serious bonding with positive reinforcement. This will also open the door to start obedience training, which also helps strengthen your bond.
5. Brush Their Fur
The rhythmic motion of brushing your dog's fur can sometimes lull them into relaxation. It's an activity involving physical contact where you're both calm and can simply enjoy each other's company.
Not every dog likes being brushed, so start slow to gauge your rescue dog's reaction and pay attention to their body language. If they struggle to get away, start panting, or stand awkwardly frozen, stop the session. But if their muscles relax and they remain calm, take that as a sign you're headed in the right direction. These grooming sessions are good one-on-one bonding time and your dog will have positive association when you grab the dog brush.
Regardless of how long you've had your rescue dog, it's important to not take their shy dog behavior personally. You could be doing everything right, but past experiences of broken trust can be hard to get over. The best thing you can do is be patient. Don't give up on bonding with your dog and spending time with them, and take every opportunity you can to form a friendship.
Do you have a shy rescue dog? Let us know in the comments.
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