Shy dogs can be like shy people: They are fine in familiar circumstances and with familiar people, but may become anxious and even defensive when exposed to strange dogs and situations.
Scientists believe there is a genetic component to an individual’s behaviors and emotions, so it’s true that some dogs are just born shyer than others. But often the behavior sets in when the dog is a puppy. The disposition to be shy can affect interactions with littermates. Shyness could also emerge if the puppy is removed from its mother too early or if the dog is not properly socialized.
In the extreme, shy dogs may run from people, other dogs and certain places or things. They could even snarl, growl or bite because they feel threatened and become defensive. It’s especially important to address such issues in breeds with a history of being aggressive, since shyness and this defensive reaction could prove to be a deadly combination for both the dog and others.
Jennifer Bridwell, author of the book The Everything Dog Obedience Book: From Bad Dog to Good Dog -- A Step-By-Step Guide to Curbing Misbehavior, advises that you first have your dog checked out by a veterinarian. Sometimes underlying health issues, such as thyroid problems, can cause your pet to be more anxious and jumpy.
It’s then important to take steps to socialize your dog. Slowly introduce your pet to new people and places, offering verbal praise and small food rewards for good behavior. If you have a purebred, contact local clubs for the breed to get advice from others who have experienced similar problems with their dogs. Reinforcing training commands can also be a comfort for your pet. You are essentially giving it a toolkit on how to react under different circumstances. It will always be more challenging to work with a dog that wasn’t adequately socialized as a puppy, but the end result -- a happier, calmer, better-behaved pal -- is worth the extra effort.