Naper_iStock_000029790470_XXXLargeYou may know this scene all too well: your friend stops by for a visit and suddenly your lap cat is nowhere to be found… Or, perhaps you find that your sweet pup is cowering behind you whenever a new person walks by and offers a smile. Whatever the scenario, a shy pet can prove to be a challenge for many pet owners. Unfortunately, if left unchecked, that shyness may eventually develop into crippling phobias and serious anxiety.

Since many of us choose to adopt our pets (thank-you!), Fluffy or Fido may come to us with unknown backgrounds and behavioral challenges resulting from his or her abandonment or life on the street.

Thankfully, there are many affirming, effective methods you can use to help your shy pet ease out into the world and eventually learn to enjoy the experiences that once frightened him or her.

Socializing Your Shy Pet

Before you begin to “fix” the problem of shyness, it is important to see the behavior from your pet’s point of view. At some point in time, this timidity may have been a survival mechanism and, as most of us know, survival mechanisms are tough to alter. With this in mind, we recommend that your pet be seen by one of our Pet Experts to assess his or her overall health (some behaviors stem from underlying illnesses) and emotional wellness. The more you know about your pet’s behavior, the better equipped you will be to gradually and safely acclimate him to the source of the issue.

Once your pet receives a clean bill of health and a behavioral assessment, we will work with you on how to best bring your pet out of his or her shyness, and may recommend obedience training and socialization classes for dogs. Not only will these classes reinforce your pet’s trust with you, but it will also serve as a catalyst for reinforcing positive behaviors.

Creative Tips For Confidence

For dogs, you’ve mastered initial commands, social cues, and positive behaviors, there are many additional activities you can choose to help reinforce the positives about new experiences.

  • Go to a dog park – If your canine has adjusted to daily walks, try and introduce a dog park to the mix, choosing a time or day that is less busy than Saturday morning, for example.
  • Reinforce, don’t scold – If your pet runs in the other direction at the first introduction to a new person or pet, simply redirect him or her to something he can do with confidence and focus on praise vs. scolding.
  • Organize a play group with calm, well-behaved pets – Invite some of your friends with well-behaved pets over for a backyard game or walk around the neighborhood, allowing your dog the chance to see you calmly and happily interacting with your friends and their pets.
  • Associate strangers with a reward – Ask other pet owners if they’d be willing to give your pet a treat or verbally praise your pet from a distance (depending on his level of anxiety around new people) to help reinforce the idea that other people are safe.
  • Continue to introduce new places and experiences – Over time, increase your pet’s exposure to crowds, noises, other animals, and new situations. Gradually increase the challenge and provide your pet with reinforcement and reward.
  • Maintain your own calm demeanor – Whenever your pet reacts with fear, try and maintain a calm, even demeanor. Oftentimes the best approach is to not respond to the fear state but rather redirect your pet to something he does with ease.

Shy cats are a little more challenging, in that they are less likely to be exposed to new people and animals. However, the same ideas can be tailored to your cat, particularly in associating house guests with new toys and treats, normalizing and defusing the fear associated with noise (like a baby crying), and creating a calm environment and “kitty zone” where she will feel safe.

In most cases, shy pets just need a little more help to ease fears, redirect old responses, and reinforce the rewards that come with new environments, experiences, and playmates. Over time, with patience and consistency, you will be amazed with your new social butterfly canine or feline.

For questions about training, socialization, and how to help a shy pet gain confidence, please call us.