Extremely timid dog

Posted by Paulo
Dec 29, 2010
I have a 15 month old Malinois cross GSD who is extremely timid. She was in kennels for the first 6 months of her life, in a litter of about 6-7 others and by all accounts was the runt of the litter. She is extremely affectionate and loving, but very needy. I'm hoping for a solution to make her more confident so she will enjoy herself more.

She gets very bad separation anxiety, either when we leave the house for even a couple of hours which leads to the neighbours complaining about her barking constantly, or when we are in bed with her basket just outside the door with the door shut, she whines and urinates and defacates.

She is very nervous of other dogs and people unless she has plenty of time to get to know them, leading to her barking constantly while hiding behing my legs when visitors come to the house. Even to the extent where when my brother came to stay with us recently, having got her comfortable with him the first day he was there, she seemed to forget and began barking as soon as she saw him the next morning.

She is very different when around other dogs that she knows. Often if we are at work or going to be out for any length of time to stop her annoying the neighbours we drop her at my girlfriends dad's, who has another German Shepherd. When there she is much more confident and cheeky. And when out with the Shepherd will go up to other dogs to play rather than running away which she does when I walk her alone. We try to socialise her as much as possible with other dogs, but this only makes her more confident when with those dogs, rather than all the time.

I would be grateful for any suggestions to improve her confidence as she seems to be much happier when playing and being sociable.
Posted by KOPCaroline
Dec 30, 2010
Hey Paulo,

For seperation anxiety its can help immensely if you teach your dog to desensitize to the actions you carry out when getting ready to leave. That is, break down your "leaving routine" into steps (putting a coat on, grabbing a bag, getting the keys, opening the door, leaving, locking up behind you, etc) and start to do them randomly, without actually leaving. This way your dog won't wind up so much over seeing you do these actions and won't start to stress over you leaving.

In the same way, take small trips away, starting with 10 minutes or so and work up to longer times away, so that it builds in her confidence to be home alone because, hey! You'll always come back

When you're gone, can you leave a shirt or something that smells like you with her? You can try crate training her for when youre gone as well, that way she has a small space in the house that feels safe to her, and that she has toys in and again, smells like her and you. You can also leave a tv or radio on, so that peoples voices are constantly going and she doesnt feel so alone in the house.

For dealing with people and other animals, I'd suggest puppy school. Even older dogs can go to these. They really help animals learn to socialize with other dogs and other people alike, in a big loud group, which is good. It'll teach her basic interactions and that other people and dogs are fun!

Other than that, you need to keep exposing her to others on walks and at the park, etc. Just be patient with her, speak in calm tones and make sure she knows youre happy, it'll help put her at ease. Dont' punish her for fearful behaviour, but also don't babytalk her when she does it, speak sternly and tell her its "enough" or something similar. Praise her heaps when she behaves calmly around others, even if she just ignores them. Try having friends and family take her out, just to expose her a bit more. You can always keep a lead on her if you're worried about her running away when scared, just try not to corner her.

I hope this helps, its all about patience and sticking with exposing her to what she's timid of with a calm attitude. I'm sure she'll make fast progress
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Dec 30, 2010
Hi Paulo,

I think KOPCaroline's advice/suggestions are all wonderful, especially enrolling in dog training classes would be very helpful to your dog to be socialized and also to gain confidence in herself. Being a runt, I assume she was always stepped on, or taken goodies away, didn't get enough to eat, etc. Please choose a class that uses a positive reimforcement, such as treats and praises, intead of punishment or choke chains. Timid dogs need a lot of encouragement.

As for daily life, I would like to suggest to make as many opportunities that she is away from you for a few minutes by teaching her a "Wait" command. For example, when you go to another room to pick up something, have her wait where she is and praise her when she did. During your shower, go pick up your mail or newspaper, etc. She needs to build up these tiny "waits" so that she can take them as a routine.

By living closely with people, dogs learn our routine so well. I am often amazed to see my dogs stand up and go to the kitchen from the bathroom as soon as I wash my hands after putting my make-up on. They know what comes next - Mommy will get a cup of coffee. When I collect recycles or empty all the trash cans, they go to the door ahead of me, expecting me taking the recycles and trashes out.

When you put your doggies in bed at night, make a special ritual, such as playing with her or giving her a little training session, put your old sweater in the basket and a good night kiss. Do all this in a very calm and confident manner, as if it's not a big deal and it's a ritual between you and your doggie. Pretty soon, she will know what comes after playing at night and what comes after sleeping in her bed. Every little thing is a learning experience for your dog so be consistent and patient. Don't ever come out of your bedroom to see how she is doing when she barks or whines. Pls just ignore her until morning.

If none of these work after one week of try, you might want to consult with your vet and she might need to get some medication. Some dogs do need a help of medicine but hopefully in a temporary basis. Good luck
Posted by kjd
Feb 7, 2011
I've one more suggestion for building your dog's confidence, Paulo: agility! If there are any classes around, enrol your dog in one. If there aren't, you could read up on agility on the Internet and make yourself some agility stations. For example, a child's expandable toy tunnel can be a tunnel for your dog. At first, keep it short enough that she can see you are only a foot or two away, gradually lengthening it. A light sheet fastened to the end can take the place of a collapsible tunnel. These are not only confidence builders, the dogs enjoy them. A "correction" in agility is upping the ante so the dog is more willing to try. I think you both would enjoy it.