Monday, November 9, 2015
Stranger danger! Why my shy dog won't eat your cookies
She refused to eat their dog treats.
Like many shy dogs, Sinead resists tasty snacks when they arrive in the hands of people she doesn't know. Often, she will simply avoid the treat altogether. But sometimes, she will take the snack politely, turn her head and then spit the treat out on the floor.
In a way, I can understand why she'd be worried.
To a tiny dog like Sinead, taking a treat is risky business. She has to put her little head in close proximity to the hand of a stranger, and she has to take her focus away from the eyes of the person she doesn't know. She would rather keep her focus on the person, so she can react quickly if the person decides to harm her.
And, once people provide a treat, they often expect a moment or two of petting. Sinead REALLY hates to be touched by people she doesn't know. If she doesn't take the snack, she knows people won't be quick to touch her. She would rather have privacy over a snack.
Sinead would probably prefer to stay in her bed around the clock, so she wouldn't have to deal with strangers at all. But, I keep working with her and taking her out of her comfort zone with the hopes that she'll learn to trust.
Sometimes, we have breakthroughs.
On Saturday, she did accept one of my treats in the hands of a trainer she'd never met. I handed over a treat, the trainer handed that treat to Sinead and she ate it. Nice work!
But she totally snubbed at least four other people, all of whom bent over backwards to make her eat something.
So what can you do if a shy dog snubs you?
My advice is to pop the treat down on the ground and walk away. The one thing a shy dog really wants is privacy. By leaving the area when a shy dog is too overwhelmed to snack, you're giving the dog a very precious gift. And the treat you leave behind could help that dog to be just a little less shy the next time a human comes around.
And if you do get a shy dog to take your treat, consider that the day's victory and don't build on it. Don't pet the pup or grab it or scream with delight. Hold your position, if the dog seems comfortable, and let the dog initiate a touch, if the dog wants to do so. That way, you can help the shy dog to understand that taking a treat doesn't mean submitting to something awful. That could also make future interactions better.
As for me, I'll keep working. I'm hoping we'll have more breakthroughs very soon!