Sinead the Boston terrier is a shy dog. She didn't come from an abusive background, she hasn't endured some sort of trauma in the home and she isn't dealing with a medical condition that causes her pain. She's just shy. She's always been shy.
In addition, Sinead is small. Like, really really small for a Boston terrier. This breed of dog should be about 17 pounds, although many of them are much bigger.
Sinead is only about 7.5 pounds. So she's really tiny.
Want to know how tiny?
That tiny. It's phenomenal.
When Sinead has an episode of nervousness or fear, she shivers and quakes. And when teeny dogs do this, it's enough to worry you. And it could be enough to bring out your protective side. I know. It happened to me. For a long time, I thought the answer was to keep her home, all the time, so she wouldn't be worried.
Shy dog training (which I wrote about here and here) changed a lot of that.
In class, I learned a little more about how to help Sinead explore her boundaries, so she could learn to overcome at least some of her fear and enjoy her life a little more. And those training tips came in super handy last week, when we were at BlogPaws.
This conference contains literally dozens of dogs, along with hundreds of people who love dogs. And that means Sinead had to push her boundaries pretty darn far.
Here are my 4 top tips that help her to get through, and grow from, situations like this.
1. Load up on really good dog treats.When Sinead is a little worried, it's hard to get her attention. But if I don't get her attention, her fear tends to grow. Working through that means bringing really high-value treats to any stressful situation. Kibble or dry biscuits just won't cut it. She needs cheese or chicken or hot dogs to help her break out of the fear trance and pay attention to me.
Really good treats can also help a shy dog to experience a positive interaction with a visitor. Which brings me nicely to my next point.
2. Explain your dog training goals to all visitors.Small dogs are magnets. Everyone wants to coo over them and pet them and pick them up. That means people tend to run up to my small dog with outstretched hands. I can't even imagine how terrifying that is for her--unless those outstretched hands contain something yummy.
When people want to visit Sinead for the first time, I tell them that she is shy and probably won't appreciate being petted or cuddled. I'll tell them they can give her a treat, snap a photo, watch her do a trick or just talk to the lowly human that is me.
Most people are receptive to this conversation. They love dogs and they want to see dogs succeed. Explain it well, and you'll have an ally. And the best thing? Shy Sinead remembers people. That means she's apt to interact with those people when she sees them again. People are so thrilled when they get accepted into her inner circle, and my conversations help to make that happen.
3. Offer a way to get up off the floor.When your dog is this small, she can worry about being stepped on, kicked or picked up by strangers. Sinead is constantly on the lookout for dangers when she is on the ground. She becomes a completely different dog when I pick her up.
A small dog in your arms can feel like a much bigger dog. That little difference in height can help a shy dog feel safe enough to play, bark, interact and accept pets from strangers.
I use my arms, if I must. But I also have a little kangaroo pouch I can put Sinead in, so she feels safer. She spent a lot of BlogPaws in that pouch, and she loved it.
4. Give your dog a break.Even happy, confident dogs need to get away from it all from time to time. If they don't, these can become dogs that make poor choices about how they interact, what they do and how they feel about the people who are supposed to protect them.
I watch Sinead for things like panting or hiding or pinning her ears. If she does that, we're done. It doesn't matter what I had planned. It doesn't matter who I wanted to talk to. It doesn't matter what time it is. When she's done, I need to be done too. We head back to the hotel room or some quiet area for awhile until she feels ready to head back out.
Working with a shy dog like this is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Seeing Sinead improve from one BlogPaws to the next? It makes me happier than I can express. But these tips made that success possible. If you're planning to push your shy one, do try to follow my lead.
And if you have a shy dog, did I miss anything? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.