5 Tips for Bonding with a Skittish Dog

January 12, 2017

bonding with a skittish dog

By Laurie Darroch

Whether a dog is skittish by nature, out of shyness or discomfort in a new home or from lack of exposure to humans or a loving family, it can be a challenge to deal with. It is possible, though, to help a fearful dog overcome some of its reticence with strangers and unfamiliar social situations. Here are 5 tips for bonding with a skittish dog.

Alone Time

Some dogs are overwhelmed by too much stimulation from people and noise. In order to calm down, they need to have a quiet space where they can go to feel safe and secure, and have some alone time to relax.

Your skittish dog may also enjoy some time with just you and no other people around. They need to feel secure in their bond with you in order to gain better social skills and confidence in the people and situations they encounter. If they are confident in their connection with you, they know they have a human they can stay close to instead of tugging on their leash and straining to run away when they are in stressful situations.

In order to understand how your dog may be feeling, it helps to think about how you feel when your nerves are jangled and you’re over stimulated. Centering with some quiet time may help your dog feel more comfortable.

Be Patient and Calm

No matter how illogical the behavior may seem to you, each dog handles strangers, noise or too many people in different ways. If you want to train your skittish dog to overcome their jumpiness and their urge to withdraw, you need to be extra patient while helping them deal with it.

Use a quiet voice, calm commands and lots of praise around your skittish dog. Getting angry will not help. Keep some of their favorite CANIDAE dog treats with you on outings to use as a reward for accomplishments. You may also want the people your dog needs to get to know give them some treats to help break the ice.

New Ad Sidebar - no bag 2Remember that your dog will also take clues from your body language and the tone of your voice, and react accordingly. If you are tense with them or anxious in a particular situation, they will likely sense it.

One Step At a Time

Learning comes quickly for some dogs and is harder for others. When they feel threatened in uncomfortable situations, learning to overcome their skittishness may take one step at a time.

Initially you may have to start with smaller gatherings, or allow your shy dog to get to know one person at a time instead of immersing them in an overwhelming social situation and expecting them to adjust easily. They may do fine with a few people, but when there is a crowd they might get overly anxious and ignore your commands.


In any new situation with unfamiliar sights, smells, sounds and people, it may simply take repeated exposure and practice in order for your dog to feel comfortable enough to open up. The best thing you can do is to allow your dog to find that comfort level at their own speed.

Working with dogs is often like working with small children. Some children are shy and clingers; dogs can be that way too until they feel comfortable. Don’t push too hard. That will turn the situation into a battle of wits between you and your dog, and you will lose ground in training. If it is going to happen, it will come with practice and comfort.

Stay In Control

Let your skittish dog know you are in control of the situation. Keep a balance between encouragement and awareness of what is going on around you. If you know what sets your dog off, you may be able to avoid or maneuver the situation to make it more manageable.

Let others around you know that your dog is shy or does not like to be approached. A frightened dog may get aggressive if they feel threatened. If you have specific things that work with your dog, be sure to let people know how they can approach your dog using those tips.

Closeness to you, leaning on you, and an occasional bit of physical contact will reassure your dog. The more secure they feel with you around, the braver they may get.

Over time, you may notice that your skittish dog is able to handle new people and situations with less fear. However, some dogs may never be completely outgoing or brave. They just need to know they are safe and secure with you. Their fear may never be completely gone, but with love, patience and training, a social situation may not be so much of a threat to your skittish dog.

Read more articles by Laurie Darroch

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