When we adopt a dog from an animal shelter, we are also bringing home a personality that may not suite our household. This personality needs to be worked on and carefully trained. For example, many dog’s come out of an animal shelter as a “worrier”. The worried dog is a pup who frets over every loud noise, every strange-looking object, every unfamiliar person or situation.
Dogs who grow up without loving, reassuring families especially during early puppy-hood – are likely to become worriers, so shelters are full of overly concerned canines. My first adopted dog – named Sebastian – was was one of these: he spent his first few weeks shrinking in terror from all sorts of things, from ballpoint pens to remote controls to men with beards. He still has doubts about vacuum cleaners and exhaust fans, but he’s learned to keep his anxiety in check, and he no longer fears new objects, experiences or people (even bearded ones).
Sebastian just needed to be exposed to as many new things and people as possible and to learn that they weren’t going to hurt him. If your adopted dog is a worrier, the best thing you can do for her is not to shelter her from the things that frighten her. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you should deliberately scare her, but you should make sure that she’s introduced to new objects, noises and acquaintances every day.
If your dog is uncertain, for instance, about your remote control, let her get used to it slowly; show it to her (just put it down or hold it still in front of her; don’t wave it in her face) and pet her. Say “What a brave girl – this remote control isn’t scary” or something similarly reassuring, and (as with a submissive dog) demonstrate to her that you are happy and confident in the presence of the remote control, so she can be too. You can do the same thing if she gets anxious about a thunderstorm or a plane flying overheard. But if she runs to you for salvation when she’s scared by something, don’t reward her timidity by cuddling and praising her; just be upbeat and try to take her mind off her fear by playing a game or having a training session.
When you introduce her to new people, follow the same procedure as with a submissive dog: Both you and the new person must make the encounter as casual, non-threatening, and cheerful as possible for your pup. Chatter with her, make eye contact with her, pet her, even have the new person slip her a treat if necessary. She’ll learn that you’re not going to put her in situations that will harm her, and gradually she’ll begin to be a bit less on-edge about life in general.
By the way, lots of people who adopt submissive or shy dogs assume that their pups must have been physically abused in the past, and they respond with pity rather than positive training. More often than not, submission and shyness are the result not of direct abuse but of a lack of early education and socialization. If your dog cringes when you reach out to her, that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s been hit; more likely, it simply means she didn’t grow up knowing that a hand moving toward her was something to welcome rather than fear. You can change her mind – but with gentle perseverance, not pity.