When a new friend comes to visit you notice that your dog flattens his ears behind his head, tucks his tail between his legs, and maybe even urinates inappropriately. These are all signs that your dog has immature social skills and may even suffer from anxiety due to shyness. Dogs that crouch around new people, refuse to make eye contact, or run away and hide are showing signs that they’re nervous around new people, but what can you do? Basically, you need to help your dog to develop social skills that never fully developed because of insufficient social contact with people as a puppy, frequent changes in ownership, and even abuse.
When your dog reacts fearfully to new people, it is important to start some behavioral modification training. Because shy dogs can sometimes act out in inappropriate ways, socializing generally helps to create a happier life for your dog. First of all, don’t coddle your dog. When you comfort your dog’s fear, this actually reinforces the behavior. Instead, demonstrate confidence so that he can learn there is nothing to fear. Alternatively, don’t force your dog to interact with new people because this can actually lead to more anxiety, rather than less.
Instead, you want to gradually expose your dog to social situations and incrementally introduce more social opportunities. You want your dog to learn that he can cope with these stressful situations without fear and when he has opportunities to remain calm in these stressful situations he will learn not to be afraid. For example, start by inviting a new friend over and allowing your dog to become familiar with this friend. Invite the same friend to your home over several weeks until the dog is no longer afraid. Then introduce your dog to another new friend. Eventually, try inviting a new friend and an old friend at the same time.
Over time, your dog should socialize effectively but in some cases, severe anxiety may require the assistance of your veterinarian.