Is Your Shy Dog Afraid To Approach You?

fearful dogs Oct 10, 2022
shy puppy approaching

Is your shy dog hesitant to approach you or other family members? In this week's video, I give three tips to help increase your dog's willingness to approach you. 


Tip #1 Work With A Positive Reinforcement Trainer

If your dog isn't totally comfortable approaching you, you and your pup would likely benefit from working with a professional dog trainer. Just make sure the trainer you hire uses positive reinforcement and doesn't use any punishment.  You can reach out to us for help (email [email protected], or read about our training options here on the website). 


Tip #2 Toss Treats Behind Your Dog When They Approach

When starting to train your dog to approach you, I like to reward the approach by tossing a treat behind the dog. This way they move away from you to get it. This might seem counterproductive (after all, you're trying to get your dog to come toward you, not move away), but there are at least two benefits:

  • Tossing a treat behind your dog gets them to move away from you, which sets up their next approach;
  • Moving away from you to get the treat means they don't spend too much time close to you, which can be important during early training. It gives them a break from what could otherwise become a stressful situation for them.


Tip #3 Don't Punish Approach

It is so common for us to accidentally punish our dogs for approaching us. This happens even with dogs who aren't fearful. Calling a dog and then crating them, giving them a bath, leaving the dog park, or doing anything else they don't want to do risks punishing our dogs for coming to us.  With fearful dogs, there is even more potential for punishing approach inadvertently.  Common mistakes with fearful dogs include: 

  • "Rewarding" approach by placing a treat between you and your dog:  You can set up a stressful scenario for your dog if you try to "reward" their approach by trying to lure them even closer to get their treat. Watch what your dog readily offers you without any food visible. In might only be one or two steps toward you. That's a great start! Toss their treat behind them so they can move away and do that again. 
  • Trying to get the dog to take the treat from your hand: Even if your dog approaches you all the way, they might not be ready to take a treat from your hand. If you're training your dog to approach you, don't add on the challenge of also taking a treat from your hand. This is a skill to teach your dog separately, after they're approaching you happily. 
  • Trying to sneak in a pet: If you have a fearful dog who isn't yet comfortable with you, you're probably dying to cuddle them. It's so hard to resist trying to steal just a little scratch under the chin when they're close. But for many of these fearful dogs, reaching out to pet them will very effectively punish their approach, and they will be wary of approaching you in the future. Try to be patient, and wait to work on training your dog to enjoy petting until they are already approaching, and taking treats from your hand, without hesitation.


How is your approach training going? Shoot us a message or email ([email protected]). We'd love to hear what is working for you, or how we can help. 



If you're looking for more training support for your fearful pup, check out our monthly training membership, or our one-on-one training program