As dog lovers, there's an image we all love to see: a happy dog playing confidently at the dog park with his friends and enjoying the company of the people he meets throughout his lifetime. Many of us take this desirable behavior for granted because our pets are social and outgoing. But to dog owners with canine wallflowers, this remains a dream.
Why isn't my dog social?
Many dogs experience shyness due to certain experiences in their past, such as being mistreated and abused. One of the most common causes of shy behavior is a lack of exposure to new people and places at a young age. Dogs that remain confined to a limited area, and that aren't given an opportunity to meet people and other dogs, are likely candidates to become timid.
To develop a healthy attitude toward socializing, dogs also need the example of an owner who leads the way during the puppy's formative years. That’s why shyness is a common personality trait in dogs that move from owner to owner frequently in their lifetime. Dogs look to their owners to be the "alpha dog" of their "pack," and to guide them safely into new and stimulating situations. Without that type of leadership in their lives, dogs may become timid and skittish when introduced to things outside their immediate familiarity.
What are the signs of a shy dog?
It's important to know the signs of a shy dog so you can approach him accordingly—and so you don't take his lack of interest in you personally. Some "symptoms" of a chronically timid dog are more obvious, others can be subtle. Here are some cues to look for:
Retreating to another room or a far corner of the space you both occupy
Ears folded flat against the head
Tail tucked between legs
Refusal to make eye contact
Quick and noticeable panting
What can I do to help my dog become more social?
Whatever the reason behind your dog's shyness, correcting it is a process that requires a lot of love and patience.
The first month is critical. Make sure that you have time to invest in an intensive socialization program during your new dog's early weeks with you. Remember, you're laying the foundation for your dog's behavior later on in life, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Besides, it's great fun and will help you get to know your newly adopted dog very well, very quickly.
Don't praise or coddle your dog when he is scared. When your dog is frightened, it's human to want to comfort your dog and say, "It's OK". However, your dog assumes that you are praising him for being scared—which reinforces skittish behavior. Only praise your dog when he acts confidently.
Review (and re-review) the training basics. A dog that can follow commands is a confident dog. Put your dog's leash on him, then head outside. Practice "come," "sit," "down" and other basic commands. Praise him when he exhibits any confident behavior.
Practice people therapy. Have a dog-loving friend sit with her back to your dog. Place food treats or your dog's favorite toy in her outstretched hands. Tell her not to speak or make eye contact with your dog. Praise your dog when he takes a treat or the toy.
Yawn. No, this isn't a sign of disinterest or weariness. Yawning is actually a calming signal for dogs. Once again, have your friend hold treats while looking at the ground, not at your dog. It might sound silly, but ask your friend to yawn repeatedly—and join in. You'll notice your dog relaxing the more the both of you yawn. Again, every time your dog takes a treat, praise him.
Chin and chest only, please. When friends come over, have them stand still with a treat and let your dog go to them first. Ask your friends to only pet your dog under the chin and on the chest. Avoid letting anyone reach or lunge to pet her on the head or back.
Free play works wonders. Dogs who do not trust people can benefit from having other dogs as companions. Allow your dog to play freely with another dog in a fenced area. Have the owner of the other dog pet your dog if possible. A tired, happy dog is often less skittish.
Introducing him to new dogs. If your dog has had limited exposure to other dogs, he may resist socializing with them. Aggression is a common symptom of a lack of contact with other dogs. To get your dog feeling more comfortable around his canine counterparts, start with dogs that you already know are trustworthy. If your dog behaves himself, reward him for his polite behavior in the presence of the other dog. Gradually work up to rewarding the dog for being close to the other dog, getting closer and closer each time. Of course, the best way to remedy this is to have your leashed dog interact frequently with other leashed dogs.
Obedience classes and professional help. Obedience classes provide a good opportunity to socialize him with dogs and people in a controlled setting. The more chances your dog gets to meet new friends, the better behaved he'll likely be. If your dog feels too uncomfortable being in a class setting with other dogs—and if nothing else seems to be helping—you may want to consider seeking the assistance of a professional dog trainer who specializes in shy dogs. Ask your friends and vet for recommendations.
As your dog ages, you’ll likely notice changes in your best pal’s energy levels, routine and even muzzle. Older pets may require adjustments to help them get around, exercise and live their best life as a senior. One important aspect of caring for a dog entering their golden years is diet.
When it comes to diet, every dog has unique, individual needs, regardless of age. So, there's no one easy answer to the question of soft food versus hard food. Both types of food can provide your dog with the nutrition they need — as long as you feed your dog a high-quality dog food that’s nutritionally balanced and complete.
Signs Your Senior Dog May Benefit from Wet Food
If your dog has very specific health concerns, such as aging joints or weight issues, consult with your vet for more information about what type of food best addresses your dog's needs. That being said, there are a few reasons why you may consider switching your senior dog to soft food.
As your dog gets older, their teeth may become more sensitive, which can make chewing kibble more difficult and even uncomfortable. Switching to a soft food can help to alleviate your pet’s oral discomfort when eating.
However, if your dog is experiencing serious pain at mealtime from a condition like tooth decay or gingivitis, switching to soft food won't remedy the problem. Make sure you talk to your vet about oral care and dental treatment.
Digestion begins in the mouth with saliva, so if your dog has a tendency to scarf down meals, they may not be adequately chewing the food or adding enough saliva to it. Soft food can aid with digestion because it's more easily chewed.
It’s no surprise that wet food has a higher moisture content when compared to dry kibble. If your senior pup is prone to urinary-tract issues or simply needs a little help staying hydrated, canned dog food may be a good choice.
Aging dogs tend to have a slower metabolic rate compared to their younger years, which puts them at a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese. Many nutritionally balanced wet dog foods offer high protein content with fewer carbs than dry food, which can benefit older dogs with slower metabolism. Always talk to your vet if you have concerns about your pup’s weight.
While wet food may be less than appetizing to humans, the opposite is true for dogs! If your aging best friend has started turning their snout up to dry food, wet food tends to be more appealing to picky eaters. Mixing wet food and kibble offers your pup a variety of flavors and textures; try adding wet food as a topper on dry food for a real treat!
Whether you choose dry food, soft food or a mix of both, ask your vet before making any transition. And when it's time to switch your dog's food, remember to do it slowly — even if it's the same brand and flavor — to help prevent stomach upset and allow your dog time to adjust.