How to Make a Shy, Fearful or Timid Dog More Confident?

Last Updated on June, 2023

Is your dog shy in certain situations? Well, you can help a shy dog get more out of life by taking steps to make him feel more confident.

Read this guide to learn ways to help a shy dog gain confidence.

What Causes a Dog to be Shy?

a shy dog standing on the floor

Fear and a lack of confidence are common phenomena in all animals, even those that are naturally predatory. 

It’s possible that your dog suffered trauma or some form of abuse at a young age, especially if the dog was a stray or came from a puppy farm. 

However, most often, the shyness comes from a genetic predisposition or simply not understanding the thing that’s frightening them. In many cases, more experience in a scary situation teaches the dog that there’s nothing to be afraid of, so the pup gradually becomes more confident.

Signs That Your Dog is Shy

So, how do you know that your dog is shy?

Here are some telltale signs that your dog lacks confidence in certain situations:

  • Tail tucked between legs
  • Crouching or cowering
  • Hiding in a far corner of the room you’re both occupying
  • Ears folded flat against the head
  • Refusing to make eye contact
  • Noticeable, rapid panting
  • Peeing when approached 

If your dog displays any of those signs, you must take steps to help him overcome his shyness and live a full and happy life again.

A Change of Scenery

Even your dog’s home environment can be stressful for him, and that can dent your pet’s confidence and make him nervous or shy. There’s an easy solution to the problem; move your furry friend to a different or completely new environment!

Think about a location where your dog can be distracted by what’s going on around him and where he can be happy. 

a shy dog

For example, if your dog loves to be away from other dogs, walk him on a deserted beach or quiet trail. Your dog will probably be so busy checking out his new surroundings he will forget all about being frightened and begin to feel more confident.

Confinement or Freedom?

Crates can be a useful tool when treating dogs suffering from separation anxiety

For example, a comfortable, well-equipped kennel can make the perfect den for a German Shepherd, helping him to cope while he’s left home alone for a short while.

However, other dogs hate being confined, and being put in a crate can make the pup even more afraid and lacking in confidence. It’s really up to the individual dog. However, patient and sympathetic crate training is also vital when it comes to successful crate training.


When it comes to overcoming shyness, desensitization techniques are very effective. In fact, lots of veterinarians recommend using these methods.

Basically, desensitization works by showing the dog that a situation he finds frightening can really be enjoyable and rewarding too. 

For example, if your dog is very shy around your neighbor, ask your neighbor to carry a few treats with him. When your dog encounters your neighbor, the person should offer your dog a treat. That way, the dog learns to associate that person with treats and will gradually become less shy around them.

Remember to use positive reinforcement when working on desensitization with your furry friend. Never lose your temper or punish your dog. That will only make your dog’s problems worse.

Can Medications Help a Shy Dog?

These days, there are many drugs that vets can prescribe for various behavioral problems in dogs, including:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Amitriptyline (Elavil)
  • Buspirone (Buspar)
  • Trazodone
  • Clomipramine (Clomicalm)
  • Clorazepate (Tranxene)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Clonazepam
  • Gabapentin
  • Imipramine (Tofranil)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Imepitoin (Pexion)
  • Selegiline (Deprenyl, Anipryl)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Dexmedetomidine oromucosal gel (Sileo) 
  • Diphenhydramine
  • Phenylpropanolamine
  • Propranolol

Many of these are human medications that are also available for use in animals under a different brand name. Consult your veterinary surgeon for advice on how drug therapy could help your shy dog.

Obedience Training

Learning new commands and tricks can be an excellent confidence booster for shy dogs. All you need to do is set aside a little time for some basic obedience training.

Start by training your dog in his home environment, where he feels secure and safe. Try introducing basic commands, such as “sit” and “stay.” As your dog learns to respond to the commands, communication between you will improve.

a dog and women on the floor

Use the commands as a distraction when your dog starts to get nervous in a particular situation.

Again, if your dog gets worried when he sees your neighbor approaching, ask the pup to give you his paw or sit down when the person appears.

Obedience training can help to develop greater trust between you and your dog. That also makes your dog feel less shy and more confident. As things progress, try taking your dog to different places for training or attending obedience classes with other dogs and their handlers.


Socializing a puppy is an essential part of his formative week and months. However, shy dogs often find the usual methods of socialization frightening. For example, taking a shy dog for a walk along a busy street can make the pup even less confident.

If your dog is very shy around people he hasn’t met before, you might need to take things slowly. Perhaps start by recruiting a friend to sit in the same room as the dog.

a dog and a human walking on the busy street

The person must not make contact with the dog in any way. All the volunteer has to do is toss a treat on the floor for the dog to take.

If all goes well, the dog will start to approach the stranger to take the treats. When that happens, ask the person to stand up and then repeat the process. Over a period of time, ask different people to perform the same socialization exercise.

After a while, your dog should become confident to approach your volunteers for treats. Once that happens, ask your friends to take your pet out for a walk somewhere quiet and play with him.

It’s a Wonderful Life!

Most dogs living in happy forever homes enjoy wonderful lives full of fun and exciting times. However, a shy dog often lacks the confidence he needs to have fun. 

You need to try to introduce your nervous pup to some fun games in your backyard where the dog feels safe and secure. Spending time around a few well-socialized furry friends can also help unless you have a dog that’s terrified of other dogs.

Here’s a list of the best outdoor games to play with your furry friend.

Sometimes, simply distracting a shy dog with a game of “fetch” is all you need to do to give your pet more confidence.

Routine Confidence

Dogs thrive on having a routine in their lives. 

Often, a shy dog will suddenly appear more confident and less nervous if he knows when he’s going to be fed and exercised. Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety are typically happier if they have a regular routine and will cope much better if they know when you’re going out and when you will return home.

Signs That Your Dog is Not Shy Anymore

a dog licking a human's hand

You’ll know that your efforts to cure your dog’s shyness have been successful when the pup becomes clearly more relaxed and happy in most situations that previously made him nervous or afraid.

For example, if your dog used to be nervous around strangers, he would begin to happily welcome people he doesn’t know, wagging his tail and even licking their hands. 

Final Thoughts

If your dog is shy and lacks confidence, you can help him enjoy life again by following these top tips.

Establishing a routine is essential for giving nervous dogs confidence. Obedience training and socialization are also highly effective tools for helping a dog overcome shyness. 

Although it’s best to begin using these techniques when a dog is very young, with patience and sympathy, you can still help an older dog become more confident and start to really enjoy his life with you.

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Thomas Villalpando is the main author of IPet Guides. He spends his time reading, training, and working with several Dogs' behaviors. You can find more about him here.

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