How to approach a shy or timid pet

The moniker of "fraidy cat" takes on a whole new meaning when you're living with a shy or timid pet. If Fido or Fluffy runs for cover as soon as the doorbell rings, then you've experienced this challenge first-hand. Although there are many reasons a pet might be timid around strangers, there are ways for your guests to approach him that can help make the experience more comfortable for them both. Generally speaking, the interactions should be allowed to happen naturally, and should never be forced or rushed. Here are some easy tips to help bring your pet out of his social shell.

Avoid eye contact. Animals rarely look each other directly in the eyes. This is interpreted by many species to be threatening behavior. Even though our pets learn that looking directly into our eyes brings no ill consequences, it can still be a threatening posture for pets that are shy or timid. Use your peripheral vision when trying to make friends with a timid pet.

Sit on the floor. Stature, in human body language, often suggests superiority and can instill fear. It is no different with animals. If you've ever researched what to do if you encounter a black bear, for instance, one of the common suggestions is to use your clothing or backpack to make yourself look as big as you can. The larger you appear, the more likely the bear will be frightened and go away. The same principle applies to shy pets. When encountering them, sit on the floor to help bring yourself down to their level. This will help even the playing field and encourage interaction.

Stand sideways. Similar to eye contact, facing a timid animal from a full frontal stance can be intimidating for them. Instead, stand sideways and be as relaxed as possible. Don't attempt to pet or even touch him. In fact, pretending to ignore him completely will deliver the best results.

Let him approach you. Once the animal has gained a little confidence, he may approach you. Let him do all the work. Don't reach out or get excited just because he takes a step or two towards you. Allow him to come up close and sniff you if he chooses.

Offer small treats. Even shy and timid pets love treats. If offered cautiously, they can help make your pet more comfortable around strangers. When your guest arrives, give him a few small treats for your pet. Have him sit on the floor or stand sideways as mentioned above. When your pet does approach, have your guest offer a treat slowly, without talking. At first, it may even help to place the treat on the floor a few inches away to decrease the level of stress.

Regardless of the method you use, the most important thing is to be patient. Rushing things can be counterproductive, and negate all the work you have already done with your pet. If you take your time and are persistent with this conditioning, chances are good you'll have a positive outcome.


"Canine Body Language," ASPCA

"Adopting a Puppy Mill Dog," ASPCA

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