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Questions & Answers - Shih Tzu Advice - Shy Dog

Question: My Shih Tzu always hides when people come over to my home. 

She is fine with with the family, but even with neighbors or people that she has seen before, she shows extremely shy behavior. 

She'll want to hide either behind me or seems to want to climb right into me. She never barks. Any advice would be helpful. Owner: Milly,  Shih Tzu: Tucker

Answer: Hi Milly, not to worry, it's not uncommon for Shih Tzu to be shy and in many cases this can be resolved. 
Typically, shy dogs will indeed try to hide behind their owners, or snuggle into them for comfort. Though, in some instances, a shy Shih Tzu will cower under a table or go off running into a small space like under a bed or in a closet. 
But, as you know, teaching your Shih Tzu to cope with visitors is an important element for proper socialization. 

Once Tucker learns how to cope with these situations, you will have a much more confident, happy dog.

Before we begin with training, let's go over what's happening right now. 

When our dogs hide behind us, or try to just about climb onto us, our first reaction is to comfort them. It is a natural human instinct to want to protect our guys and gals from anything that scares them.
However, when we allow them to hide and we offer words to soothe them, this reinforces their behavior.

In other words, when an owner shows that they recognize that their Shih Tzu is scared or wary of visitors, actions and words can be inadvertently be teaching a dog that he's correct in his thinking. This is akin to telling the dog, "You are right to be afraid and shy, I will protect you". 

Therefore, the dog believes that they are correct in their fears and that their owner is appropriately protecting them.

The other aspect that we'll be covering is the need to offer gradual opportunities to become accustomed to things in a controlled manner. 

With long or intense visits, it will be nearly impossible to take the slower steps that are needed. And, you'll always want to end things on a good note. Very shy dogs have their limit, and we won't want to push that. 

So now, let's look at what to do: 
1) Whenever someone will be visiting your home, plan this in advance. 

These will be controlled visits in which both you and your visitor's behavior and actions help to slowly nudge your Shih Tzu out of his shyness, so both of you should be prepared. 

It is best if you practice this with a person who makes regular (ideally weekly visits) as opposed to random ones. 

If you have large groups of visitors that stop by, it's best to limit the number to 1 guest and 2 at the most until your Shih Tzu has conquered his shyness. 

Ahead will be some tips for both of you, and it's best to talk about this so that everyone acts natural and calm. 

2) Prepare your guest. 

Let your guest know that you are trying to train your Shih Tzu to enjoy company. For this, the visit should be kept short (don't worry, there will soon be longer visits). We suggest 20 minutes for the first visit and extensions of 10 to 15 minutes for each following visit. 

Your guest should have small dog treats on them. There is no reason for them to go out and buy the treats. You can leave a small zipped plastic bag containing some near the door for them to grab and pocket on their way in. 

3) You should also be prepared by having special treats as well. 
The right treat, given at the right time, sends a very strong message to a dog and is key for training. 

Keep in mind that for any sort of training, treats should not be anything that a Shih Tzu normally receives. If so, it will not have that much of an effect.

If you've found a great brand of dog treats that your Shih Tzu loves, you can still stick with them, but offer a flavor that is reserved only for training. 

One that we've found to be quite wonderful is Fruitables. These are the perfect size for training, are 100% all natural, and come is super tasty flavors like Fruitables Crunchy Treats - Pumpkin & Apple, and also pumpkin with blueberry, banana, or cranberry. 
And another great option is the Zuke's Mini Naturals Healthy Moist Dog Treats Variety Pack, which are also sized great for Shih Tzu, are 100% all natural, and come in 6 lip-licking flavors of roasted pork, wild rabbit, roasted chicken, savory salmon, delicious duck, and fresh peanut butter.
Shih Tzu looking shy
Once you have chosen a special reward, keep a handful in a small zippered plastic bag and in a pocket for fast retrieval. 
4) Be aware of your vibe.

Canines have an extraordinary gift of being able to pick up both verbal and non-verbal cues from their humans. 

If you feel tense in anticipation of your Shih Tzu's shyness, this can cause your dog to ready himself to react in a negative way. 

So be sure to interact with your guest in a calm, happy manner and carry yourself with a confident ease. 
5) Change the focus of the visit.

Normally in situations like this, all of the focus is on the guest. The TV is turned off, you and your Shih Tzu are both sitting there looking directly at your visitor, and all distractions are gone. 

This causes a very intense situation, where a dog is essentially forced to confront what is happening. And without having built up any skills or having been taught that visits are okay, what would cause his reaction to change in any way?

So, you will want to set your dog up for success by giving him other things to focus on during this time. 

One of the best methods is to introduce a fun new toy. Once introduced, reserve this toy for only when visitors come over. You may find that this can actually lead to a dog looking forward to guests dropping by. 
You'll want this toy to be something that is very engaging. Some good choices are the ZippyPaws Spencer the Crinkle Monkey, which has a squeaker, a rattle, and crinkle paper in the limbs. 
If you think that your Shih Tzu would react well to speaking toys, the Pet Qwerks Animal Sounds Babble Ball lets out 20 funny animals noises, and says a different one each time it's nosed, which is fun for dogs that like to feel that the toy is interacting with them. 
5) The goal will be to ignore any shy behavior and reward progress of any kind. 

About ignoring - 

Ignoring a dog that is clearly shy and looking for comfort is not easy. It does take quite a bit of will-power. However, keep in mind that 1- your Shih Tzu is safe and out of harm's way and 2- This is for his own good, since it will lead to a happier, more confident dog in the near future. 
Your Shih Tzu will be looking to you - his Alpha leader - for cues on how to react. 

Therefore, ignoring shy behavior sends a strong message that shyness is not needed and is not warranted. 
You will get this message across by not reacting to his shy ways. Do not gently push your dog away, do not offer any words of comfort at all, and try to avoid saying the phrase, 'It's alright.'

Also, if your Shih Tzu takes off to hide, do not try to coax your Shih Tzu out. It will need to be his idea. 

You'll just set out the new toy, and focus on speaking with your guest. 

The only time that interaction should be done is if a Shih Tzu is jumping up on his owner or otherwise causing a disturbance. If this is the case, the dog should not be reprimanded, but he should be placed in his playpen or other area for a short time out. 
About rewards - 

With many types of training, such as housebreaking, reward should be given with super enthusiastic words of praise; however, with this you'll want to be more low-key. 

Any sign of not being wary should be rewarded.  Each Shih Tzu that suffers from shyness will be unique in what qualifies as progress. 

If a dog is so shy that he won't even leave your side, progress may be taking one step away, or perhaps quieting down if there was whining. These things will qualify as a reason to give reward, so do look for subtle clues.

If your dog does leave your side to investigate the new toy, allow him to play for 5 minutes or so, and without interrupting so much that it would break his focus, quickly palm one treat to him, say, 'Good dog', and go back to your conversation. 
6) As things improve, the guest will give out a treat. 

It may take several visits; however, a Shih Tzu will slowly learn that his human is not acting as if there is reason to be wary, and he will slowly feel safer and safer to play with his special toy. As this is happening, he is getting small rewards for confident behavior.

And with this, there will come a time - on visit #2, 5, or even 10, that there is enough confidence to interact with the guest. 

When this happens, have that person speak in a happy, friendly voice and palm a treat. 
7) Gradual increases in frequency and duration.

As a Shih Tzu gets used to this new way of reacting to guests, and his shyness is abating, slowly increase the time that visitors stay and how often they come over. 

Every dog has a limit as to how much interaction and busyness they feel comfortable with. So, it's not a bad thing if after a certain amount of time the dog wants to retreat to his bed or other resting area. 
See Also: Shih Tzu is Behaving Strange - The top 8 reasons for odd behavior. 
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