From time to time a dog enters the rescue that seems “shy”.  Often they have entered a shelter at a young age, and are not exposed to a lot of human contact, or life with a family. New surroundings can overwhelm them so fosters and new families need to be prepared with the right approach to help this type of dog: Be the best that you can be. We reached out to our trainer Jenna, for some quick tips on starting off on the right foot.


If you aren’t sure if you want to read on, check out Mindy’s story. Mindy was in foster for several months before we sought out help from Jenna. She was happy at home but hadn’t been for a walk and her world was very small.  Once she spent time with Jenna, she became a new dog.  She recently went on a camping trip in Algonquin with her moms.  Her world now has no limits.  Check out this video from her two weeks with Jenna.


We want to share what we learn, and help you get your new shy pup to enjoy the world around them.

Your Everyday Goals
  1. Create a calm state of mind in yourself
  2. Create a calm state of mind in your dog
  3. Follow through on your marker words (Yes and No) (These three ideals should be supported and created through consistent structure and routine.)

Marker words are:

  • Good – means encouragement, “keep doing what you’re doing”. This is good to use as a casual marker to encourage good choices. A reward is optional. Example: You say “Let’s Go”, your dog disengages from play, you say GOOD GOOD GOOD or GOOD GIRL as encouragement for the great response.
  • Yes – means PAYDAY! Use Yes to mark the completion of the right choices from your dog. Example: You say Come, your dog comes and sits in front of you, you say YES and reward. Yes is always followed by a high reward such as food, major praise, or freedom.
  • No – means the wrong choice. I use No or Nope to mark everything from a mistake in obedience to non-negotiable behaviours.
    • Obedience No example #1: You say Sit, your dog does not respond within a few seconds, you say Nope and repeat the command once more.
    • Obedience No Example #2: You ‘Place’ your dog, your dog gets off Place, you say Nope and follow through with a leash correction or spacial pressure if needed to put your dog back on Place.
    • Non-Negotiable No example: Your dog jumps on someone, you say NO and follow through with correction if possible.
Obedience Rules

Ask your dog to follow a command. If your dog does not comply, did she hear you? Is she distracted? Did she purposefully ignore you? The maximum time to repeat a command is three times, with a few seconds of time in-between for the dog to respond. The wrong choice warrants a No (and sometimes a correction) with a repeat of the command. By the second or third time, help my dog make the right choice with leash pressure or guidance. Example: When you ask your dog to Sit and she does not give her a moment. If she does not respond, repeat the command with added pressure (gentle upward leash pressure or spacial pressure, with a pointing finger) to guide her into the position. Release the pressure once she responds. You can also follow with a food reward or a massage!

Aim for Success

In all interactions with humans, dogs, or the environment, aim for a calm state of mind and a successful outcome. To Jenna, a successful outcome is having your dog in a calm state. If you are unsure of your ability to create that outcome, then do not allow your dog to go into a scenario where she might become too overwhelmed and fail. Example: Don’t allow him/her to meet crazy dogs on leash. Don’t allow someone to touch him/her if they look like they have the wrong approach or energy. You CAN say NO and tell people your dog is in training. This creates a bubble of protection around your pup in which he/she can build confidence and trust in you.


Quick Tips:
  • Crate –  The crate will be your best friend when it comes to teaching structure, calmness, and good potty habits. Use the crate whenever you cannot supervise your dog (preferably every night for the first couple of weeks, and every time you are away from the home). Supply sufficient exercise between rest breaks but do not overstimulate a new dog.
  • Freedom – Realize that freedom is a privilege. If you are home, keep a leash on your dog inside until you start to see your dog settle into your home and routine. The leash can be tied to you, to a door, or left loose. Just ensure you are supervising when there are any leads or collars on your dog. Many rescue dogs come from small shelter spaces and although it is our good intention to give them the whole yard and home, they cannot handle this new space. Timid dogs will become worse as they have so much space to pace or hide, insecure dogs will start to claim the new territory, and almost all dogs will get confused and start peeing inside.
  • Food
    • Use your dog’s kibble meal to train, if your dog is highly food motivated.
    • Feed your dog in his crate, breakfast and supper. This ensures your dog will not become distracted during mealtime, especially if your dog is timid. Do not be alarmed if your dog does not eat for a day or two. Still provide food but take it away if your dog does not eat after 5-10 minutes. DO NOT coax your dog to eat.
  • Affection – Remember that affection is a resource that should be earned. If you do not have your affection equal to discipline, you will create an imbalance in your new dog. Rules are more important when establishing your relationship with a new dog.  (Similar to raising kids)
  • Consistency – A relationship should be built on trust and respect, which comes from being consistent and fair. Be clear on your YES and NOs.
Your dog may be timid and new to your environment but set them up for success. BELIEVE IN YOUR DOG and show them that they can achieve greatness. Do not cater for your dog’s timid behaviour. Find a good balance between motivating your dog and providing support. Your dog will never learn to gain the proper confidence if you always believe their story and cater to their timid or shy behaviours. Your dog needs a coach first, and a friend second.


Remember these dogs are not used to a Canadian lifestyle. They need time to figure out what is expected of them, so provide them with the proper rules that will keep them on track to a balanced lifestyle.


Projected Daily Schedule Pattern
WALK – TRAIN/PLAY – REST (follow this pattern throughout the day to create a structured fulfilling lifestyle


  • Walk your dog in a structured manner for at least an hour each day. Approx 25% of your day should be spent on calm walk activity.
  • Actively Train and play with your dog after the walk to empty the tank and provide even more release of energy (physical and mental). Approx 25% of your day
  • Set your dog up for good habits by conditioning them to Rest in one place after their exercise (Place or Crate). Approx 50% of your day.
The training period gives you time to engage in fun activities with your dog and practice commands. It also allows your dog a bit of freedom as this can be done off-leash, inside or in the backyard. The rest period will become the OFF mode in your dog’s life. This will allow you to have downtime without the dogs following your every move or becoming anxious and tense with their routine.
Repeat this formula throughout your daily schedule. Ensure sufficient potty breaks during the day. Every three to five hours suffices after naps, or after you return from being away from your dog.


Space in the House
Place or crate your dog during your own mealtimes or between activities. In the beginning, you can never Place/crate too much if you are providing sufficient exercise between rest periods.
In the backyard, to ensure your dog isn’t getting into trouble for the first couple of weeks, I advise keeping him on a long line so he cannot roam the yard and bark or chase things.
Why no free roaming in the house?!  WATCH THIS VIDEO
IF you give free-roaming in the house to your dog, he should have his leash on in case you need to access him


Be Careful of Unearned Attention
Share less affection unless your dog is showing respectful behaviour. Affection is more for us than it is for the dog so we have to ensure that we are fulfilling the leadership position first before we share so much affection.  Another video from Cheri Lucas on Unearned Affection Side Effects.


Permission Training
It’s easy for us to forget to train our dogs to be respectful of our boundaries. One activity that really helps to create a dog who is in tune with us is to get dogs to wait for everything they want. Calmness becomes second nature. This works especially well during:
  • Mealtimes
  • Exiting the crate
  • Exiting and entering any threshold (very important before walks or when going in and out of the vehicle or yard)
  • When playing with other dogs or toys
Don’t speak too much, don’t direct too much. Just be patient and wait for your dog to calm down. Don’t ask your dog to sit or stay. It is best to block any forward movement by using your body, fingertips, or the leash, and remain calm until your dog relaxes and backs up respectfully. Then reward with a calm release. Practice this in ALL areas of a dog’s life. Never reward or reinforce the wrong energy or attitude.


Correct any impatience (barking, excessive whining, nudging or jumping).


Crate Training
  1. Say IN and guide your dog into the crate with the leash (use the leash or have it on as backup to put him/her into the crate for the first week).
  2. Unclip his leash and collar after he goes in.
  3. Close the door if he tries to get out, instead of pushing him back.
  4. Any time you open the crate door, wait for your dog to give you eye contact before allowing him to exit. It also helps to ‘dress’ him with the collar and leash before he comes out of the crate.
  5. Remember he cannot exit unless you say “Let’s Go” as a release word.
*If he is extremely excitable in the morning, do not speak to him but just close the door anytime he tries to exit without the release word. You will notice that he automatically calms down and starts to wait calmly for you.  Watch this Jeff Gellman Crate Demonstration.


Waiting at Thresholds
By having your dog wait at every open door until he sits or looks at you, you are encouraging patience and getting his attention automatically. Walk up to the door with a loose leash and give him a pop correction or bring him back beside you if he rushes to go out without your release. Release him with a command such as Let’s Go but keep it quiet and calm. Have him wait or sit once he exits so you can close the door behind. Enhance this response by only releasing your dog once he gives you eye contact.


We hope this helps you with your shy dog.  Remember, you are the decision-maker and your dog is not yet capable of making decisions, so don’t let him.  Good luck!  If you need expert advice to help with the steps, be sure to hire a trainer to get your dog on the right path, right away.