Just Because My Dog is Shy Doesn’t Mean He Was Mistreated

Pierson Rescue Dog

Pierson was nervous on his first day at his new home. He wasn’t quite sure yet what to think of me and my husband or Maya.

I was talking to someone about my dog Pierson the other day (when do I not talk about my dogs?), about how he was rescued and about how shy he can sometimes be around strangers. Their first reaction to his shyness was to say he had probably been mistreated by his prior family. My immediate response was to say this is not necessarily true and here’s why.

Pierson is wary and shy, but he is not fearful. He darts out of the way of a fast hand movement or if someone bends over him. But this is a natural reaction for many dogs. He doesn’t snap or growl in reaction. He simply takes a few steps back.

Dad Pierson Shake

Pierson was a bit shy around my dad at first. But he warmed up to him after a few treats.

Pierson is most likely part Border Collie and part Australian Shepherd. Both these breeds are very high alert dogs. They were bred to guard flocks and so they tend to be naturally wary of strange things, including strange people. Pierson tends to warm up to a person better if I or my husband is there and if the other person lets Pierson check them out first on his own terms.

I got Pierson when he was probably a year old so I have no idea how well he was socialized. He was very shy when we first got him. I have been doing my best to introduce him to new people and new things. And as such, he tends to warm up to new people much quicker than in the past. There are still occasions when he decides to be shy. Generally it is around small children since he doesn’t get the opportunity to be around children much.

Family Playing Hungry Hippos

Pierson looks on as my niece and nephew, my brother-in-law, and my husband play Hungry Hungry Hippos. He was wary of the little ones but not fearful. My sister has done a good job of teaching her kids how to approach dogs and to leave them alone if they don’t want to be bothered.

A dog very well could be shy due to mistreatment. If Pierson had been mistreated, however, I would expect his reaction to be a lot more severe. I’d expect tail tucking, ears going back, eyes dilating, growling, or cowering. He occasionally growls, but it is usually when a person tries to be too overly friendly with him. He’s not a Labrador. You can’t just go up to him and try to put your arms around him! (Actually one shouldn’t do this to any dog regardless of breed, but you get my point.)

I honestly don’t know whether Pierson had been purposely abandoned in the park I found him in or if he had wandered off from his family and found his own way to the park. I have no idea if he was loved or if he was unwanted. Either way, I very much doubt he was abused. For Pierson, I think the most likely explanation for his shyness is his breed mix. Lack of socialization is probably a factor too, but I think it is possible for certain dogs to have a shyness tendency regardless of proper socialization.

Do you have a shy dog? Why do you think he or she is shy? What do you tell people when they suggest your dog might have been mistreated?

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8 Responses to “Just Because My Dog is Shy Doesn’t Mean He Was Mistreated”

  1. Will and Eko Says:

    That first photo is great – “Ok, you keep giving me these treats and we’ll talk.” Like you said, there are plenty of different reasons for a dog’s personality. My mom’s dog was submissive/shy from the get go, but a total sweetheart who opened up as soon as you showed any affection. It was just her personality, not the result of any one thing in particular.

  2. thatmutt Says:

    I bet you are right. I bet he just wasn’t socialized. Ace was a little shy when i first got him, believe it or not.

    I sure hope Pierson wasn’t mistreated. Hard to imagine someone abandoning him, but we both know it does happen 😦 if only they could tell us about their pasts sometimes.

  3. 25castleson25clouds Says:

    Pierson sounds a lot like BD, he is fearful of men (for some reason) which has always puzzled me as my ex has had him since he was a puppy! I wonder if it’s the collie gene?!

  4. 2 Brown Dawgs Says:

    This is a great post. I would say that even if he exhibited fearful or aggressive behavior, it does not mean that he has been mistreated. I think a lot of people jump to conclusions without really knowing. For any dog, the parents, grandparents, etc. that make up the dog have a lot to do with the dog’s temperament. Too many rescues discount this and like to blame it on mistreatment when that may not be the case at all. Could be as simple as breeding. Could also be the other things you point to: lack of socialization, something scared it during the fear imprinting time of it’s life, many things and not necessarily mistreatment.

  5. Jan K Says:

    I really appreciate this post. Our beagle Cricket has always been shy of strange men, and she was brought home with us as a puppy. We could never figure out why, and I’d often say to people “she’s just shy” and they’d look at me funny. But I always felt it was true. Now our 10 month old puppy Luke is showing some shy tendencies as well, and I fear we didn’t socialize him well enough. We’ve started working with a trainer and it was nice to have him say that it’s possible Luke was inbred (he came from a southern rescue), and that can cause some issues right there. At least we know it’s not necessarily all our fault!

  6. Jim Says:

    I hear that all the time and it’s so not true. Some dogs are naturally shy.

  7. My dog is scared, so he must've been abused | Thatmutt.com Says:

    […] Ross maintains a blog called American Dog Blog, and she wrote a good post recently on this very topic. She wrote how her dog Pierson can be shy when meeting new […]

  8. Clowie Says:

    I’ve never been shy, but it’s natural for Great Pyrenees pups to be confident and into everything – they made sure I got lots of positive experiences when I was young so I remained confident.

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