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.
SHY BUT NOT FEARFUL
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.
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.
LACK OF SOCIALIZATION
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.
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?