Australian Shepherds are an extremely popular dog breed and for good reasons! They are intelligent and loving creatures. But people often notice that this breed of dog can be very shy. If you have a shy Australian Shepherd, then you may be wondering how you can help your pup gain some more confidence.
The most important way to help an Australian Shepherd gain confidence is positive reinforcement of proper behavior. Aussies can be shy for a variety of reasons, so be patient when they are timid and redirect them to constructive behavior with positive reinforcement, like a treat or favorite toy.
With that said, read on for 10 tricks and tips to help your shy Aussie!
Establish a Bond to Build Trust
Before anything else, you should aim to establish a strong bond with your pup early on in order to develop trust. Shy behavior is explicitly intertwined with fright, so you will want your dog to feel secure. As you move through some of the other strategies discussed later, your dog may feel scared but can feel safer with you around.
Bonds, of course, are not built overnight. Here are some great ways you can begin to build a bond with your dog:
- Establish a routine – establish consistency in routines with your dog, including feeding times, exercise regimens, and more. This will allow your dog to feel like things are more predictable and improve how your dog views you in the context of reliability
- Make time for cuddles – intentional cuddles are a great way for your dog and you to feel closer, both physically and emotionally. Directly engaging with your dog in this way can strengthen your bond
- Participate in playtime – perhaps your dog has some favorite toys or enjoys playing ball. Being an active and attentive participant in playtime can greatly strengthen your bond with your pup
- Purposefully pet – many people absentmindedly pet their dogs, and that is okay at times, but you should try to be as intentional as you can when you pet your dog. The feeling of having your full and dedicated attention will help your dog to feel more secure and cared for
While these are by no means all-encompassing, they should provide a good foundation for you to begin to build a meaningful bond with your Australian Shepherd. Once a bond is formed, it can make all the difference in the future when you pursue more rigorous exercises to build your pup’s confidence.
Pay Attention When Your Aussie is Shy
Identifying and addressing triggers is an important component of helping your Australian Shepherd gain confidence, so be sure to pay close attention when your dog seems shy. This will allow you to pinpoint what exactly is driving your dog’s reaction and how you can go about making adjustments from there.
The number of possible triggers is endless, but here are some of the more common triggers that may cause your Aussie to be shy:
- Locations – your Aussie might be triggered in certain locations, especially if there are a lot of people around or odd sounds being made
- Other dogs – your Aussie might be shy when it comes to meeting other dogs, especially those of a different breed that they may perceive as potentially dangerous or overly aggressive
- Sounds – your Aussie might become particularly skittish when there are loud and/or unusual sounds; these could be things like banging, buzzing, clanging, scratching, and more
- Strangers – your Aussie might be shy when it comes to meeting humans that are not you or your immediate family; even if your dog has met someone a few times before, it could still take a while for it to warm up to them
It is quite possible that your Australian Shepherd may be triggered by several of the situations listed above, rather than just one alone. By staying attentive to the surrounding environment when your Aussie seems shy, you can begin to narrow down the possible causes of your dog’s lack of confidence.
Identify What Drives the Lack of Confidence
Related to paying attention to when your Aussie is shy, you should also try to identify what exactly is driving your dog’s lack of confidence. We have spoken mostly about shyness, but there are other related issues that could be coinciding or even be the primary issue overall.
For example, you may be confusing shyness with anxiety, and this could be the cause of your dog’s lack of confidence. The tricky thing with identifying the root cause, however, is that there are many overlapping signs. Therefore, each of these causes can easily be mistaken with one another.
With that said, however, some common signs that your dog may suffer from anxiety include:
- Cowering or shivering
- Digging without particular reason
- Excessive chewing or licking (on itself)
- Howling or barking when no one is around
- Pacing and panting (even if in cooler temperatures)
In addition to anxiety, fear may really be to blame for your dog’s lack of confidence. Common signs of fearfulness, some of which coincide with those listed above for anxiety, include:
- Avoiding eye contact
- Excessive scratching
- Flattened ears
- Raised hair
- Tail tucking
By attempting to identify what exactly drives your Aussie’s lack of confidence, can also help to inform you of what actions you might need to take. If your dog truly seems shy with new dogs or strangers, then you might try exposure strategies. But if your dog seems anxious or fearful, then your strategies may need to differ.
Set a Clear Example for Your Aussie
It should come as no surprise that dogs are attentive creatures, and Australian Shepherds, in particular, are known to be extremely intelligent. As such, you will want to set a clear example for your Aussie. In other words, be intentional with the example you set during times when your dog might be shy.
In particular, there are several cues that you will want to be aware of when you are with your dog:
- Body language and posture – be conscious of how you are standing or sitting, particularly when it comes to your posture. If your Aussie is shy and notices that your body language lacks conviction, then this may reinforce your pup’s reserved demeanor
- Breathing – be conscious of the pace of your breathing, as heavy breathing may indicate distress toward your dog, and this can exacerbate your pup’s shyness
- Movements – be conscious of your movements, particularly how quickly you are moving and where you are moving to or from; sudden, and jerky movements can scare your pup in times when it is better to stay calm
- Speaking tone and volume – be conscious of your voice level and tone, as dogs can pick up on this and may take it as a cue of security or lack of security
Ultimately, your dog is likely to take cues from you, especially if the two of you have established a strong bond. While you may be doing things subconsciously, these may be sending positive or negative signals to your dog that may impact your pup’s confidence. So stay mindful and act with intention!
Bring Your Aussie to a Dog Park
Exposure is key to gaining confidence, so bringing your dog to a dog park to encourage exposure to other pups is an important step, assuming you feel that your Aussie is ready for this. Socialization through exposure is a key contributor to developing confidence, particularly early in your pup’s life.
Remember that baby steps are important here. If your Aussie has never been around other pups before, then it might not be the best idea to go right into the park and let your pup run loose with the other dogs. Consider progressive steps to get your Aussie’s feet wet first, and you can slowly take things up a notch:
- Step 1: Walk by the dog park every once in a while
- Step 2: Walk by the dog park frequently
- Step 3: Sit with your dog outside the dog park
- Step 4: Allow your dog to interact with other pups exiting the park
- Step 5: Walk with your dog into the dog park every once in a while
- Step 6: Walk with your dog into the dog park frequently
By taking progressive steps, you can slowly get your Aussie used to seeing and being around other pups. The key is not to rush any of these steps. Only once you feel your Aussie has mastered one step should you move on to the next.
Bring Your Aussie to a Local Pet Store
In addition to taking your Aussie to a dog park, you can also socialize your dog by visiting a local pet store. Oftentimes, pet stores will have play areas that will create a more controlled environment for your pup than you might have in a park. Consider calling ahead to see if your local pet store has available playtimes.
Often, pet store staff will likely have a lot of experience acclimating pups to new environments, especially if they house younger pups. You may even get some great tips and tricks from them if you explain the challenge you have in helping your Aussie with confidence!
Once your pup gets comfortable in one pet store, you can try others as well so that you continue to change environments and build your pup’s confidence as it gets acclimated to each new situation.
Give Dog Treats to Strangers
While your Aussie may be shy interacting with other dogs, it may also be shy interacting with humans. Thus, socialization with “strangers” is important as well. We put this in quotations because this is really meant to represent people that your dog has not met before – they could be friends of yours, acquaintances, etc.
A great way to socialize your dog with other humans is to give dog treats to strangers and allow them to engage with your dog. For example, you could give a dog treat to one of your friends and have them crouch down to encourage your pup to walk toward them. If your pup does, your friend can reward it with a treat.
By combining triggers and rewards, your Aussie becomes more used to putting itself in uncomfortable situations. The rewards deemphasize the “risk” associated with the situation, and over time, this can really help your Aussie gain more confidence when interacting with strangers.
As an important note, you should warn and thoroughly explain to these “strangers” what you are trying to accomplish and the challenges you are having with your pup. The last thing you want is for someone to accidentally make sudden movements or be overly “aggressive” and scare off your pup.
Try Basic Obedience Exercises
Aside from socializing your pup with other dogs and humans, consider trying out basic obedience exercises. Not only will this help further develop the bond between you and your dog, but it will also help to build your dog’s confidence. Reward your dog’s good behavior with treats and petting to reinforce it.
There are many obedience exercises but start with those that are more basic and move to more complex challenges. Here are some examples (in order of simple to more complex):
- Watch me
Repeated obedience exercises will allow your dog to understand motivation and rewards, and the rewards will help them build confidence. Your pup will start to recognize rewards associated with good behavior. The key is to pair these obedience exercises with triggers that are making your Aussie shy. For example:
- “Sit”/location trigger – perhaps your pup gets triggered by a particular location; you can bring your pup to that location and go through a basic “sit” obedience exercise, which will redirect your dog’s attention away from the trigger and toward the reward
- “Down”/sound trigger – perhaps your pup gets triggered by a particular sound and tends to run away when it hears that sound; you can go through a basic “down” obedience exercise to encourage your dog not to run away when a sound trigger comes; this may not work at first, but over time this can help your dog become more comfortable with the sounds
There are countless other combination examples, but the general idea here is that you pair confidence-inducing exercises with stress-inducing triggers. Over time, redirecting your pup’s attention away from triggers and more toward the obedience exercises should help it gain confidence and become less shy.
Consider Professional Obedience Training
In addition to basic obedience training with your pup, you might also consider professional obedience training to expose your dog to even more situations and get expert help managing your dog’s shyness. Professionals can use positive training techniques to help your dog.
One of the benefits of professional obedience training is that you will often be involved in the training, even if an instructor runs the program. In this way, you are still engaging directly with your pup, and this will still allow your pup to view and understand you as the respected leader.
Some dog owners worry that training a dog to improve its confidence will be misinterpreted as giving up power, thereby making your pup more troublesome in the long term. But, in fact, the opposite is true. With professional obedience training, you will still be seen as the alpha, and your pup will follow your cues.
While it will likely come at a monetary cost, professional obedience training is an effective and efficient way to help your Aussie with its shyness relative to if you tried to do this on your own. Trainers have years of experience working with shy pups like yours and will know the best techniques to help build their confidence.
Be Patient and Persistent with the Process
Last but not least, it is important to remember that patience and persistence are rewarded in this process. You cannot expect that your Aussie’s behavior is going to miraculously change overnight because a lot of these actions are ingrained. Remember that most of this behavior is likely coming from instinct rather than intent.
As is the case with any goal in life, persistence and consistency are crucial. Habits will help your pup get into a routine and to gain more confidence. So whether it is daily obedience exercises, trips to the park, or anything else, be consistent so that your pup gets used to it.
Additionally, as was described before, your Aussie will likely be able to read your body language – so this can make a big difference on your journey toward successfully building its confidence. If you are sulking or getting frustrated, your pup will likely sense this, and it can significantly delay progress.
At the end of the day, it is probably fair to assume that you want the best for your pup. Reading through these tips and tricks and choosing the ones that are right for you is the first step.
Rest assured, you are well on your way. Be consistent and be patient. Yours and your pup’s hard work will pay off!