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Painfully Shy

5347 Views 4 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  Kaila
Hi All,

Has anyone had any luck getting a very shy Chi to come out of their shell?

My 11 week old little girl is extremely shy, despite the fact that the breeder and I have both put a lot of work into socializing her. At the breeders she met dogs of all sizes, strangers and children. In the 3 weeks i've had her she has started puppy school and met new people both inside and outside our home.

Despite all this exposure in her short life she completely shuts down when she meets a new person or dog. She freezes to the spot, cowers and shakes. We did the exact same things with our other Chi pup who is 4 1/2 months old and he is extremely friendly and outgoing.

It took her about 2 days to warm up to us when we bought her home but since then she is a happy, active little pup who follows us around like a shaddow and loves to play with her big brother. I'm just sad that she is so fearful and that no one else gets to see her cute little personality shine. I feel bad for her at puppy school because all the other pups are having fun playing with eachother and she just sits under my chair and shakes :(

Do I just keep persisting with what i'm doing and hope she starts to relax or is there something else I can be trying.
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In puppies there are two fear imprint periods; during the 8 to 11 week age range and again during the 6 to 14 month age range. If anything traumatic happens to the puppy and the fear is not resolved before leaving the imprint stage, the fear will be more profound and long-lasting than if it had not occurred or had been resolved.

Developmental Stages

It sounds to me like your puppy has a sensitive personality type and may have been pushed too far too fast during socialization and so she's learning to avoid people/places/things that she perceives as scary.

To start, she needs to learn to be more independent. When you are walking around the house, don't allow her to be your shadow 24/7. If you walk from your bedroom to the kitchen to get something to eat and she usually follows you, close your bedroom door to keep her in the bedroom until you return. If you do it enough she will learn that you'll only be gone for a few seconds and so she has nothing to fear. You not being next to her every second of every day won't be as scary for her if she's used to doing it every day. But you have to do it every day for her to get anything beneficial from it! (This is usually harder for the owner than the dog, I've noticed.)

This goes hand-in-hand.. but.. as long as it's not dangerous for her to be on the ground, and if you think that she will make progress in overcoming her fear (slowly approaching people, getting more bold, etc.) then make sure she's on the ground and NOT in your arms. Holding her will reinforce her fear.

Set her up for success, though. Keep her out of situations that she can't handle (ex. too many people or dogs in the room) and limit her to situations where she can make progress slowly (ex. one new dog or one new person). If she's shutting down then she's not only failing to make progress, she's actually creating negative memories from that experience. Remove her from the situation immediately if that happens and then redirect her focus to something positive. If the situation could put her in harm's way or if you think that she's so overwhelmed that she's in no place to make progress at that point then your best bet is to 1) leave, or 2) keep her safely in your arms (assuming you can't leave). For example, there may only be one new dog present for her to meet, but if it's an aggressive or really excitable dog, then having her meet them could significantly set back her progress. In that situation it's better to just avoid the dog entirely if you can.

Start obedience training using positive reinforcement. Look up clicker training or get an APDT certified trainer to help you. I usually tell people to stay away from Petco/Petsmart training classes because I feel they're a waste of money for what you get. You could learn to do all of what they do just by following your own research online. There are YouTube videos that help with some behavior problems (KikoPup is a good channel) and they give good instructions.

Get her out on a daily walk for at least 15 minutes each day. Expose her to the outside world but not necessarily to crowds of dogs or people. Try to take her to a new place or in a new direction each time, or in new situations (ex. rain/sunny, nighttime/daytime, nature trails/sidewalks, etc.). Just getting out of her "safety zone" and seeing something new every day will help her to become excited about the outside world. Allow her to explore things while on leash and if it's safe let her take the lead on occasion. It will show her that the world is a fun place to be, not a scary place.

I think you need to lower your expectations for this pup. That doesn't mean stop introducing her to dogs, but it may mean that puppy school is the wrong environment for her. She could maybe start with one or two calm puppies to play with. If there are any in your class you can ask the owners if they'd like to get together for a smaller play session sometime during the week. She might just be overwhelmed by all of the commotion of the other puppies playing.

But like I said above.. I would concentrate largely on building up her confidence and making her more independent. When she is cowering under your legs, get up and move away, ignoring her. Don't give her eye contact, don't reassure her with your voice, don't pet her. It may seem cruel, but the more you coddle her the more you're telling her, "That thing IS really scary! I'm so sorry that you're scared! You're right to be scared of that thing!"

PS: Did you get her from a breeder? Unfortunately low distress-tolerance is a common problem in puppies that come from breeders because the environment is often very safe and structured, with no stressful obstacles to the puppy. A great breeder will not only provide all the requirements to raising a physically healthy puppy (food, water, veterinary care, shelter, etc.) but they also handle their pups every day to make them emotionally healthy as well. There's a routine they can follow where they hold a pup in different positions to cause a low amount of distress, and by doing it every day the puppy learns to self-soothe and better handle a stressful environment when they're older. It's called the "Bio-Sensor" or "Super Dog Stimulation" program and it was developed by the United States Military for canine units.

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I know a friend of mine told me with Rio to set up an xpen so that she learns you can't always be together but that you will come back & even if she fusses at first go about business as usual be chipper doing what we are doing but under no circumstances play into it/ cave. Wasn't real easy explaining this to a 6 year old little girl who heard her puppy fussing. But in relatively short order we got through it. Right now she is actually in her x pen playing in the living room. He said at the age I got her it's important for her to learn that, as important as having her around people and different critters that will be friendly with her. He also said something that parallels the rules of 7 I read on the forum. Mixing things up and exposing her to things she regularly ~ the food bowls, the surfaces she is used to. Have her snooze in her bed, a spot on the bed under supervision, comfy spot on the floor. Have her play with different toys, that make different sounds and have different textures and mix up the variety that she has access to. And just like a baby run the stereo, the sweeper, floor scrubber, let the dryer buzz, phone rings etc. Laugh carry on and get rowdy just like we always do. Just let her get used to life as normal in our home. I follow this at work too. She has free run of my office, but I do leave it to go have a coffee with someone else in theirs so she learns at work when I leave she can't screech like a banshee or have a meltdown.

It's working here. It's the kind of things we did with larger puppies that I think we could have overlooked or even not done with Rio because she is so darn delicate, tiny & cute. We didn't get Rio from a Chihuahua Breeder, the lady was a breeder of Labs & her Mom came to live with her Chi because she was injured unexpected and the deed was done, it wasn't planned ~ but they kept the litter. She had a houseful of kids and other dogs so that could have worked to our advantage. But I would hope if you follow what Kaila said and the things you learn from looking into it you can bring her around. Amazing changes are made with puppies dogs at all stages of their lives from some truly horrible conditions so you have a definite advantage in that respect and hope too ~ good luck.
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Maybe she is just a more sensitive dog and i'm expecting her to be just like my outher outgoing dog.

She's fine to be left in a room alone and she doesn't worry about new noises or objects, it's really just new people and dogs that she has issues with. Im just scared that she will act aggressively towards another dog out of fear and that she will get hurt.

She's a week past her 2nd vaccinations now so I can start getting her out and about more. I think I do hover over her a bit when she's in new situations which may be re-inforcing her nervousness.
Maybe she is just a more sensitive dog and i'm expecting her to be just like my outher outgoing dog.

She's fine to be left in a room alone and she doesn't worry about new noises or objects, it's really just new people and dogs that she has issues with. Im just scared that she will act aggressively towards another dog out of fear and that she will get hurt.

She's a week past her 2nd vaccinations now so I can start getting her out and about more. I think I do hover over her a bit when she's in new situations which may be re-inforcing her nervousness.
The thing that it took me the longest to learn is that small dog does NOT equal helpless dog! I used to be totally over-protective of Teddy and now he's still a little nervous in new situations. But I take him in to work, he's off-leash and greets new people and dogs for 5-6 hours at a time. I take him to my friends' houses when I go (especially if they have dogs), on drives around town while I do errands, into any stores that will allow him, to any restaurants with outdoor seating, etc. He still barks occasionally but he's getting better!

Like your girl, Teddy was a very sensitive puppy. He grew up to be a fear barker because I didn't teach him to be independent and confident enough. Now that he's almost 2 1/2, I'm trying to go back and teach him that if I leave, it's okay. If new people greet him, they only mean well. If dogs greet him, they won't attack him. (Just for your own reassurance.. I don't think that Teddy would ever bite anyone--maybe another dog if it tried to attack him first, but that's it. He's sensitive and scared, but not so scared that he would bite. But he is VERY vocal at times.)

If I ever get a second chi, I won't be so hesitant to expose them to everything and everyone and not coddle them when they're nervous. You have to find the balance between firmly pushing her to make positive progress and protecting her from bad experiences.
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