The Outgoing Show Dog

A show dog’s confidence depends a lot on socialization as a puppy.

Q. My dog is very shy, especially at a dog show. How can I get her to be more outgoing, playful and happy?

A. Your question prompts a few questions of my own. How old is your dog now? How old was she when you acquired her? And where did you get her?

Socializing puppies is an absolute priority for responsible hobby breeders. Litters are exposed to the noise and activity of a busy household, children, adult dogs and other pets, so that by eight to 12 weeks, puppies can go to their new homes full of confidence and curiosity.

Puppies that have not benefited from such socialization will respond with anxiety and even fear to new stimuli.

Of course, breeds vary greatly in their temperament and public demeanor. At one end of the continuum, we have the merry Cocker Spaniel and the exuberant Poodle; at the other end, the aloof Saluki and the aristocratic Chow. What is typical for one is highly unusual for another.

Since you described your dog as “very shy, especially at a dog show,” I have to conclude that she is somewhat shy all the time. Regardless of her breed, you could try exposing her to guests in your home, taking her on car rides, and encouraging strangers to approach and pet her gently at the park or the shopping mall. Handling classes or basic obedience can also be helpful. Some shy dogs find agility or rally a huge confidence booster.

It may be a long process, so be prepared. And she may never develop the tail-wagging attitude that’s wanted in the show ring. If that’s the case, don’t stress yourselves out. The goal should be visible progress. Does she appear to be enjoying obedience or agility? Is she more confident greeting new people? That will prove she’s a happier dog, which should make you a happier owner.

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