When working with our shy, cautious or fearful dogs, please really consider what food rewards you are using. This can really make huge differences in the success you have with these special ultra sensitive dogs.
So, when you are working with or meeting a shy or fearful dog... and he/she isn't able to focus/look at you, or is refusing to engage with you, or is trying to come closer, then stops....or is showing you negative or aggressive body language AND is not at all interested in your food rewards/treats that you are offering, I always like to ask the question: WHAT foods rewards are you using??
Are you using dry treats or biscuits or kibble or store bought treats? Most of these dry, non smelly treats simply won't work for ultra shy dogs, fearful situations, or high distraction areas. I use only the HIGHEST VALUE foods when training super hard situations.... meeting a shy dog.....or helping a dog overcome their fears.
The food has to smell really good
to divert their attention away from their fears or worrisome stimuli. Basically I look at at as the food has to be worth the risk in the dog's mind!!
Examples I use regularly are home cooked chicken, meats, cheese, liver, gizzards, hamburger, hotdogs, low fat deli turkey, etc. No dry food for these occasions until they can start focusing on me regularly and easily. And I give very small pieces, so I can reward, reward, reward all good behavior choices!!!
A good example of mine regarding this concept:
Ahhh, reminds me of just the other day with a dog I just met named Lily. Very sad.
The owner was trying to sell this dog at a garage sale. The sweet looking little dog was tied up to the fence, visibly shaking.
Super shy nervous fearful 6 month old dog. I asked the owner if I could go meet the dog. I went over very quietly and gently approached the shaking lil dog. I kept my distance and did NOT try to pet her. Upon my approach, even though I kept my distance and kneeled down, she instantly peed herself.
I had to fight back my tears, knowing how fearful she was. Understanding her feeling of distrust and caution, especially since my own Gracie dog came to me like as a fearful cautious dog.
So, I asked the owner if she had any treats that I could offer Lily. She scrambled and handed me some dry milk bones biscuits. I offered one to Lily, still shaking, and of course the answer was "no thank you, no way." I instantly got the please don't hurt me "paw up" and the head turning away. The lame dry biscuit was simply not worth the RISK for her.
But--It was Sunday, the only day I am without my dogs and my dog treat pouch, so I had no high value food on me. Rats!!!! I kept thinking: if only I had my delicious home cooked chicken with me, I bet I could have engaged Lily--- and maybe even taught her that interacting with humans is a GOOD thing, a rewarding thing. Even if I am only one person, one interaction, one day, she just may rethink her view of people as scary, unknown, or not to be trusted. Each trusted encounter will help Miss Lily to see that humans are good.
Sigh, I still today wish I had my high value treats with me that Sunday. I pray little Lily finds the right home where they will really work with her. My heart goes out to her.