Just like humans, puppies encompass a vast range of personality types. Some puppies are bold and outgoing, while others are shy or even sullen. Timid puppies often flinch away from human contact, hide behind furniture and growl or snap when handled. Puppies may be timid by nature, or may be timid after contact with an aggressive or abusive owner. Training timid puppies requires patience and a cheerful, positive training style.
Schedule the puppy for a head to tail physical examination. Puppies in pain will often cower and curl up to protect their injuries, and their behavior will look like the actions of a timid puppy. Proceed with training only if the vet gives the puppy a clean bill of health.
Observe the puppy closely for things that cause timid behavior. Some puppies are scared by loud noises, while others are frightened by new people. Make notes of people or situations that scare the puppy. and keep the notes handy during training to avoid accidentally triggering an incident.
Let the puppy explore her surroundings at her own pace. Puppies often react with shyness or fear when forced into uncomfortable situations. Allowing her to check out new places, pets and people at her own pace will help to minimize her fear. Keep a collar and leash on the puppy to give you a little extra control, and reassure the puppy if she gets nervous.
Teach your puppy basic obedience commands. Skills such as sit, down and come not only teach the dog to listen to you and abide by your commands, but they build a bond and confidence between you and the puppy.
"Sit" is the simplest command to train, and should be taught first in order to build confidence. With the puppy standing in front of you, hold a treat just above her nose. Move the treat slowly back toward her tail while giving the "sit" command. Give the puppy the treat as soon as her hindquarters make contact with the floor. Repeat the "sit" command, offering her the treat each time until she sits on command without the added cue of your hand motion.
Once you have the sit command established, begin teaching the "down" command. Hold a treat in front of the sitting puppy, and move that hand down to the floor. Tell the puppy "down," and show her the treat. She will lie down to reach it. Reward her with the treat as soon as she is lying flat on the ground.
To teach the puppy to come, shake the puppy's favorite toy to excite her interest in it. Step back a few paces, and call the puppy by name, telling her to "come." Give her the toy and play with it with her as soon as she reaches you. The toy serves as an instant, positive reward that shows the puppy that coming to you when you call results in fun playtime. The more confidence a timid puppy builds, the less likely she is to be frightened in strange situations.
Encourage your puppy to meet and engage with other friendly dogs once she has all her immunizations. Many timid dogs were never allowed to socialize with other dogs, and do not know how to behave around strange dogs. Contact your local training group or kennel club and ask if it would be acceptable for you to drop in with your puppy. These training groups are normally run by professional trainers and handlers, and are the perfect venue for socialization trips. Let your puppy approach and sniff strange dogs on her own, praising her with a treat when she reacts calmly to new experiences.
Distract the puppy with a favorite treat when fearful stimuli occur. This counter-conditioning teaches the puppy to divert her attention from the thing that is scaring her to something she enjoys, reducing her anxiety levels. Call the puppy’s name, and hold the treat close to her nose to focus her on you. Talk to her in a soothing tone, and give her the treat when she is focused solely on you. Repeat this distraction technique whenever the puppy seems fearful, and she will learn to ignore scary stimuli and turn to you for comfort.