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shelter dogs
volunteer coordinator
animal shelter
eye contact
Shy Shelter Dogs: Step 1
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Shy Shelter Dogs: Step 1

If you have ever volunteered at an animal shelter, undoubtedly you've seen dogs who walk to the back of their kennel when they see you coming and bark or growl at you. Our hearts go out to these dogs and we just want to help them. Here are some tips I've learned over the years working in a county ran animal shelter with scared shelter dogs.

  • Always stay calm, regardless of what the dog is doing, stay calm. If the dog glances up at your face, he should see a calm person. If you aren't calm it means your heart is beating too fast, which means your movements are gonna be a bit jerky, and that will only add to the dogs suspicions.
  • Act natural, avoiding eye contact is unnatural. Don't worry it will agitate the dog, he'll get over it. Whatever eye contact is natural allow it.
  • Watch his body carefully. He's behind a latched kennel door, but no matter the situation, you should always strive to be aware of your surroundings. (Your boss/volunteer coordinator appreciates safety).

Now what I like to do, -whether the dog is displaying fear aggression or just plain fear- is crouch down in front of the kennel and say hey. If he's real shy and scared, he's tucked in his tail and and skittered to the back of his kennel, and is growling under his breath about the stupid human. Now, if its fear aggression, and he's growling with his tail tucked and perhaps even lunging at the door, ignore him. You're safe, the gate is locked, so remain impassive.

What I do now is sit calmly, either facing him, if he's in the back with my head down examining my fingernails or phone, or facing away ignoring him. Occasionally I'll turn and look up at him and say something softly, or I'll keep up a hum, normally a soft lullaby. I may have to do this a few times every couple hours before something changes.

I'll feel a snuffle against the kennel door. Again, be natural, if you have to scratch your nose do it, if you need to yawn obnoxiously go for it. If you want to look at him and make eye contact please do! All those movements are natural. If he never sees you act natural, when he does get a little friendlier and you do stretch or trip over a hose he's going to be startled to see you act what to him now seems unnatural.

So keep up a flow of soft sounds, maybe pass a cookie if its handy or wet food. Be patient though, don't rush the process or you'll only go backwards. Eventually your presence will be nothing for him to worry about. Remember to stay soft, when he looks up at you he should see a nice person. When you leave him, wave and say by, slide a treat to him. If the dog next to him is friendly pet that dog and speak to it. Your scared dog will be a little curious about that. So just keep up those actions until he feels comfortable with you, but even then, he is not ready for contact inside his kennel. That's Step Two.

Street Talk


Your articles are very helpful, this has been helpful.

  about 7 years ago
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