Brandon McMillan's Canine Minded | How To Make Your Dog Less Shy Of Humans…
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How To Make Your Dog Less Shy Of Humans…

If there’s a question I get asked a hundred times a week it’s definitely “My dog is scared of people. How do I help it?!” There are many areas of socialization but the one I wanna discuss today is strictly with people. When a dog is timid or shy of people it can be a pretty challenging experience just walking them down the street. Unsocial dogs are often a product of their environment. When people adopt shelter dogs they’re often adopting the history that comes with that dog. Many shelter dogs were neglected and neglect is often directly related to being unsocialized, therefore, making them unfamiliar with social situations and how to deal with them. But in reality there are several different reasons a dog can be shy or timid. I constantly rely on my wild animal training roots to answer questions and solve problems in the domestic dog world. I tell people if you want to fully understand your dog you need to have a full understanding of the wolf, because after all, domestic dogs came from wolves and wild dogs. After decades of working with wolves I can attest to the fact that they’re one of the shyest animals in the world. I always use the German Shepherd as an example because they’re so easy to trace back to their roots. Many shepherds are shy from the day they’re born having nothing to do with a lack of socialization. However, many people don’t realize that the early German Shepherds were bred with wolf in them. Although Hollywood has demonized them into blood thirsty monsters in the movies, that image couldn’t be further from the truth. Even if they’re domesticated and socialized, the wolf is still a very shy animal. Even though most of the wolf has been bred out of the modern day German Shepherd, many of the wolf’s personality traits still exist till this very day. If you trace every domestic dog back to it’s origins you’ll eventually end up right back at the wolf or some type of wild dog. So shyness and timidity can very often be a personality trait and there’s very little that can be done. However, in many cases it’s something as simple as a lack of experience where the animal just hasn’t been exposed to the simple elements of the world. In turn they clam up and simply go to their instinctive retreat mode. I recently worked with a dog that was exactly this and socializing him was a chore because he simply had no experience and wouldn’t accept new people into his life. For days I tried luring him into other people with food and a clicker but that was getting me nowhere. When I saw this I knew he was a candidate for a very unique training method that I’ve applied to many dogs just like him over the years. Let’s break down the process of how I socialized this shy little guy…

I noticed when I met “Twiggy” the dachshund mix he had little trust in humans but he opened up around other dogs. This could be because his past experiences with humans weren’t all so great but his experiences with dogs were always positive. I took him in and trained him for a couple weeks. I watched carefully as he’d make his rounds with the rest of the dogs I was training. I already had an established pack at my house. Some were just like Twiggy, shy, unsure, no confidence. Others were very bold, outgoing and fearless. Twiggy happened to make friends with a male Min Pin named Tyson who happened to be one of the bolder personalities in the pack. He’d follow him around everywhere he’d go. Tyson would walk across the yard and Twiggy would follow. Tyson would begin playing with a toy and Twiggy would do the same. This led to my next step in the process. Now I know Twiggy is friends with Tyson I’m going to make Tyson the trainer. How do I do it? I do it through a technique called “Daisy Chaining.” Daisy Chaining in tech talk terms is a wiring scheme in which multiple devices are wired together in sequence or in a ring. Example: Computer A controls computer B. Computer B controls computer C. And so on and so forth. Well the same rule is applied here. Tyson is already being trained by me which makes me his leader. Twiggy doesn’t exactly trust me yet so I can’t say I’m a solid leader yet. However Twiggy looks up to Tyson so effectively Tyson is Twiggy’s leader for the meantime. Are you following?… Now, the way I solidify this Daisy Chain process is through a simple tether system from human to dog to dog. My leash attaches to Tyson’s collar while a separate leash gets attached a harness he’s wearing. The end of that leash is attached to the harness Twiggy is wearing, effectively completing the Daisy Chain. Now the chain of command has been set by this system. I’m leading Tyson while Tyson is leading Twiggy. Now it was time to train. The point of this training was not to train Tyson. He was already confident, bold and needed little in that department. This was for Twiggy. He needed a workshop in confidence so off we went. We walked around town, to each and every corner loud and quiet. This was not your usual stroll. It was a crash course in the unpredictable world we live in and Twiggy was the student. About 10 minutes into our walk we approach a small crowd of people and I feel the Daisy Chain get a little heavy. That’s because Twiggy put the brakes on due to the unknown crowd. I didn’t command Twiggy to keep moving at all. I commanded Tyson to do so. In turn Twiggy began moving as he was following Tyson’s lead. A few minutes later we came upon another crowd of people, but this time it was a little larger and had much louder personalities. A couple of them were laughing and talking very loud. As we walked towards them I once again felt Twiggy put the brakes on, anchoring the Daisy Chain down. So once again I led Tyson, commanding him to keep walking with his head held high which in turn gave Twiggy the confidence to do so as well. We walked, then we walked, then we walked some more. Confronting situation after situation. Myself observing as Twiggy was slowly being trained under the leadership of his new buddy Tyson. Over the next couple weeks we walked in the Daisy Chain everyday. By the end I was walking Twiggy alone, no Tyson, no timidity…just a confident little dog who’d faced his fears and gotten over his issues with people.

So let’s break it down; why did this technique work? It’s well known that dogs are social, pack animals and look for leadership. Every dog in the pack has a position much like an employee at a company. Some are leaders, others are followers. You’ll have your president, vice president and those who work under them. Every employee takes orders from someone much like every dog in the pack follows and learns by another dog. Twiggy was definitely a follower and Tyson’s personality made him a leader. This combination was perfect for the training technique but simply placing them together wasn’t good enough. Just because two dogs are around each other doesn’t mean one is gonna follow the other. That’s where daisy chain technique came in. This tethering created a synthetic type of  “follow the leader” if you will. I knew that Tyson’s personality would simply pull Twiggy as they walk. Twiggy’s personality was to resist at first but trusting Tyson’s decisions to walk up to people and engage gave Twiggy the courage as well. The daisy chain is just like me pulling a dog on a leash but if that dog doesn’t trust me they’ll surely put the brakes on and resist, effectively making their timidity and fear of socialization even worse. So instead of the dog getting corrected by a human, they’re getting corrected and trained by another dog. A dog like Twiggy trusts other dogs while he still has reservations with humans. Dogs are often the best dogs trainers. After all, a mother dog teaches it’s puppy more than a human ever could. A dog’s need for leadership is engrained into their DNA and I simply capitalized on it.

A few things to point out here. First off be sure the “Daisy Chain” tether is connected from harness to harness not collar to collar. Much safer for both dogs this way. Also it’s much more recommended the leader dog is either equal size or slightly larger than the follower. In other words a Chihuahua daisy chained to a Rottweiler is never recommended. Too dangerous for the Chihuahua. Also this is only to be done for socialization of dogs with humans. It’s never recommended to be done with other dogs at a park for socializing purposes. Too dangerous for that environment.

Always remember dogs don’t learn at the speed of light, they learn at the speed of life. Patience and persistence wins the fight. Dogs are always looking for leadership so keep in mind your actions lead to their reaction. And always keep in mind my 3 rules of training: Control, Train, Treat. First we get our control, then we train and finally we treat. We never go out of order of these rules as they’re the blueprint of my training. If you have a shy dog try this technique out yourself. It’s very simple and fun. Remember progress is what you’re looking for.


– Brandon

  • Kathie Tinkham
    Posted at 22:33h, 16 January Reply

    I rescued a 15month old shih tzu 9 months ago. He’ll be 2 soon. He hates people and other dogs. Loves his family. (except for bath time or any type of grooming and sometimes to pick him up for whatever reason) At home he’s a pretty good boy. He’s a nightmare with vet visits and has to be put out for all haircuts. He knows how to sit, give paw, lay down and a bit of a stay. My vet only sees him as being a crazed dog who he says clicker training wouldn’t even help. He’s even put him on prozac since he seemed to have a nervous breakdown after having him for just 2 months. He said he seemed to have ptsd. I shook a bottle of pennies when he jumped on my bed and he barked like crazy then totally zoned out. He wouldn’t even sleep. His head would bob and he would catch himself to stay awake. He was also jumping on things like coffee tables and chairs and falling off things. It lasted about 24 hours and he started to get better. All better now. Well my vet Suggested a boarding e collar training, or behaviorist or fiesty fido class. I’m at my wits end. I don’t know what method to choose. I can’t afford trying everything, but I need to start somewhere. Another strange thing is he can take or leave his food no matter what brand i give him. He has to be coaxed to eat. Once he starts to eat its like he’s starving. It’s like he’s afraid of his food. I know adopting a rescue is the right thing to do but now I need help. My little guy can also say no to treats and toys when asked commands at times too. This can make training extra difficult. He’s so stubborn. Any suggestions?

  • Cheryl Hindsley
    Posted at 14:58h, 17 January Reply

    Thanks Brandon. Watch your show faithfully! Love the tips. I am on Board for no kill shelter. PAWS FOR LIFE in Pueblo, Co. Would love to somehow get your help W a clinic or something…. I know you are busy but???

  • Ricardo
    Posted at 17:05h, 17 January Reply

    Gracias !

  • Ricardo
    Posted at 17:05h, 17 January Reply

    Gracias !

  • Mary
    Posted at 21:05h, 07 March Reply

    Brandon – great article, thanks!! What can one do with a dog needing socialization that has issues with other dogs, too? My rescue had zero socialization as a pup. She wants to interact (people or dogs) but the fear takes over which then leads to aggression. My goal is keeping this death row rescue from landing back on death row. If returned to the rescue, she’d be put down – plus, she’s a great dog (once she trusts someone), that I want in my life for the rest of her life. She learns to trust one person at a time but hasn’t generalized trust to all people. She is very, very obedient, but her social skills are lousy. Any help? Many thanks!!

  • Deb
    Posted at 11:56h, 10 March Reply

    Love the idea of the Daisy Chain. One question: Will this work if the lead dog is on a leash and walking in front of me?

  • Robin
    Posted at 21:48h, 29 March Reply

    Do you have any recommendations for working with a dog alone. We do not have a ‘buddy’ for the dog to work with.

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