Shy, Fearful Dogs
(And How to Desensitize Them)
Travis is truly one of a kind. Travis is our son's dog. He acquired him when he was four months old. That was four months of living out of doors in a cage at the Beagle farm. In other words, Travis was being bred as a hunting dog and was not used to living indoors or of being around people. At the time, our son had thought a second dog would be good company for his Barum. He felt this way because Barum had always had me for his constant companion until he purchased his own home. Now, since he had to leave the house every day to go to work, Barum was left alone for eight or twelve hours until his return. My son and I had noticed that Barum was getting depressed. We concluded, that he was lonely and needed a companion. Since I could no longer be that companion, a second Beagle seemed like a good decision.
The Beagle photo to your left is a picture of Barum, Rusty and Travis. Barum is the elder of the trio and Rusty is the Lemon-White Beagle. Travis is the Tri-Colored Beagle in the foreground. Barum was already with us a number of years and at the time of this photograph he would have been seven and one half years old. Travis was 6 months old when this photo was taken and our Rusty was 2 months old.
Our son purchased his own home in '97 so for those two years Barum lived away from us. After a few months of being by himself, our son felt that Barum was getting too depressed and moppy; so for awhile he brought him over to our house so I could dog sit. You see, in those seven years of his life, Barum was never alone during the day because he always had me to keep him company and to tend to his needs. He thought by getting another Beagle Barum wouldn't be lonely anymore. This might have been true but now our son had Travis' needs to tend to... and with him working and being away from home for 8-12 hours a day, it wasn't so easy. So after a couple of weeks of trial and error, I again dog sat, but this time for two Beagles and not just the one. During this timeframe I was the one to Housetrain Travis and to tend to his needs.
We had purchased Rusty and Travis on the same day but did not pick them up together. Although Rusty was ours he wasn't six weeks old yet so we had to wait a few weeks to bring him home. Travis on the other hand was already 4 months old so our son took him home right away. There was just one small problem, however... our son's work schedule interferred with his ability to housetrain Travis. He refused to keep him in a cage all day long; mostly because he had noticed that Travis did not respond well to being couped up or being yelled at for any mishaps.
On this particular day, our son brought both Barum and Travis to our home for me to watch. Hence, the name of this photo is the HomeComing. By this time, Travis had already bonded with Barum but he wasn't quite sure of me or of my behavior. And since I was the one holding the camera... well now... what can I say; it was enough to startle him.
If you look closely at Travis' tail, you can see a noticable bend in the middle where his tailbone seems to be broken. When we asked the breeder about it, we were informed that this was a birth defect; although I always suspected mistreatment. "Take him out of the cage," our son said, "I want to hold him." And the breeder did. Then, I said to our son, "are you sure you want this one?" "Oh, yes," he said, as he held him close to his chest. "Why," I asked. And he responded, "because he is different."
We did not really know what each of us was referring to until after he got Travis home. My son was referring to his tail, while I was referring to his personality and temperment. I you see, had noticed a very stiff, untrusting Beagle when I tried to pet him. He seemed fearful, and was. Out of any of the Beagles we have ever owned, Travis is the most shy. It might take him weeks, months or years to get used to people but when he does, he is just like one of the gang. You just can't yell at Travis or make fast movements because if you do, you will undo any progress you have made with him; which might bring you back to day one. He is an extremely fearful dog and one who requires special attention.
Travis is exceptionally shy. He is tense and very fearful. Mostly of people. It even took a long time for him to get used to us, but eventually he did. Travis requires special attention in other areas as well. For example, he does not respond well to stern or strong commands. Yelling will set him off. Instead, we tend to be very soft spoken when dealing with Travis. One has to repeat things often with a shy dog, so owner patience is essential. One must also gain their confidence and trust. This is accomplished through time and effort, and also by not lying to the dog. In other words, don't bait your Beagle with a treat only to scold. If you want to make any progress with a shy Beagle then yelling, threatening, or baiting is the wrong approach.
Another downfall is that they are always on their guard and ready to do battle; especially if they are around aggressive dogs or threatening situations. The same can be said of the other pet dog who is living with or near the shy Beagle. For example, when Travis is around our Beagles he begins to have a slower than usual gate and oftentimes this is mistaken by the others as a stalking walk. And although the shy Beagle is only being cautious his playmate may interpret his gate as an attack mode... Moreso should they be side-to-side while passing one another. This is the time to watch them because a shy Beagle does not like to be looked at. And by that I do mean, you or (and in this case), the other Beagle cannot look them in the eye. Should either one pause and then turn their head they might start to fight. To alliviate any possibility of this dangerous situation try not to have any narrow passageways. In other words, give both dogs their space, or at least provide them with another avenue out. And by that I do mean, do not box your dogs in.
The fight or flight response is perhaps the best way to describe the personality temperment of a shy animal. In other words, a shy Beagle might fair well with a patient adult owner, but I personally would not choose a shy Beagle or shy dog as a child's playmate but only because young children are often unpredictable and may need more guidance than pets. Owners ought not mistake shyness for timidness --- they are not the same. A timid Beagle may shy away from you or other household pets; but a shy Beagle is capable of attack. Shy Beagles do respond favorably to soft spoken, non-threatening situations and people, however. Love, affection, patients and most of all consistancy are the keys.
The best way to break a dog out of its shyness is to desensitize it. In other words, the shy dog has to be reprogramed. Now, some shy dogs are fearful of other animals, other people or objects; and it will be up to each individual owner to ascertain which things effect their dog the most. To do this, the owner must introduce the Beagle to the objects of its fear. At first for a few minutes and then as the days and weeks progress for longer periods of time. At such times, the owner must show an air of confidence and emotional support. By that I do mean, the owner should be in a relaxed mental and emotional state. If you do this with confidence and consistancy the animal will mimic your behavior and actually pick up on your cues.
In the 'Homecoming' for example, Travis got spooked by the mere sound of a camera clicking. This is but a small example of something that can effect a shy dog. Now, the normal human inclination might be to feel sorry for the dog by not taking pictures. But if we took that course of action everytime our dog got spooked we will have given over our dominance to him. Instead, we continue to take our pictures, but before we do we try to seek the help of another who will sit or stand next to Travis and assure him that camera clicking is an okay sound. Either I, or our son will take turns at this, for example; the one controlling Travis while the other takes the pictures. As we proceed at this juncture, soothing Travis is not done by petting or stroking, but just by showing an air of gentle confidence. We are assertive in our stance and also of our mental posture also. So that the message given is, "We like taking pictures." Do this the same way you would a homework assignment and eventually your Beagle will allow you to take pictures without being fearful of the noise a camera. In other words, even if there is no film in the camera and you don't want to take any pictures, just do a pretend a couple of times a day and your pet Beagle or pet dog will respond.
Shy Beagles may also require their own special space both for sleeping and for eating. This is especially so with our Travis who prefers eating his meals outside where he will not feel threatened by the other household pets. So every night while his companions have their food bowls placed on the kitchen floor, Travis prefers if his food bowl on our outside patio where the other dogs will not bother him while he is eating. Calling him in, is another story altogether. After giving him a verbal command we do the following: We open the sliding door and he will wait until we either clear the doorway by stepping back, or, if we turn our body or head in the opposite direction. He responds if we pretend to be shy, for example. In other words, he will wait until we are no longer watching him. When he feels safe, he will come back inside the house on his own.
Barum with His Constant Companion and Buddy.
I love looking at this photo because it shows the love and affection Beagles can have not just toward people, but for one another. Barum and Travis were always together... always. And I mean that litterally because the two were not only inseparable they were always inches or a few feet apart. In many instances, they would spend hours sitting together and grooming one another.