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Winning Over the Shy Dog

Grateful Dogs Rescue gets many requests for help, but the most common reason the shelters seek our help is for shy and fearful dogs. The shy dog may hide in the corner or may growl and snap.  Whatever the behavior, the dog is failing to thrive and cannot succeed out on the adoption floor. The shelter staff knows that the dog’s best option is to find a space in rescue.

Grateful Dogs Rescue is happy to provide that safe and loving place. While in foster care, the dog learns what it is like to be loved, cherished, and safe. For the dog, this is literally lifesaving. For the foster family, helping a shy dog is very rewarding.

Let’s meet some of the shy dogs Grateful Dogs Rescue has helped recently and see how the shy dog experience varies.

Libby, a small Chihuahua-Doxie mix, spent seven weeks at the shelter allowing only one person to befriend her. When we met Libby, it was easy to see that she would flourish in foster care. Ten days passed and Libby remained aloof, but she stayed close to the action. Libby was hand-fed and taken on many walks. All helped her to feel safe and loved. She was adopted within two months. Libby is still shy but with those she adores, she’s silly, fun, and full of kisses.

Volunteers at the San Martin Shelter contacted Grateful Dogs Rescue about a terrified little dog. They sent us video of Valentino lying on the cold concrete shaking uncontrollably. It broke our hearts. Soon, Valentino was in a foster home. For weeks, he would not move if people were nearby. He only found comfort in the presence of dogs. From his canine companions, he learned that these dogs got treats, affection, and walks. Valentino started to want those same things. He no longer hides in his crate. He has ventured out the doggy door. Yesterday, he jumped up on the sofa next to his foster mom. He now goes on long walks. These are moments to celebrate.

Kylie was so afraid at the Oakland shelter that rescue was her only option. In her foster home, this sweet girl was silly and playful, but she would not leave the house. Kylie refused to be leashed up. Her foster family worked each day to build confidence. Eventually and reluctantly, she went on walks. Soon enough, she realized walks were fun and full of exciting smells.

Roxxy is another of our shy dogs. Like many timid dogs, she finds comfort in the other dogs in the home. Her foster mom was patient and a source of endless treats. Soon, Roxxy sought out affection and now loves lap time and snuggling.

And we have MaoMao. For weeks, she wouldn’t allow anyone to handle her. MaoMao barely left her crate. She still hasn’t gone on walks, but MaoMao is happy. She plays endlessly with the other dogs in the home. Her foster family hand-feeds her each day. Gentle pets and treats are frequent. Last night to everyone’s surprise, she jumped up on her foster mom’s bed and nuzzled her. When she stopped petting MaoMao, the little dog nudged her hand for more. For most of us, it’s normal to have the dog jump on the bed, but for the shy dog that is a major accomplishment.

And there are the timid dogs who once they exit the shelter are suddenly not shy at all. We once rescued a tiny Chihuahua that no one had been able to handle. At the foster home, she cautiously exited the crate, she looked around at her nice new surroundings, and the tail started moving, and it hasn’t stopped wagging.

Why are the dogs shy? We really don’t know. They’ll never tell us what happened. Certainly, shelters are loud and “scary.” Were these dogs under-socialized as puppies? Are they intrinsically shy? Were they abused? Some of our shy dogs make 180-degree turns and become outgoing social butterflies. Others remain quiet and timid. All of them find love eventually. Grateful Dogs Rescue is happy to talk to you about fostering or adopting shy dogs.

Kate Singleton serves on the board or Grateful Dog Rescue and organizes the popular San Francisco Chihuahua Meetup. Learn more at

Shelter Zone features a different shelter and rescue group each month. To contribute, contact


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Main article photo by: Photo by AkilinaWinner-istock