Inch by inch

When it comes to helping overcome shyness in an animal, the caregivers at Best friends know exactly what to do. July 7, 2010
By Best Friends Animal Society

Written by David Dickson

Shyness comes in varying degrees. There’s the type of shyness that makes it hard to ask the pretty girl to dance at the junior high sock hop, then there’s the deeper type of shyness that makes it hard to even show up to the dance in the first place. For Nosey the dog, he wouldn’t even be in the same zip code as the dance.


Nosey came to Best Friends from a hoarding situation. Animals with such a background often have a hard time trusting people. Even so, Nosey was worse off than most. He would run in circles when people approached. That’s if he wasn’t hiding in his doghouse. Worse, you couldn’t even see him during nap time unless you knew to look for the bump under his bed. This poor guy would crawl under his bedding and hide from the world even when it was time to sleep. Safe to say, Nosey had a long road ahead.

Lucky for Nosey, animals who come to the Sanctuary have a tendency to form different opinions about life before long. For Nosey, that process began with daily treat time. This guy is seriously food motivated and he realized pronto that special treats were handed out twice a day. He’d start doing tap dances of excitement when those times came around.

He dreamt about those treats all day long to the point where this process became something of a twice-daily birthday party for Nosey. For a long while, that was where things stayed. He wouldn’t accept the treats personally, but at least he knew his caregivers were responsible for bringing them to him. That helped him build trust slowly.

Then one of his caregivers decided to try something. Skip Hagerty hooked up a leash while Nosey was eating one day. She knew Nosey felt safest while eating and figured this would be the best place to start. That alone was a big leap, yet Nosey held his own. He didn’t act overly nervous. They were even able to go for a short walk around his play area while on the leash.

When Skip tried taking him for a walk outside, though, that was another matter. Nosey slammed on the brakes. There’s a fine line between gently encouraging animals past their fears and pushing too hard. The caregivers at the Sanctuary are experts at walking that line. Skip knew Nosey wasn’t ready to leave the front porch, so they sat down and hung out by the door. This ritual went on for several days before they could move to a nearby bench and sit there instead. Slowly but surely, Nosey started to understand this wasn’t such a big deal after all.

One other trick Skip and the other caregivers used was to bring Nosey’s roommate Savannah on these outings. Savannah is a confident dog and she did a lot to show Nosey these trips can be a blast.

In the end, baby steps can get you anywhere you want to go if you’re willing to take enough of them. With Nosey, the baby steps of expanding his comfort zone inch by inch ultimately paid off. He’s going on full walks now! When he finished his first walk, Skip threw her arms around him. "I cried," she said.

After months of such outings, Nosey has found increased confidence all the way around. He’s still a long ways from a snuggly lap dog, yet if a stranger comes over to say hello these days he will at least stick his head through the doggy door and check the person out. Considering where he came from, that’s sort of like conquering stage fright and speaking in front of a few thousand people just for kicks. Way to go Nosey!

Photos by Sarah Ause

There are many dogs at Best Friends who have special needs that, for now, make them unadoptable. While the caregivers continue to work with these dogs, you can help by sponsoring them.