Petcam shows shy dog’s true colors

A dogcam catches one frightened dog's true personality when he thinks no one is watching.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

Chet the shy dogWhat do you do when no one’s watching you? Do you let down your hair and try out new dance moves? Sing a show tune? Or do you act the same way you do when people are around? That’s what Best Friends caregivers wanted to find out about Chet. Because Chet wasn't just one of the most nervous dogs at the Sanctuary. He was completely shut down. It took a doggie cam to reveal his true colors.

Chet and his sister Lydia once lived as strays on the streets of Salt Lake City, Utah. Animal services rescued the dogs when they both were about three years old. But it quickly became clear that Chet and Lydia had grown to adulthood with little to no human interaction. They were so terrified of people they would freeze whenever humans were around.

Building confidence in frightened dogs

Since Dogtown trainers and caregivers have plenty of experience building confidence in dogs — particularly with frightened dogs like Chet and Lydia — the siblings were brought to the Sanctuary. Once they settled in, Lydia quickly started responding to people. In fact, she has progressed so quickly over the past year that she is now able to walk on a leash and she’s discovered the joy in taking treats directly from people's hands. If she could do it, there was no doubt Chet could, too.

Lydia was forming bonds with her caregivers, but Chet was still struggling to adjust to life with people. Compared with his sister, he showed more severe nervous dog behavior. In his first few weeks and months at the Sanctuary, he turned his face away from people and pointed his nose toward the corner of his room. He’d also hunker down and tremble whenever a person came near. Chet’s caregivers were concerned: How could he enjoy his life if he simply stayed in the corner day and night?

Testing a theory

But Chet’s caregivers were committed — for as long as it would take — to get to know him and show him that people are kind. Every day they spent time sitting quietly in his room, reading to him and offering him treats. Gradually, he started taking baby steps toward becoming more comfortable and social. He turned around, faced the middle of the room and began to nibble treats in front of people. He even started eating some of his meals from their hands.

The problem was that Chet didn’t do much else when people were around. The timid dog was hiding his true colors out of fear. But maybe — just maybe — the real Chet emerged after his caregivers left for the day. Caregivers tested the theory by leaving food puzzles and toys out for him overnight. In the morning, the food puzzles would be empty and the toys had been moved around.

Person reading to Chet

The “Chetcam”

That’s when the petcam, or "Chetcam," came into play. Caregivers set up a live stream webcam and switched it on before they left for the day. Then, they waited on the edges of their seats to see what the shy dog would do. Over the next several weeks, Chet astonished everyone who knew him. When no one’s around, he cuts loose and becomes completely worry-free.

Once his caregivers left the building, Chet got up and began his evening routine. He did some doggie yoga, stretching his body into down-dog and up-dog poses. He shook out his stress and wagged his tail. He opened his mouth and barked and “sang.” He did a play-bow and pounced on his toys. He went in and out of the doggie door. And he spent hours solving the challenging food puzzles his caregivers left out for him, and finding treats they hid all over the room.

Play like no one’s watching

When his caregivers returned in the morning, Chet returned to his calm, stoic pose. He’d curl up on his bed in the corner of his room or in his crate, and just stay still. But now, the people who knew him had a special sneak peek into his personality. They’d seen the fun, playful dog he is capable of becoming.

The Chetcam alone isn’t going to magically turn Chet into a more social dog. But it’s given Chet’s people a reason to believe that if they keep giving him all the love and reassurance he needs, one day Chet will let them in on the fun. When that day comes, they’ll be there. And Chet will play and “sing” as if no one is watching.

Help dogs like Chet discover that life can be fun. Here’s how:

  • To bring hope and healing to more animals like these, support our work.
  • Learn all about Dogtown at Best Friends, where all dogs are given the best chance to succeed.

Photos by Molly Wald

Caring for Pets