Dogs with Issues, Fanny, former foster dogs, training

Living With a Shy Dog

It’s been a week.

Having no foster dog feels awfully strange, and I wondered if I would even post this week. This blog, though, has become habit. Plus, there is an extra dog here beyond Fanny and Gracie.

Beau is here until July 12; he’s a former-foster we’re babysitting. Since he arrived last week, we’ve said on more than one occasion—why didn’t we adopt him? He and Fanny are the perfect playmates. He’s proving what I’ve suspected for some time: Fanny could use an emotional support dog.


Fanny is a shy dog. Anyone who has ever adopted a shy dog knows that there are special considerations you have to make when you live with a shy dog. They aren’t easy to live with, but then again, I’m realizing that none of us is easy to live with in these strange days of previously launched children returning home.

IMG_9187Fanny barks at anyone not in her circle. It’s not a gentle or timid bark, it’s an aggressive bark that makes her forty-pound self seem more formidable. And Fanny’s circle of accepted friends is tiny and not easily expanded.

Her circle consists of me, my husband Nick, my youngest son Ian, his girlfriend AJ, and most recently added – my daughter Addie who is living at home again and working at Starbucks and making it seem like circa 2016 in this house.

It took Nick and Ian almost three months for Fanny to accept them. Until then, she barked every time she saw them. It didn’t stop there; unless I put a leash or a calm hand on her, she would follow them around the room continuing her verbal assault. If they turned toward her, she backed away—still barking, though.

Fanny is pretty much in love with Ian’s girlfriend, AJ. She sees Ian pull in the drive with AJ in the car and she begins whining and racing around my office. AJ won her over by playing tug and fetch endlessly, but mostly tug. Fanny is not a fun dog to play tug with. She never quits, she’s strong, and she will shake your arm until the bones rattle. AJ is undeterred and humors her with a game of tug more than anyone else.

The latest edition to her circle, is my daughter Addie, but she still gives an initial half-hearted alarm bark when she sees her each morning. If Addie pays attention to Gracie or Beau, Fanny will approach and lick her hand tentatively, almost an apology.


There are a few people who are more or less in her circle (meaning she might half-heartedly bark at them or shy away, but she wags her tail and eventually interacts with them).

Nancy was traveling with me when we brought Fanny north from Tennessee, so I’m pretty sure that was her initial in, but Nancy doesn’t hesitate to crouch down and play with Fanny, plus she is almost always in the company of Edith Wharton, Fanny’s bestie.


My friend, Gina walks with me and Fanny most Wednesdays. When I have a foster dog who is still working on leash manners, I hand Fanny’s leash to Gina for our walks. Fanny has learned that many times Gina will have treats in her pocket.

Fanny-5Having a shy dog is stressful. I wish she would joyously welcome visitors to our house instead of terrifying them with her big bark. I wish that I could take her places with me. Even the petstore is tough, it takes inordinate amounts of coaxing and waiting and trying again, to get her in the door. I wish I didn’t have to plan travel around who in her circle can take care of her while I’m away (or how I can bring her along)

Thankfully, Fanny has never shown aggression towards anyone. She is barking, but she is backing away and wagging her tail at the same time.

Having my adult children move home has been hard for her and for them. She still erupts at my older son Brady and his friends when she sees them. Which means multiple times a day, I have to calm her, leash her, take her to my office or bedroom. And I feel badly.


I can’t fix her. I can’t make her friendly and relaxed with people she doesn’t know well. That’s not who she is, at least not now. I see glimmers of it sometimes and dream about years from now when maybe she will finally feel safe enough to be the silly dog she is with her inner circle. Sometimes she relaxes, even with people she hardly knows, but then a sudden movement from them or their re-entry into a room will cause her to erupt again.

I also wonder what happened to her to make her this frightened of people. Is it who she is or who she was made to be? I still don’t know.

She does like other dogs, though, and is enjoying Beau’s company.

Beau is maybe a little timid, but certainly not shy. He will take a moment to assess the new person, but then he’s all in, demanding your attention and following you like a shadow. This example has been excellent for Fanny. She hangs back and watches Beau interact, but then jealousy wins and she comes closer looking for the attention and treats that he is getting.

I hosted a small gathering of my book club on Saturday evening on our porch. I thought for sure I would have to put Fanny in my bedroom or we would have endless explosive barking all evening. Instead, she surprised me. She was almost friendly most of the night and when everyone sat down later to talk about the book, she was actually climbing on the sofas to insist on attention. Who was that dog?

I think it was the presence of Beau. His example helped her feel safe. Fanny loves other dogs and trusts them much more than people. So maybe what she needs is an emotional support dog. It’s something to consider. But then what if that dog needs a dog? Getting Fanny her own emotional support dog seems like it could be a gateway dog and soon we would have ten or fifteen or 27 like that crazy author with all the golden retrievers.

For now, we will stick with fostering. We’re taking a little hiatus until we are needed again. I’m busy with the launch of my new book (one week from today!), finishing the renovations to our tiny cabin (who is looking for a great dog-friendly rental in the Shenandoah Valley available beginning in August?), and learning to live with my children again.

I hope you are holding up well. Staying safe and looking for ways to appreciate this odd time.

Thanks for reading!


If you’d like regular updates of all my foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips from OPH training, be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.

100 dogs coverFor information on me, my writing, and books, visit You can find even more information on my new book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One  Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, (Pegasus Books, July 2020) on the book’s very own Facebook page and Instagram account.

And if you’d like to know where all these dogs come from and how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted dogs in our shelters, visit

Our family fosters through the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes, a network of foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and south-central PA.

Another Good Dog coverIf you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs . It’s available anywhere books are sold.

I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at

Many of the pictures on my blog are taken by photographer Nancy Slattery. If you’d like to connect with Nancy to take gorgeous pictures of your pup (or your family), contact:


18 thoughts on “Living With a Shy Dog”

  1. Dusty was a shy dog. It took a professional trainer and most of Dusty’s life for him to become the dog he (and I) knew he was inside. His bark was scary, even when it was just “Hello!” It was difficult but so rewarding when he started making human friends on his own. It took most of his life to get there. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do think that someday Fanny will be the friendly, happy soul she is around us. I hope because she is still so young that maybe it won’t take her lifetime, but I’m prepared to wait it out. I know the dog underneath the frantic, scary barking.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beau (formerly Tick) originally came to the shelter with 2 other dogs (all of whom now have fur-ever homes). He was always good with other dogs outside of the kennel. In the kennel area he tended to be a bit reactive to other dogs. It only shows that we can’t judge a dog by his/her behavior in the kennel. Kennel stress puts a very real strain on the dogs. But everyone who walked him said the same thing, “He’s shy at first, but quickly turns into a cuddlebug”. Thank you for fostering him and for puppy-sitting him!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Cara- where is your rental? My daughter and family and my daughter here near me in Western NY tried to find a place in north- west MD. Where we could meet up. They wanted 2,500 for 5 days- no way could we do that!!!! I have 2 little dogs and my daughter Julie has one little dogs- it was non- negotiable to leave them home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is in Bentonville, VA (midway between Front Royal and Luray), near Shenandoah National Park and Shenandoah River State Park. It’s a tiny cabin on six wooded acres, 2 B, 2B (plus a basement with a futon) with a fenced dog yard and lots of dog-friendly features. I’ll post the link to the website with information as soon as it is live. We are in the midst of building the deck and completing a few indoor projects. We think it will rent for $175/night or $1000/week, plus cleaning fee.


  4. Such a good blog about a shy dog and the dynamic of living with them. We have Finn, who is probably more grumpy than shy. He just removes himself from the room when strangers come, or slinks under the table/bed/corner. Finn is a beautiful black and white border collie/pit mix so people are drawn to him. Sadly, he has zero interest in making friends. I find myself wishing he was as friendly as his litter mate Hudson, but that’s not who he is. When he gets to know you, he’s a little less standoffish. He doesn’t like the fosters we bring home and will lift his lip in warning, sometimes even bark/growl warning to give him space. he def needs a therapy dog or a drink…..thanks for the good blog Cara.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! ‘a therapy dog or a drink’! That’s what I say to Fanny. I’ve even considered prozac because I saw it really help another dog, but I’m hoping we don’t need to go there. When she’s with people she is comfortable with, she is friendly, happy, playful, just a great dog. I wish other people could see that. I think if my kids hadn’t had to move home with the pandemic, she would be making more progress by now (she arrived in October). Hopefully, we’ll catch up once this passes.


  5. JoJo (formerly OPH My Sharona) is sort of Phebee’s (formerly OPH Phebee) emotional support dog because she is generally mellow a loves to play hard but Phebee still barks at everyone, even my husband and son, and has very few in her circle. Unfortunately, Jojo’s bark is also very loud and scary so the two of them together seem pretty intimidating to strangers, although JoJo is more curious than afraid. They both love dogs though. The two of them are a lot of work but they are a great pair and definitely wear each other out. Also, we might be interested in your cabin too! It sounds wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow – she still barks at your husband and son? I hope Fanny will finally stop barking at Brady, but so far it’s not lessening. It does create stress in the house – he thinks the dog doesn’t like him but she is actually afraid of him (I think – she isn’t saying).


      1. It’s only when they come home from work. It’s almost like she doesn’t recognize them for a few seconds until they say something and then she is fine.


  6. Those shy dogs are a tough nut to crack. My puppy mill rescue who was mostly feral when I got her nearly 5 years ago still isn’t very well socialized around most dogs and a few people. Luckily Sam (before he passed) taught her how to be dog (she was so shut down she refused to accept high value treats from any human’s hand). It took awhile but she eventually discovered I have comfortable furniture and usually treats in my pocket. Now if only she’d realize not every dog is trying to jump her nor the world will end when she requires baths/grooming. Hope springs eternal, right? Norman, the most recent replacement rescue dog is trying his best to be the resident emotional support dog. 🤞🏼

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s such a process, loving these ‘unique’ dogs, but your pup is lucky he landed with you – too many people give up when dogs don’t act like they think dogs should act. I remind myself again and again, that they are individuals – no two alike.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, it’s definitely no picnic in the park with some of these rescues. Elsa is a black dog with epilepsy, because being fear aggressive wasn’t enough of a cross to bear. She’s sweet with me, just not so much around others.


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