A reserved dog is a dog that is slow to reveal emotion. A reserved dog is shy and shows signs of nervousness or timidity in new environments or around new people.

Reservation is a common inherited trait in rescue dogs. Not only are rescue dogs most likely born with fear and other behavioral issues, but they did not benefit from proper puppy socialization.

black dog laying on floor looking reserved or shy

What is a reserved dog?

Some might mistake reservation for unfriendliness but in reality, it’s just shyness.

If you’re not an introvert or shy, it may be hard to understand why your dog is reserved. As an introvert myself, I can relate to preferring quiet to crowded spaces. 

As a reserved person OR dog It takes more time to feel comfortable in new environments and/or large groups of people or dogs.

There are several articles stating that reserved and shyness are two different personalities. I disagree.

Read the definitions of “Reserved” and “Shy” and tell me what you think…


Reserved: slow to reveal emotion or opinions.

Shy: being reserved or having or showing nervousness or timidity in the company of other people.

Either way, the results, and tips are the same.

Is my dog reserved or shy?

If you just adopted your dog within the last few months, your dog may be still adjusting to their new environment. When dogs get adopted, they go through a transition period called the honeymoon phase or follow the 3-3-3 rule.

Showing signs of being reserved or shy is normal for a new rescue dog. They are going through a huge life-changing event and learning if this new place is safe.

Give your new rescue dog time and space and they may start to relax and be less reserved over the next several months. The tips below will help make the adjustment easier for any dog.

Tips to help the reserved or shy dog

Reservation is not a bad trait to have, just different from what is considered standard behavior from a happy-go-lucky type of dog.

But you can help boost their confidence, intern reducing the stress of being a reserved or shy dog. All these tips will start to build your dog’s confidence, little by little.

Be patient.

If your dog is new to you, give them time to adjust. Support the dog, show them your home is safe, and that they can trust you to protect them when needed.

light brown dog laying on floor with ears tilted back, looking reserved or shy

Learn to read your dog’s body language.

Your dog’s body language is the key to a strong relationship. It will allow you to bond with your dog better than ever and give your dog an unbeatable sense of security.

Learning when your dog feels uncomfortable in a situation is important so you can show them you are there to protect them.

Learn what your dog’s triggers are

Learn what makes your dog feel reserved or shy. Is it new people, a new routine, small dogs, big dogs, or something else? It could be as simple as the wind or a moving object outside that seems so basic to you, but is a huge deal to your dog.

Watch and learn. This goes back to watching their body language and making note of the moments your dog is feeling insecure.

Once you know what these triggers are, you can either avoid those situations or create positive learning experiences.

TIP: I found that taking videos of my dogs in certain situations helps me see calming signals I didn’t see at the moment.

Give the reserved dog control

It’s important to give any dog the space it needs to feel comfortable. A reserved dog just needs a little extra space than an outgoing type of dog.

Allow the reserved dog to approach you and never force them to be close to other people or animals.

When meeting new people, have the new person ignore the dog. Or if you think the dog is ready, have the person sit on the floor and let the dog approach on their terms only. Treats are a great way to encourage a shy dog.

And always give the reserved dog the option to leave the room when uncomfortable.

border collie wearing a do not pet i'm working harness

Do not pet

If your dog doesn’t enjoy being pet or cuddled, then don’t force it.

Don’t be afraid to ask people not to pet your dog. This goes for inside and outside your home.

We found wearing an “In Training” Harness helps ward off well-meaning people wanting to pet our dogs in public. A simple, “he’s in training” is an easy way out.

Do not punish the growl

A reserved dog, any dog for that matter, may growl to communicate they are feeling uncomfortable or afraid.

It’s important to never punish a dog for growling.

Most people think a dog growling is aggressive behavior, but it’s far from aggressive.

If the growl is punished or ignored, that’s when it becomes aggressive.

In summary

There is nothing wrong with your reserved dog. Shy and reserved behavior is normal. You can help your dog become more confident by being patient, giving the dog space, and learning their body language.

Love your dog, and don’t feel sorry for them. Be a confident dog parent and you will have a confident dog.

If you have a shy or reserved dog and have any tips that can help, please leave a comment below… we work as a community to raise our rescue dogs and your experience could help someone else in need.

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About the Author

Debi McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

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