Puppies and dogs should be trusting, playful and confident. Sadly, many suffer from a syndrome referred to as “kennel shy” or as some veterinarians now call it, kennelosis. These animals are usually those found in shelters, pet stores and from ghastly puppy mills. Unfortunately, they acquire peculiar behaviors and irrational fears during their confinement, mainly because of lack of socialization and human interaction.
Behaviors of a kennel shy pet almost mimic those of people with autism. The animal may appear fearful, withdrawn, timid and incapable of bonding, powerless to respond. They may seem flat, display a sense of aloofness, not act in response to play with people or other animals, lack self-confidence, possess obsessive-compulsive behaviors, constantly hide, and/or be oversensitive to normal noises and activities. Usually they are in a perpetual state of stress and nervousness, unable to relax.
Physical responses could include unmanageable shaking, cowering, behead shy, and little or no bowel or bladder control. They appear in a constant state of panic.
Some that are exceptionally fearful could exhibit anti-social behaviors such as growling snapping and possibly seriously biting if they feel cornered or threatened. This could even happen with those they know.
They may stare “deer-eyed” or refuse to make eye contact.
Watch for eccentric behaviors with elimination. They may eliminate only in their crate/kennel or on concrete, because that is the accept norm to them. They may refuse to walk on grass or carpets, because they have rarely if ever been allowed outside their crate or kennel or given the freedom to roam in a house.
They can display self-satisfying obsessive-compulsive behaviors including walking in circles, chasing their tail, endless pacing, chewing on objects or themselves. You may find them obsessing on a single item such as a toy or blanket. Others find self-gratification by persistently barking or relentlessly whining.
More often than not, the origins of this condition are from excessive confinement in a crate or kennel, harsh punishment for matters out of their control, lack of socialization/human interaction or it could also be a learned behavior from a kennel shy mother.
Depending on the severity and length of time the animal has suffered, often determines if there is a successful turn-around. It times time and patience to help them build up their confidence and trust in you. And that’s only the beginning! You can start by getting down to their level. Do not tower over them. Be patient. Allow them to come to you. Do not pursue them. The transition is solely on their level of comfort.
Find something, anything they will positively respond to. It could be a toy, a special treat, or a tennis ball. Use it generously as a reward for any upbeat behavior.
Keep activities short. Always end on a positive note. Leave them wanting more interaction with you.
Praise, praise, praise! Praise every attempt or small step of progress.
Stay calm, keep your tone of voice gentle.
Slowly socialize your pet. Nothing drastic. Keep it short. Keep it positive. Walks and car trips are a good start. Do not baby or coddle them if they appear nervous. They will generally be watching you, to see how you react to various situations. By displaying a non-chalant behavior, you will be teaching them to associate new experiences with self-confidence.
Do not rush them! Be grateful for winning each small obstacle. Remember this is harder for your pet than you can ever imagine.
Bottom line: A kennel shy animal is not a happy animal. There is no question they are a challenge. If you are willing to accept the challenge, be prepared to make a serious commitment of time, energy, patience and love to help them overcome this aberrant behavior. Keep in mind some never do! Raise the bar slowly. Use tons of praise. With trust comes self-confidence. With self-confidence, comes a happier dog!