How To Build Confidence in Fearful or Anxious Dogs
By DCSPCA Canine Lead Trainer Jodi
Fear can come from many different sources, including genetics and previous bad experiences. However, many dogs are fearful simply because when they were puppies, they did not have enough of the right kinds of experiences.
When puppies are very young, they go through a once-in-a-lifetime phase of learning. This period starts when they are around three weeks old and ends at between four and five months. During this time, providing puppies with many safe, happy experiences with strangers, sounds, objects, places, and other animals can go a long way toward preventing a lifetime of fearfulness.
There is one basic key to success when working with fearful dogs: let them progress at their own rate.
Pushing reluctant pets into situations where they are afraid is not only very scary for the animal, but it can make the fear worse, and increase the risk that their fear transforms into aggression. Some shy or fearful dogs will bite if they are pushed too far.
When re-introducing a timid dog to the world, use high value treats to help them form happy associations with new places, people, sounds and sights. If they won’t take food from your hand, gently toss treats to them and work your way up to hand-feeding.
Other friendly dogs can be a big asset in helping shy pets. Some pets who are shy with people may be comfortable and even playful with other dogs and cats. Some reticent dogs will happily go on a leash walk with a canine friend, but not alone.
You must teach them how to be a winner to build their confidence. Even something as small as luring them up onto a platform or bench and rewarding them is teaching them to win.
CONFIDENCE-BUILDING EXERCISE #1
Try hiding treats in some large rocks and telling them to "find it." Exposing them to various
surfaces and textures will also build confidence. Ask them to jump up on a surface that is not familiar, and then reward them to build confidence.
CONFIDENCE-BUILDING EXERCISE #2
Walking dogs down a noisy street can desensitize them to noise, thus strengthening their ability to remain calm around distracting sounds.
CONFIDENCE-BUILDING EXERCISE #3
Using treat puzzles or wobble feeders builds up a dog’s ability to problem solve and that in turn builds confidence.
If you’ve just adopted a fearful pet, give him his own space, away from any household activity. Set him up with a comfy bed and water, and serve him his meals there. Let him adjust to the sounds and smells of the household. It may take time, but eventually most shy dogs will be comfortable venturing out for short trips, which become longer as the pet’s comfort level increases.