A BETTER COMPANION
PET TRAINING

CONFIDENCE BUILDING EXERCISES 

You know the type.  A nervous anxious dog who seems fearful of just about anything Ė humans, other dogs, bicycles.  Needless to say, a shy dog can be a problem for you, the pet parent.  The type of behavior he exhibits and his complete lack of confidence will make it almost impossible for you to give him even the most basic training.  Not to mention that a fearful dog is much more likely to show "behavioral" issues.

Confidence building itself can be a misunderstood term in the doggie context. Confidence is not an excuse to be a bully or cocky.  Real confidence comes not from ego but from very real "power".  The power to make correct decisions.

How to Recognize a Fearful Dog

There are many physical signs of a shy dog.  Hey may have his tail tucked firmly between his legs and his ears flattened against his head.  His head will be lowered - a sure sign that he doesnít consider himself to be the dominant leader of the pack and he trembles - and pants excessively.  If you reach forward to pet him, he backs away.  In extreme cases of fear, the dog might run away or urinate.

These are just a few of the signs of a fearful dog.  The number one sign is that if the dog is not EAGER to see you, proceed with caution for the safety of everyone!!!!

Causes of the Fear

A dog that hasnít been properly socialized in the early stages can be expected to be nervous or shy around strangers.  Socialization exposes him to other dogs and humans and therefore he does not recognize these as anything to fear.  A dog thatís been locked up in a kennel for a major part of his life has difficulty relating to and accepting people and situations.

You also have to consider that some dog breeds are naturally mild mannered.  Some dogs are just predisposed to being anxious, even when all the right things have been done.

Dogs that have been shuffled between homes frequently or abused are likely to suffer from nervous disorders.  Not all shy dogs are the product of abuse however.

Illnesses often force a dog to lose self esteem.  A dog in pain or discomfort will not be outgoing.  You might try having him checked by a vet to ascertain there is nothing physically wrong with him.

Puppies who have had terrifying experiences are very likely to retain memories of the unpleasant incident leading to fearful behavior as an adult.

Whether you have a seven-week-old puppy or a ten year old Doberman, all dogs need to have real confidence encouraged.  This gives the dog the ability to make decisions without reactivity and allows them to "sit on their center" emotionally.  There are lots of methods one can use to build confidence in their dog.

Training a Shy Dog

Training a shy dog is not a difficult process, but it is a LONG process.  There are several things that you can do on your own, but we ask that you ask for help from a professional to ensure that we are indeed building confidence and not creating more issues.

First determine what he is fearful of and slowly begin exposing him to that.  If he is afraid of people, enlist the help of a friend.  Let this person be in the same room with the dog but without approaching him or acknowledging him in any manner.

Once the dog has gotten used to your friendís presence, tell him to offer the dog a treat with his hands held behind him and his back to the dog.  This is a non threatening position for the dog. 

Once he is comfortable receiving treats from a stranger, ask your friend to begin speaking to him.  The next step would be to face him and pat him.  If at any point in this process, the dog shies away, go back to the previous step and start all over again.

If your dog is afraid of other dogs then donít just introduce him to a whole bunch of them and expect him to just get along.  Take him for a walk on a leash to a park where there are other dogs with their owners.  The leash shouldnít be too tight because then he feels restricted and vulnerable.  This might then turn into fear Ė a prime cause for a dog fight.  Act nonchalant among the other dogs.  Dogs can pick up behavior patterns from others around them.  If he notices youíre completely relaxed, he might decide thereís nothing to fear.

Six Interesting Things

The more "strange" things you introduce your dog to, the more confident he will become. 

Assemble six items your dog has never seen before.  At least one item should be something organic (like a log).  While getting your items together your dog should not be in the area.  Use at least one item that rolls (as movement attracts attention) like a paint roller and at least one object that makes noise.  Use items that are metal (a metal ladle), wooden (a ping pong paddle), and plastic (a funnel, scrubber or brush); the more variety in the items the better.  Donít go out and buy a bunch of stuff, just use items from around the house that the dog doesnít see all the time and that are safe for the dogís interaction. (No glasses, remote control, shoes or other items you definitely donít want your dog to mess with).

Get out your top notch treats (chicken, cheese, lamb, steak, etc) in raisin sized pieces (approximately sixty) and your clicker.  Put out the items, get your clicker and rewards ready and go get your dog, be sure the dog is restrained by a leash and cannot prematurely interact with the items.  Count out ten treats out loud making a big deal of it so the dog gets excited and understands that it is time to work.  Take advantage of your dogís immediate curiosity by clicking and treating for ANY interaction with ANY of the items.  Sniffing, a look at the items, or pawing them are all normal responses.

In the beginning you may have to toss the treats inside the circle of items to encourage the dog to try stuff out.  Once you have done so five times or so begin throwing the treats outside the circle so the dog has to choose to interact with the items by changing direction.  Pay the dog for interacting with any item.  If the dog is only looking at the items slowly increase your criteria to wait for a nose touch or a paw touch.  Anything will do but you want it to be measurable and observable.  Work through your ten treats then put the dog on lead and remove her from the area until she "turns off" for a couple of minutes.  This down time is important, it gives the dog time to think about what you are doing and keeps her from becoming too tired or demanding.

Return to the area, count out your ten treats and take the dog off lead.  Again, begin with clicking/treating for the dog interacting with any of the items.  Now raise your criteria gradually, choose only one kind of touch (paw, nose, etc.) or for only one item that you will reward (the funnel).  If your dog starts to shut down (yawning, lip licking, whole body shakes like he is wet, etc.), lower your criteria to get him restarted or just toss a treat without clicking to get him moving again.  Through all of this you should be sitting down or standing quietly by the side.  If your dog needs more encouragement as he is just staring at you, make sure you are looking at the items on the floor, not at the dog, and you may have to quietly walk around the items occasionally bending down to look at an object more closely (your interest may spur your dogís interest).  This will draw your dogís attention.  Slowly and gradually shape (over as many sessions or days as necessary) to one item with only one kind of interaction being rewarded.  Work through forty or so treats in a session.  The session should be separated by at least twenty minutes and can be done three to eight times a day.  Eventually, you can play this game with the dogís regular kibble as rewards.  You can even include items that are toys that your dog loved at first and now thinks is boring.  Yuck it up with different items each time you play and your dog will be zooming with the new stuff.

Yea Hah!  Now your dog should be wagging his tail and getting excited when you start getting "stuff" out for him to interact with during the exercise.  If your dog is fearful or apprehensive about a specific item (toenail cutters are usually a good bet), include it in the items next time you play and reward the dog for choosing that item with his foot. If that piŮata you brought home from Mexico is a scary dragon to your dog, include it another time to build your dogís confidence with this scary item.  Vacuum cleaners can be added to the group of interesting things.  By encouraging your dog that "braver is better" you help to build his confidence.

Instinctive Behavior Builds Confidence

If your dog finds the six interesting things too difficult you can work on another exercise.  Rewarding behavior (any behavior that is even slightly appropriate) builds confidence as well.  Count out ten treats and reward your dog for ten different movementsóan ear flick, a blink, breathing, wagging his tail, taking a step with his front left foot, with his right rear foot, turning his head, whatever he offers freely.  Slowly and gradually reward only one behavior, moving a foot for example, or taking a step backward, and slowly shape the behavior by rewarding it.  The more your dog is moving the better.  Be creative with your dog and enjoy the interaction.  Watch specific parts of the body and do not stare at his eyes, as this will shut a dog down in a heartbeat if he is anxious.  Reward instinctive behaviors and your dogís confidence will grow.  This is called "body shaping".

101 Things to do with a Cardboard Box

This builds creativity in dogs and is an excellent exercise to do on a rainy day or a day when your dog will be unable to exercise sufficiently for the day.  I often say there are two ways to tire out a dogówork their bodies for thirty minutes and wear out your rotator cuff throwing a ball or work their minds for ten minutes.  Get out a cardboard box, yummy treats and a clicker; click/treat your dog for any interaction with the box. Do not lure the behavior.  If your dog stands there dumbfounded, you should just start behaving interested in the box.  Get the dogís curiosity up and reward that.  Looking at the box is a start and is a reward-worthy behavior.  Slowly and gradually build your criteria by waiting the dog out for different behaviors with the box.  There really isnít a wrong here (except maybe urinating on the box or chewing on it).  Let the dog climb in, around, jump over and even stand on the box.  Let him push it around the room with his nose.  See if he can stand with only one rear foot in the box.  From time to time move on to new interactions with the box by changing which direction the box is in, bottom up, on itís side, etc.  This exercise is much more difficult for "cross-over" dogs who have been trained with other methods as they are used to being told what to do rather than figuring it out for themselves, just use your rewards to keep the dog going and using his mind.  See how creative your dog can be, I bet he will find something to do with the box you never considered.  We even had a dog put himself in the box and close the flaps, and one dog crawled under the box and hid his entire body.  Building his creativity sends the message that he is a wonderful dog who makes fantastic decisions.  Isnít that what we all crave.  Be forewarned, that the box game will result in a dog that tries to interact with ANY Cardboard box (even months or years later) when you are trying to pack up Christmas gifts to sent to Boise, so you should be mindful and lock up the dog when you need to use a box so you donít accidentally ship him to your sister.  If you see a behavior you just love, shape for only that behavior and put it on cue.  During the next session, move on and try to find something else the dog can do with the box.  This is great fun for parent and dog and frankly, will make even the most dark day sparkle.

Eventually, all of these exercises can be done in many environments (even in the car sitting in the driveway or a parking lot).  Work on these exercises in areas where your dog formerly lacked confidence and you will go a long way toward building his "power" in these situations and lowering his anxiety.

Agility Classes

Find an agility class.  Agility is not only fun for you and your dog, they are a GREAT way to build confidence.  When the dog learns the obstacles, at a slow and steady pace, they begin to realize that strange, new things can be more fun than fearful.

The process of building confidence in a dog involves a lengthy process of desensitization.  Above all be patient.  Results wonít be immediate.  A dog can take months of such therapy before he gains some confidence.  Donít berate him or poke fun at him.  Encourage him and be generous with praise.  Treat him to the things he enjoys Ė a run in the park, his favorite treats.  He might never evolve into an outgoing enthusiastic animal but eventually, he will learn to be more comfortable in his own fur.


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