Taking your dog to the vet for regular checkups is important for his physical wellbeing, but what about his emotional wellbeing? Dogs who show signs of fear and anxiety need someone to pay attention to their emotional needs. In many cases, shy and fearful dogs are the result of neglect and trauma, and it shows in their body language. Terrified dogs might lash out and become aggressive or cower in fear when they are exposed to a particular situation. If your dog happens to be displaying signs of fear, shyness or aggression, then you need to have the tools to dismantle his anxiety and help build his confidence in the right way.
The idea of leading your timid dog down an obstacle course may sound absurd but agility training is a great way to build trust between you and your pooch. During this training, you will be required to guide your dog through a series of fun obstacles such as running through tunnels and jumping over hurdles. This exercise is all about teamwork and teaching your pooch how to follow your instructions so he can overcome his fear and focus all of his attention on the task at hand. Introducing a delicious dose of dog treats to your pooch is highly recommended during agility training and so is maintaining a fun and playful atmosphere. Agility is the remedy for aggression and provides a much-needed boost in confidence when it comes to your dog. It also prompts him to give you his undivided attention and that alone is priceless when it comes to fear aggression in dogs.
Anxious dogs tend to use avoidance as a shield to hide from the things that scare them. Unfortunately, living in a constant state of fear is far from healthy and may lead to chronic stress. For example, if your dog is afraid of motorcycles or thunder, he will automatically run and hide, but hiding is not the long-term solution you want for your dog. In exposure therapy, the negative thoughts and feelings associated with certain phobias are replaced by something good and positive. Exposing your dog to his phobia needs to happen gradually and without putting pressure on your pooch. For example, if your dog has a bike phobia, you can show him the bike from afar and wait for him to calm down before rewarding him with a dog treat. Make sure that your pooch is comfortable before moving the bike closer and then feed him his favorite dog treat afterward. Practicing this method will teach your dog not to be scared of bikes and merely view them as harbingers of yummy dog treats.
Obedience training is a great antidote for shyness since it provides a solid foundation for your pooch to rely on. This solid foundation is built using basic commands such as “sit” and ‘stay’ that allow your pooch to have a routine of sorts. Routine and predictability are exactly what your dog needs to overcome their shyness. Dog treats and fun toys are great tools to use during this training and it is highly recommended to start indoors, far away from any distractions. What is great about obedience training is that it gives you the chance to teach your pooch new skills while boosting his confidence at the same time. Establishing an easy way to communicate with your beloved pooch will come in handy when you take him outdoors for a walk. It will also help him deal better with stressful situations and rely on your commands to keep him calm and grounded.
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Shy dogs have a difficult time trusting and approaching other people and this shyness translates into fear and aggression too. Target training teaches your pooch to touch his nose to a person or even an object in exchange for a scrumptious treat. If your shy pooch is sensitive to loud noises, you may use a soft-spoken voice to coach him during these training sessions. For hand targeting, make sure you place a tasty dog treat in your palm and wait for your pooch to smell your outstretched hand. If he takes interest in your hand and does indeed sniff it, use a marker word such as ‘yes’ to reinforce this behavior and give him the treat as a reward. Repeat this step as many times as possible before moving on to the next one. This time, hold the treat in your non-target hand and wait for him to touch your empty hand. Afterward, offer him a treat with your non-target hand, and if your shy dog shows interest in this hand, try moving it around to see if he will touch it. Give him a treat if he does and then take things to the next level by getting up and moving your hand in different directions.
Turning your hand into a moving target will prompt him to follow you around in order to get his treat. Consistency is key here, so once he develops the habit of touching his nose to your hand, you can make the transition to other objects such as chairs or even a wooden spoon. Teaching your shy dog how to target a chair can be easily accomplished using none other than dog treats of course.
Rub the treat all over the chair to make it more enticing for him and then guide him towards it. The smell alone will probably coax him to touch it with his nose. Reward him when he does and then move the chair further away from him. Increase the distance gradually until your pooch becomes accustomed to the chair and recognizes it as a target. The next step involves introducing your dog to a person who will become the new target. This person needs to sit on the chair without making eye contact with your shy pooch and have a treat ready in his hand. Patience is a virtue here, so simply wait for your dog to approach the stranger and take the treat from his hand. If your pooch overcomes his shyness and takes it, then repeat this step at least ten more times before moving on to the next phase which also involves the same stranger and a fresh batch of yummy doggie treats. This time, have the person sit down empty handed and talk to him in a calm voice while waiting for your dog to touch his palm. Reward him with a treat and then practice this step a few more times before introducing your pooch to other strangers. In summary, hand targeting allows your dog to politely establish contact with other people and builds a connection between rewards and social interaction.
Retreat and Treat
You need three things in order to play this game: high value treats, the ability to recognize stress signs in your dog and last but not least, his leash in case he becomes aggressive. You will also need volunteers to take part in the game since they will be carrying those scrumptious bite-sized dog treats when they enter your house. Make sure to tell your treat-carrying guests to avoid making direct eye contact with your dog. Some dogs feel threatened when strangers attempt this. Next, ask one of your guests to toss the treat past your dog. This is known as the retreat part because this action will cause your dog to retreat in search of his dog treat. Play this game repeatedly using different volunteers, preferably during different hours of the day. Once your dog gets used to the concept of treat and retreat, raise the stakes by asking the volunteer to toss the high-value treat right in the middle, between himself and your dog.
This will prompt your pooch to move closer to your guest in order to get his treat. Once he successfully completes this step, has your volunteer toss a piece of ordinary kibble past your dog. Repetition is key here, so play this game over and over, incorporating different people like before. Raise the stakes even further by asking one of your volunteers to hand feed your shy dog using a high-value treat. Once again, repeat the cycle until your dog becomes less anxious and more comfortable around the treat-carrying strangers. This game is great for dogs who are stuck in a never-ending cycle of fear and low self-esteem, especially if they learned to take treats and then bark, snap or avoid someone entirely because they crossed their comfort zone. Moreover, it helps your dog establish more trust in people and provides him with an alternative way of dealing with conflict and powerful, crippling emotions such as fear.
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Under-socialized dogs can benefit greatly from having another pooch around to teach them the ropes, so to speak. Mentor dogs are available to provide company and assistance to dogs who are scared of strangers who may want to pet or handle them. By observing the mentor dog accept and pursue attention from humans, respond to stimuli in a positive manner and remain relaxed in new situations, your scared pooch will eventually mirror his behavior and learn to do the same.
A confident dog is the product of good training, proper socialization, and positive reinforcement. Spending your time and energy on your dog for the sake of his emotional wellbeing will ultimately reward you both and allow you to strengthen your lovely bond.
- Dog Anxiety 101: How To Help Your Pet Gain Confidence, Care.com
- 6 Tips for Boosting Your Dog’s Confidence, Chewy.com
- How to Gain a Dog’s Trust, wikiHow