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If you have a shy dog that’s nervous around strangers, other dogs, and in unfamiliar environments, you’ll need to know how to make your canine companion more confident.
Read this guide to find out how to make your furry friend more confident and boost his love of life!
Does Your Dog Lack Confidence?
How do you know your dog lacks confidence?
There are some telltale signs that your dog is lacking in confidence, including:
● Ears pinned back
● Tailed tucked in
● Lip licking
● Panting even though the weather isn’t hot
So, what can you do to help a shrinking violet pup?
Here are some practical solutions you can try.
Make Environmental Changes
Some dogs find their home environment highly stressful, resulting in a loss of confidence. The solution to that problem is relatively simple; take your dog to a different environment!
Choose a location where your dog will be happy and distracted by what’s around him. For example, you might find that taking your dog to the beach or to the dog park does the trick. Your
pet will be so busy investigating and sniffing his new surroundings, he will immediately forget about being afraid and become more confident.
That tactic doesn’t work for every dog. Some dogs might even feel less secure and confident in a strange area. But you must persevere. This technique is about training your dog to regard his
surroundings as fun and exciting rather than terrifying.
To Crate or Not To Crate?
Although a crate can be used to help a dog with separation anxiety, some dogs find being confined to a crate extremely stressful and frightening, especially when left home alone.
If your dog hates being confined, you might want to find a workable alternative to kennels. Simply being allowed his freedom could be all your pet needs to feel more confident.
That said, most dogs regard their crate as a safe, secure space where they can relax and unwind. That’s especially true of dogs that live in a busy, bustling household where there is lots
going on every day. So, a nervous, shy dog that lacks confidence might find a crate is a perfect environment where he can feel more confident.
The key to successful crate training is to take your time and not rush the process, especially if you have a dog that’s not confident. Also, avoid leaving your furry friend confined to his crate for
Desensitization techniques are highly effective in helping a shy dog to come out of his shell. In fact, many vets recommend this strategy to help improve a dog’s confidence.
The technique works by teaching the dog that something he finds scary can actually be fun and rewarding.
For example, if your dog is frightened of people on bicycles, try standing a bicycle against the wall and sprinkling your dog’s favorite treats on the ground beside it. Your dog will sniff out the
treats and eat them, realizing as he does so that the bike won’t hurt him. Next, wheel the bike slowly past your dog, feeding your pet with treats all the while. If all goes well, have a friend ride
the bike past your dog while you continue offering your pet a few tasty tidbits.
That shows your pet that the bicycle is not frightening at all, even when someone is riding it.
Some dogs enjoy learning new tricks and commands and teaching your pet some new skills can be a wonderful confidence booster.
You can train your dog at home in an environment where your pet feels safe and secure. Set aside a little time every day for basic obedience training. Teach your dog a few basic
commands, such as “sit,” “stay,” “down,” etc. Through obedience training and the use of basic commands, you can develop better communication with your canine friend. So, whenever your
pet begins to get nervous in a situation, you can distract him by asking him to do something.
For example, if your dog is afraid of the mailman, ask your pooch to lie down or give you his paw when you spot the postie coming up the path.
Obedience training helps to develop greater trust between you and your pet. In turn, that trust makes your dog feel more secure and confident. When your dog feels more confident, you can
start taking him to special obedience classes where he will be mixing with other pups in a strange location.
In a similar vein to obedience training, dog agility activities can be a very effective tool for building confidence in a shy dog.
Dog agility involves the dog jumping over small fences, leaping through hanging tires, negotiating see-saws, and running through plastic tunnels. The dog learns to listen to his
handler, has great fun, and burns off excess energy, resulting in a happy, confident pup.
Although socializing puppies is an essential part of their upbringing, those same techniques don’t generally work well with shy or nervous dogs. In fact, taking a shy dog to a busy dog park
full of boisterous pups can exacerbate the problem, making your pup even more nervous.
In that case, it’s going to be a case of softly, softly bringing your dog around. If your dog is nervous about strangers, ask a friend to sit in the same room as your dog. The volunteer must
not speak to the dog or make eye contact with him. All the person has to do is drop a treat on the ground for the dog to grab.
Once your dog is happy to approach the stranger to get the treats, ask the person to stand up and repeat the exercise. Over the next few weeks, ask different friends to act as volunteers in
the socialization process.
Eventually, your dog should be confident in approaching a stranger. At that point, you can ask your volunteers to take your pup out for a walk on his leash.
Introduce New Situations Slowly
Dogs that lack confidence are usually afraid of strangers and nervous in new situations.
The easiest way to help your pet relax in a strange environment is to offer him treats and verbal reassurance for good behavior. So, when the dog settles quietly and calmly, reward him with
When meeting new people, allow your dog to make the first move when he’s ready. Give your dog plenty of space and the freedom to approach the stranger in his own time. That means
you’ll need to brief visitors to your home with instructions not to try to touch or pet your dog until the pooch comes to them.
Sometimes, a nervous dog’s confidence can be boosted by introducing him to a canine companion. However, that depends on whether your dog is afraid of other dogs or becomes
aggressive if another dog invades their space.
If you have a dog that’s open to meeting other canines, playdates can work well. Basically, the shy pup takes confidence from the more outgoing one. The scaredy pup quickly learns that what
he previously thought was terrifying is actually perfectly safe and might even be fun.
Make Life Fun!
A dog that lacks confidence often struggles to have fun. That’s especially true of dogs from shelters and those who have started life as breeding dogs on puppy farms.
But by introducing your pup to fun games and perhaps spending time with other well-socialized dogs, you can teach your furry friend how to enjoy life again. Often, the simple act of distracting
your nervous dog with a chew toy, tug-of-war game, or playing “fetch” in your backyard can be all it takes to improve your pet’s confidence.
Nervous dogs have what’s commonly referred to as a “worry radius.” When other dogs or strangers enter that radius, the dog becomes afraid and nervous. Eventually, as your dog
becomes more confident around strangers, you can reduce the worry radius.
For safety reasons, we recommend that you keep your dog leashed throughout the worry radius reduction process, especially if you’re visiting an unfenced area where your pet might panic and
run away from you.
Get More Exercise!
It’s well-known that a tired dog is much less likely to stress about things than one that’s full of nervous energy.
Sometimes, giving your dog plenty of exercise in your backyard before you take him to the dog park or for a walk around your neighborhood can help to relax your dog and make him more
confident. The bottom line here is to make plenty of time each day for exercising your pet.
Have A Routine
Dogs are very much creatures of habit, and they thrive on having a regular routine in their lives.
A dog that lacks confidence will immediately feel much more secure and happier if he knows when he’s going to be fed, exercised, and groomed. That’s especially true of dogs that hate to
be left home alone. These pups usually handle your absence much better if they know when you’ll be around and when you’re going out.
Use Directed Walks
If a dog has had a bad experience with another dog, he will understandably be wary and lacking in confidence when confronted by another pup.
Usually, dogs greet each other by sniffing nose-to-tail, play-posturing, and coming together nose-to-nose. However, a dog that lacks confidence can find those standard greetings a little
short of terrifying. In that case, you can use what’s called the “directed walk” technique to help your fraidy pup.
Ask a friend with a calm, friendly dog to come along on a play date. Keep both dogs leashed and have the “buddy” dog walk at your pup’s worry radius, as described above. At this stage, do
not allow the dogs to touch or sniff each other. Once you’ve been walking for a few minutes, stop. Get the dogs to sit, keeping them about 12 feet apart. Reward the dogs for sitting calmly.
Now, walk on, and repeat the exercise.
Eventually, you can begin to reduce the distance between the pups, still without allowing them to touch each other. Depending on how nervous your dog is, the directed walking process can
take weeks or even months.
Directed walking can be very effective in teaching a shy or frightened dog that the activity of walking with another pooch is a fun, safe thing to do. That’s going to give your dog lots of
Play Scent Games
Dogs have a very highly developed sense of smell. In fact, some breeds, including Beagles and Foxhounds, are bred to track prey purely by using their nose, and you can use that
supersensory ability to build confidence in a nervous dog.
Start by “hiding” a tasty treat in plain sight. Ask your dog to “Seek it!” You might need to lead your dog right up to the treat, and once he’s found the tasty tidbit, praise your clever canine.
Once your dog understands the challenge, you can make it more difficult by finding trickier hiding places for the treats.
Scent games work so well with dogs that lack confidence because the dog is so busy hunting for the treat, he forgets to be afraid or nervous. Also, successfully finding the treat gives the pup
a massive feeling of achievement, naturally increasing his confidence.
If your dog lacks confidence or is nervous and afraid around other dogs and strangers, you can use these top tips to help him enjoy life.
Socialization and training classes are a very effective way of building your dog’s confidence, especially if you get started when your pup is young. That said, you can still improve an older
dog’s confidence by using the top tips we’ve given you in this guide.
However, dogs with very severe confidence issues should always be referred to an experienced dog behaviorist or vet.