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Building a dog’s confidence

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

Confidence building itself can be a misunderstood term in the doggie context. The point here is not to build up your dog’s ego (yes, they have egos) to the point where they are cocky, and believe they, and not you are the leader of the pack. Training a dog always involves letting him know that you are the leader. For obvious reasons, training a fearful dog will involve slightly different methods.

How to Recognize a Fearful Dog

A shy dog will 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 doesn’t 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 to run away or urinate.

Causes of the Fear

A dog that hasn’t been properly socialized in the early stages can be expected to be nervous or shy around strangers. Socialization exposes him to other dogs and human beings and therefore he does not recognize these as anything to be afraid of. A dog that’s 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’s some dog breeds are naturally mild mannered. Dogs that might have been shunted between homes frequently or been 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.

Training a Shy Dog

The process of building confidence in a dog involves a lengthy process of desensitization. Be patient. Results won’t be immediate.

First determine the objects that he is fearful of and slowly begin exposing him to it. 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 friend’s presence, tell him to offer the dog some 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 steps 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 don’t 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 shouldn’t be too tight because then he feels restricted and vulnerable. This might then turn into fear – 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 you’re completely relaxed, he might decide there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Sit Happens and DVF Mastiff have a series of confidence building exercises that you can practice with your dog.

Above all be patient. A dog can take months of such therapy before he gains some confidence. Don’t berate him or poke fun at him. Encourage him and be generous with praise. Treat him to the things he enjoys – 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.