Oh Fido. It’s tough to see him frightened and not really have a clue as to how to help (or what he’s even scared of). From jumping at the slightest sound to following you everywhere and showing tell-tale signs of fear (dropped tail, crouching, panting), it’s always pretty clear when you’ve got a nervy canine on your hands.
The question is: What can you do about it? Try following these seven simple tips.
1: Begin with firm foundations—set up good obedience during walks
Sit, stay, heel—these are the basic commands that your dog should know (and obey) during your walks. These cues and the consequent treats that follow (such as being handed a ball or toy) are essential distraction techniques for when you spot a hazard looming. Speaking of which…
2: Worried during walks? Distract your dog
A cautious, concerned canine during a walk can lead to disaster around other dogs or unpredictable people. The solution? Distraction. By giving your dog something to do while walking (like chewing a bone or carrying your bag), you give him something to focus on. In doing so, he’ll hopefully remain distracted on what he’s doing, rather than what may happen (and being hyper-sensitive to all that’s around).
3: Switch items from scary to something to salivate over
If your dog is scared of certain items, try exposure management. Simply take the item that your dog is afraid of and place something on it that your dog loves (treats usually work best). So if Sammy’s scared of skateboards, place a few treats on the top and encourage him to explore. Once he’s comfortable with that, move on to pushing the skateboard slightly (with items such as this, which are common in parks) it’s usually the movement that dogs are uncomfortable with. Remember, with exposure management slow and steady wins the race.
4: Seek out fresh new places where your dog can taste success
Practicing and repeating problem behaviors only reinforces them. Staying cooped up inside isn’t helpful for anyone—not for humans, not for dogs. Getting out and about to new places can allow your dog to explore and be fascinated by the new smells and sights around him.
This may not necessarily mean a walk in a forest (some dogs aren’t comfortable in the great outdoors); it may mean a late-night wander in a dead-quiet park. But no matter the environment, it’s the newness of the place that will encourage his innate curiosity to explore.
5: Sign up for agility training
Agility training involves plenty of physical effort and dexterity on the dog’s part. And yet agility isn’t really the key skill being learned.
By showing them how to complete new tasks, and with your dog gradually working towards getting it right every time, their trust in you grows and their confidence in their own abilities increases. With each tunnel, pole, or hoop successfully navigated, they’ll learn that what once seemed insurmountable can be mastered. And so their confidence will (hopefully) grow and grow.
6: Have a trial run with another dog
For dogs that don’t fear (or show aggression) to other dogs, a more confident canine pal can prove to be a real behavior-changer.
After all, dogs (much like humans) observe the actions and interactions of others, and can mirror behaviors that they come to see as appropriate.
A key pointer here is that some companionship is more effective than others, and it may take a few trial play dates to discover a dog that’s a natural, positive fit with yours.
7: Harness the targeting technique
Targeting is the practice of touching a specific part of your dog’s body to re-direct his attention to you. This becomes more effective than simply calling his name during a frightening experience, as it’s used less often.
To train him, hold a treat in your hand. Once he begins to sniff around it, say ”nose” and pass him his treat. Regularly practicing this will show your dog that bumping his nose on your hand, and giving you his focus, will result in a yummy treat being given.
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Author bio: Jennifer is the voice behind the FOMO Bones blog. She’s pretty sure she was a Great Dane in her past life, but her team at FOMO pegs her as more of a Labrador. Regardless of her breed, she’s a dog enthusiast with 15 years’ experience training dogs and owner.