The world is full of ‘things’ that are scary and some dogs cope better than others. So how do we build courage in timid dogs? Here are some tips:
Basic training – using positive reinforcement will improve communication with your dog, both at home and in different environments, and will help create a routine. All dogs should learn the basics; sit, down, stay, come when called, leave it, drop and walk nicely on lead.
Fun tricks – this is not about teaching circus tricks! You can teach useful things like “go behind my legs” (to let something scary pass), “fetch my trainers”, “find my keys”, “empty the washing machine”, “remove my socks”, “find the TV remote” … the list is endless. And the more your dog learns the quicker they learn new things.
Targeting – teaching your dog to touch something with their nose (or paw). For example, ‘touch’ the palm of my hand with your nose. This can also be useful as a plan B recall, or to change direction quickly on a walk or to move your dog off furniture or away from a doorway without touching them.
Find it – dogs love this! It’s doing what they do best…using their nose to find hidden treats, a specific scent, a favourite toy, a person or even another pet.
Play – play together, stay together. This is probably the most important thing you can do with your dog. And you have lots of options: playing tug, fetch, chase a toy on a flirt pole. All you need to do is find out what type of toy your dog prefers, be it balls, cords, fleece, fluffy, squeaky etc. and you are off.
Enrichment activities – this is giving your dog something interesting to do. You can feed your dogs some of their meals in food toys like snuffle mats, kongs or lickimats or give suitable chew bones. Licking, chewing and sniffing are all great outlets for calming dogs.
De-sensitization – repeated exposure to something they are afraid of at a very low level, and gradually increasing that level (being careful not to overwhelm the dog).
Counter conditioning – help your dog to experience a tolerable exposure to something scary, followed immediately by a tasty treat. They then associate this previously ‘scary’ thing with something positive.
So, whilst there are lots of ‘scary’ things, there are plenty of ‘positive’ things we can do to help our furry friends build confidence.
By Diane Lowe
Diane Lowe has been living in the Algarve 23 years. It’s not where she was born but it’s where she belongs. She is passionate about dogs, hiking and being out in nature.