How To Build a Dog’s Confidence In A Shy or Fearful Dog

When you take your dog to a new destination do they leap out of the car in excitement ready to take in the sights? Or do they wait behind you with their tail tucked in? What does you dog do for example, when a new friend pays you and them a visit? Does your dog wiggle and get all excited or do they refuse to say hello to new people and new pets?

The Pet Embassy are here to help with all these questions and also provide you with a way to help your dog as we answer your questions in our “How to Build a Dog’s Confidence In A Shy or Fearful Dog ” below.

Canine confidence is more than just swaggering down the street with your tail wagging. A confident dog can face unfamiliar situations and react appropriately, as well as, recovering quickly from uncomfortable or scary situations with ease. The ability of a dog to be confident is a mix of nature and nurture. Despite undergoing socialisation during the critical time of puppyhood, certain dogs may be genetically predisposed to be more wary of new circumstances and people.

There are many reasons as to why your dog may lack the confidence needed to enjoy themselves to the full extent. Your dog may have had a bad experience in their early years or they may even have a genetic predisposition towards being more cautious than other dog breeds. However, in many different cases it may come down to the dog not being properly socialised as a puppy.

Effectively, what this means is that during their critical socialisation period (somewhere between 4 to 13 weeks), your puppy may not have been exposed enough to novel experiences, or they may have had an experience which has in fact scared them in some way. This socialisation period is crucial for your new puppy, as it is during this time, that they understand what is safe and unsafe in this big world and which things they should avoid doing. Once this socialisation period ends, this specific way of teaching your puppy does too, however, there are many other lessons that you can teach you dog as well as many other ways you can support your pooch to encourage building up confidence in dogs.

How To Build a Dog's Confidence In A Shy or Fearful Dog
White dog with tongue out. Photo by Zen Chung from Pexels

Why is a Dog’s Confidence Important?

Being confident means that your dog can deal with the pressures of everyday life. For example, instead of hiding and running when a pot falls to the ground in the kitchen, a confident dog might startle then return to what he was doing. However, an unconfident dog can be hesitant to even enter the kitchen after such a scare.

Fear, discomfort and related responses causes an increase in various stress hormones in dogs, like cortisol. Obviously, there are stressors in life and most dogs are equipped to deal with occasional increases in cortisol. However, dogs who are often stressed and experience regular increases in stress hormones are at risk for health issues like loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea, and a weakened immune system that man render them vulnerable to disease.

Furthermore, an unconfident dog can respond to challenges with behaviours that are difficult for pet parents to understand and respond to appropriately, such as cowering, anxious vocalisations or even reactivity. Unfortunately, many stress related actions may be misinterpreted as aggressive responses.

How to Build a Dog’s Confidence

These confidence building protocols are effective for dogs of all ages and temperaments because they are constructive and dog friendly. These strategies can be beneficial for dogs who need to improve their confidence.

How To Build a Dog's Confidence In A Shy or Fearful Dog
Walkies!! Photo by Sam Lion from Pexels.

Let Your Dog Take the Lead

Dogs depend on humans for nearly everything, from food to walks to companionship. As a consequence, its important that your dog knows that he has some control over his life and that includes how he communicates with the world around him.

Enable your dog to explore on his own terms, whether its meeting new people or visiting unfamiliar spots. Get a rain-check if your neighbour tries to hug your dog to say hello but your dog is reluctant. If your dog is uneasy at an outdoor market, don’t push him to sit and shop. Allowing the dog to set the pace for encounters teaches him that he will not be pushed into uncomfortable scenarios.

See the World From Your Dog’s Perspective

Some canine confidence busters might surprise you, and by watching the world through the eyes of your dog, you will be better able to detect and defuse them before they become a problem.

For example, if your dog has never seen a ceiling fan, he may be reluctant to enter a new space with one. Perhaps your dog is apprehensive about meeting a stranger with a bread who is wearing a hat and sunglasses.

Instead of thinking that your dog is being stubborn or unfriendly, take a step back to try to understand what he is going through. This will help you to be more open to possible stressors. Positive reinforcement will assist the dog in learning to feel more comfortable and over time will change his emotional reaction in situations where he is unsure.

Use Positive Training Methods

Nothing beats the morale boost that comes from learning new skills as a group. Training your dog with enjoyable, dog-friendly approaches will assist him in better understanding how to navigate our environment. This will give him the courage and confidence to make the right decisions.

Additionally, basic training techniques are a perfect go to in cases where your dog might feel unsure of himself. For example, if your dog is worried about someone skating by on a scooter, ask him to do a “watch” and focus on you instead! 

How to Build Confidence in a Fearful Dog

If you have a nervous dog that appears to have trust issues, you must exercise extra caution when attempting to boost his confidence. These habits may be the product of socialisation disorders or a traumatic event. The preceding suggestions, as well as the following, will help a fearful dog:

Determine Your Dog’s Triggers

Fearful dogs frequently have predictable triggers that cause them to overreact or withdraw. Identifying each one and taking steps to minimise the intensity of your dogs reactions to them will help build a dogs trust and confidence by showing them that the trigger isn’t so scary after all.

Your dog, for example, can be afraid of people entering the room suddenly or the sound of loud voices. Positive reinforcement and science-based training methods such as counterconditioning and desensitisation can help your dog realise that the triggers aren’t scary after all.

Understand Body Language

Our canine companions express how they feel through dog body language, and understanding what your dog is saying, especially when stressed, will allow you to help defuse the situation before it worsens.

Unfortunately, many humans misunderstand what a dog is doing, such as believing that a wagging tail indicates that the dog is happy. Pet parents may also overlook some of the more transient habits that indicate discomfort or anxiety, such as subtle eye and mouth movements.By understanding the mechanics of how dogs express feelings through body language and closely monitoring your dog, you will be able to deescalate potentially troubling situations before they spiral out of control.

Teach Your Dog “Touch”

“Touch” or targeting Targeting is one of those easy behaviours to teach that appears to be a game but has realistic, real-world applications.Targeting is simply instructing your dog to position a body part, usually a nose or paw, against something, such as your hand.

This action is useful for diverting your dog’s attention away from something frightening, such as if your dog is responding to a new holiday decoration on your neighbor’s lawn.

To teach it, simply show your dog your open palm and when he moves in close to sniff it, mark the action with a word like “yeah!” and then reward him with a treat. When your dog repeatedly touches your hand, you can “name” the action by saying “touch” as he does it. Then progress to showing your palm and requesting the behaviour.

Finally, take the behaviour out on the road and practise it in non-stressful conditions to begin generalising it. Combining this simple trick with something terrifying will alter your dog’s emotional reaction to the stressor over time.

Building Your Dog’s Confidence: The Bottom Line

Making your dog feel safe is a vital part of being a pet parent. Acting as your dog’s advocate and knowing what your dog is trying to tell you will help to boost both his trust and your bond.

Use constructive training approaches at all times and avoid being agitated or angry, as this can have a negative effect and promote fearful or offensive behaviour.

If you’ve tried the strategies above and still feel like your dog is scared or their confidence level isn’t where it should be, contact a licensed dog trainer or a veterinary behaviourist to work with you on designing a plan that matches your dog’s unique needs and lifestyle.

If you found our answers to ” How to Build a Dog’s Confidence In A Shy or Fearful Dog” helpful please let us know in the comment section below.

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