How Can You Help Your Nervous or Timid Dog?
“Timidity can be overcome by building confidence which comes with good experiences.” – Gayle Ballinger
For whatever reason, many dogs are not only timid, but nervous when they meet new people, find themselves in new circumstances or situations, or around other dogs. They are fearful… Most of us can relate to that on some level or another, we know how it feels to be afraid.
President Franklin Roosevelt once said:
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
He then went on to describe fears as:
Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror”
Your dog may or may not know why he/she is afraid of whatever is bothering him, he just knows he is not comfortable. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could help him overcome that nervousness so he could enjoy life more? It can be done!
How a fearful dog might act:
When fear is activated…
- He may hide under the bed, in a closet or another room
- Hide behind you or someone else he trusts
- Urinate involuntarily
- He may appear aggressive by growling or barking
- He may refuse to make eye contact
- He may start acting out, jumping and fooling around
These behaviors are often misunderstood and not attributed to the fact that your dog is feeling uncomfortable and unsettled. They are often called the Four “F’s” by trainers:
- Fool Around
Helping Your Dog Overcome Fear
If you haven’t already figured out what the trigger is for your dog’s nervous behavior, that will be your first assignment. Pay close attention when he starts acting out one of the 4 “F’s”…Is it a particular sound, another animal, a stranger (man or woman?), a child, a boy on a skateboard? You may need to get very specific such as: is it a child or is it a noisy child? This important first step is the key to helping your dog manage his anxiety.
Once you have discovered this trigger, your job is to stay calm, kind, yet firm with your dog. He looks to you for direction and reassurance.
- Never try to force your dog to be involved with whatever frightens him.
- Comfort your dog and let him know you are there for him and everything will be all right.
- Give your dog opportunities to overcome his fear. If possible, duplicate the thing that bothers him (in a controlled situation), such as if it’s the doorbell that frightens him, 2 or 3 times a day (with his favorite treat in hand), have someone ring the doorbell. Along with the treat, give your dog praise and attention for behaving so well. Soon he will start associating the doorbell with a pleasant feeling. This exercise can be replicated for other things that upset your dog.
- If strangers are what is making your dog fearful, your job is to help him become more confident with them. That doesn’t mean he should jump up on them and begin licking their face, but rather that he should feel confident in being in their presence. You might consider working with a friend or family member that your dog isn’t familiar with. Have them approach Fido, turn sideways and not make eye contact with your dog, and stop at about 10 feet away, at that point give your dog his favorite treat. Repeat the experience, but this time you might get closer, maybe 5 feet away and repeat giving the dog a treat. Keep this progression going until he no longer acts afraid, and on the last time, have the stranger offer the dog a treat on an open palm. Be sure to give lots of praise and pets throughout the exercise. Remember this process can take time, be prepared to take baby steps…you can’t go too slow, it could take several weeks to close those 5 feet, but it’s well worth the time spent.
- Patience is essential. Habits, as you well know, are hard to change, give your dog time to make those changes…they can’t be rushed!
Check out our Family Friendly Training Classes, I often offer “Scaredy Dog” classes, so if you don’t see one listed, Contact me to see when the next group class will be offered, or when we could do a one on one class.