Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Some of you know about our rescue dog. We’ve learned so much from her that I can’t help but write about her in many of my articles. For those who don’t know, here’s a summary: we heard about a shy pup that urgently needed a home at a time when we were considering taking in another pet. We agreed to meet her. When describing the dog we met that day, the word ‘shy’ is an understatement. She wouldn’t stand up. She held her head down low and her tail tucked under. She nervously dribbled on the floor. When coaxed, she slowly belly-crawled over to where I was sitting on the floor and gave my ankle a timid lick. My husband took one look at me and knew immediately. She was coming home with us.
Since that time, our insecure dog has blossomed into a happy, well-adjusted pet. Even now, however, there are times when she reverts back to her fearful ways. In researching the topic, I learned that shy or fearful behavior in canines usually stems from insecurity. According to dogproblems.com, a dog's insecurity can be a result of different influences including genetics, a traumatic experience, limited socialization or even mixed messages from the dog’s owner. Whatever the case, there are certain steps to follow when training a fearful or insecure dog. If you are consistent with these concepts, you’ll have the joy of watching your shy dog gain confidence.
Make sure your dog considers you the pack leader, and be a pack leader she can trust. Work on basic obedience skills with your pup, either individually or in a group training class. Teaching a dog to successfully sit, down, come, heel, and stay will build her confidence. Basic training is always easier if you reinforce desired actions with treats your dog loves, like CANIDAE TidNips. When a shy dog has a clearly defined and trustworthy pack leader, she can relax in her surroundings.
Gently control your dog’s body language. I learned this concept early and was amazed at the results. When our dog tucks her tail under and scrunches over, I gently lift her tail up to the normal/confident position. When I do, she stands up taller. Therefore, don’t accept submissive body language from your dog, even during training sessions. When you tell your dog to sit, don’t let her hang her head down and act like she is unsure of the request. Instead, softly reach below her chin and lift her head up. Apparently, the mind follows the body and if the body is in a confidence position, the dog feels confident.
When your dog displays unwarranted fear, avoid coddling and reassuring her that everything is going to be fine. Your dog will translate the coddling as a reward; she will think she’s pleasing you by acting afraid. Therefore, you are not helping the dog; you’re actually reinforcing fearful behavior. Instead of reassuring your dog when she seems insecure, do the opposite. Ignore fearful behavior and praise her when she acts confident, especially when she shows assurance in a situation where she used to be fearful.
Following that concept, do not avoid situations or circumstances where your dog displays insecure behavior. Dogs get over their fears by doing the behavior that causes them fear and realizing that it’s not so bad. This takes patience; don’t use force or aggression to get your dog to do what she fears. Assert yourself calmly and communicate clearly. For instance, our dog was afraid to jump in the car. She would sit by the side of the car trembling. We didn’t pick her up and force her inside. Instead we acted nonchalant about it and showed her what we expected. If you can imagine my husband and I getting down on all fours and climbing in and out of the back seat of a Toyota, you’ve got the picture. We kept at it (in one session) until she caught on and joined in the ‘fun.’ Now she jumps in and out of the car like a pro.
When you’re teaching your dog to do something she previously considered scary, repeat the activity over and over. Repetition builds confidence. Practice the activity in a variety of locations, with a variety of external stimuli. Your dog will eventually realize that the activity is familiar and not to be feared.
Training a shy or fearful dog may take a bit more patience and time, but the rewards are tremendous. As long as you make sure your dog understands what you expect of her, you are consistent with your actions and reactions, and you are quick to reward good behavior, you’re on the road to a happier and healthier relationship with your dog.
Photo by Langley Cornwell
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