Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Training a Sensitive Dog

By Linda Cole

Dogs have different personalities just like we do. Each one is an individual who does show us how they feel, as long as we pay attention. Dogs can be confident, laid back and eager to please their owner. Others show a more sensitive side. It can take a little more prodding to train a sensitive dog, because you first have to gain his trust. If your dog seems hesitant, he may be sensitive.

We've been taking care of a friend's dog since late winter. Dozer is a gentle and loving dog who acts like he wants to do what we ask, but he's sensitive. Because he belongs to a friend, we were hesitate to get too involved with training him, but he needs to know basic commands whether he's here or with his owner. We began a normal training program with him and failed miserably. Since conventional methods weren't working, we needed to change tactics to gain his trust and help him find his confidence.

Sometimes we need to be more determined and committed without becoming frustrated. We need to stay calm, patient and consistent always. An eager dog makes training easy and fun, but a sensitive dog can present challenges that require a slower and gentler approach.

You can't give up on a dog for any reason. As responsible pet owners, sometimes we need to take a deep breath and think about how we can best help a dog who doesn't respond to normal training techniques. Some sensitive dogs are skittish around loud noises and may have issues with touch or be easily distracted. Some become emotional if we use the wrong tone of voice or may be apprehensive of other pets in the home. Yelling or rough play with another dog or person can send them scurrying away to hide because they're unsure how to handle the situation, and running away helps them handle their frustration.

A sensitive dog can develop behavior problems if they're mishandled. They may be fearful, hard to manage, shy, have neurotic tendencies or get their feelings hurt and react to any negativity by refusing to move, running away, hiding or acting confused. Training a sensitive dog can challenge an owner to the point of giving up, but don't. Go with what works, even if it's unconventional. I've learned to use a soft voice when talking to our guy and discovered that sometimes a whisper gets his attention better than a normal voice.

Take your time with training and be extra patient. Reward any achievement no matter how small with lots of praise and treats. Keep him motivated by giving him easy challenges he can accomplish to help build his confidence. Just like people, dogs are individuals who respond to different types of stimulus, motivation and training. They don't all learn at the same speed and training a sensitive dog should be done carefully to keep him from developing behavior problems.

You can't strong arm a sensitive dog. If you show frustration and get upset, it's apt to counter any progress you've accomplished. Yelling will only send him in the opposite direction or leave him confused. Corrections that work for other dogs may not work on a sensitive dog. He needs lots of patience and understanding for you to earn his trust and respect.

You may never know why a dog is sensitive, aggressive or scared. Adopted dogs from shelters can have a history no one knows about, and even a family pet may have had a run in with another pet or person you’re not aware of. It's worth your time and effort to gain the trust of a sensitive dog so you can help him learn basic commands that could save his life one day. Helping a dog become more confident is a good thing.

Dozer loves attention and lays his head on my knee for a good ear scratching, but he gets a look in his eyes like he's not sure if it's alright. He loves the training sessions and the attention, and has responded well to every command except to come when called. After watching him interact with the other dogs, I discovered his reluctance to come is due to one of our dogs who wants to play with him all the time. They get along well, but he doesn't know how to deal with her when they're roughhousing. She gets too rough, which causes him to withdraw until she settles down or we confine her away from him. He's a good dog who's trying to understand. Time, lots of praise, patience and understanding is what he needs from us. It's all about trust and commitment, along with a pocketful of CANIDAE Snap-Bits™ treats for rewards.

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. My dog recently got sick, so we had to take her to the vet, we took care of her and made her drink the prescribed antibiotics and vitamins which she hates. Now she hates us and doesn't want to be near us... What do we do?

  2. Hi Ardy,

    I understand exactly what your concern is. She probably doesn't hate you, she's just afraid of what your motive is now and you need to get her trust back. Did you have to force her to take the medicine?

    Get some of her favorite treats - the food that she loves to eat more than anything else. Cooked chicken, with no skin on it, is usually a favorite for most dogs when you need an enticing treat for a dog who is timid. Go sit on the couch or floor and offer her the treat. If she doesn't come at first, toss her the treat and call her again. When she does come to you, give her lots of praise and scratch her around the ears and talk to her in a quiet voice. Have her lay beside you and continue to scratch her ears and rub her body and give her treats just for staying there. Don't force her to stay if she wants to go. Let her go and try again later. You need to make it as positive as you can. Take it one step at a time. If she will only stay as long as she's getting treats and then leaves, don't worry about it. Keep it up and make sure to touch her in a positive way each time. She may be reacting more to getting sick, going to the vet and then taking the medication, which she doesn't like doing.

    You can also take her for walks to help reestablish a bond. Walks really can help because dogs love getting out of the house with a chance to see more of their world. Take your time and let her poke around if you already are taking her for walks. Talk to her, pet her and tell her what a good girl she is.

    It sounds like she may just need a little time to get over her experience of being sick. Be positive with all of your interactions with her.

    Have you been working with her as far as any training goes? If you have, then teach her something new, like ringing a bell, or shaking hands or something she hasn't learned yet. If you haven't, then work on sitting, staying, etc.. Positive training is a good way to bond with dogs and earn their trust.

    Any time you have to give a pet medicine, it's important to try and make the experience as positive as possible. Praise her after taking the meds and vitamins and give her a treat.

    Please, let me know if you have any other questions.



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