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Buildling a BC's confidence

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Are there any tricks or ways to build my BC's confidence. He's getting a lot better around cars, but he tends to be really timid around new people and his tail is typically between his legs whenever we go for walks. He seems happy but his body language doesnt convince me when we are out walking

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How old is he and what have you tried so far to help him? The important thing with shy dogs is to go at their pace but at the same time keep working with them to broaden their horizons. It is important to avoid overwhelming them as much as possible but you do need to keep pushing them gently but firmly.


Also, it really helps figure out what kinds of things your dog finds reassuring and what he finds threatening. For example, with my shy dog people would sometimes crouch down when they saw him backing away, thinking he'd feel less worried but in actuality he felt more alarmed by that behavior. To him it was odd and all the more reason to avoid. Other dogs might find a crouching person much less threatening. The best thing people could do for my Sheltie was "treat him like a cat" -- ignore him unless he approached them, and then to keep it very low key. Being given treats by others also went a long way to his seeing strangers as not the worst thing in the world.


I'm pretty sure there is a Yahoo group for people with shy dogs. A nice, sort of "rah rah" book is Help for Your Shy Dog and it has some good pointers. I think Clicker training is a good confidence building and a handy tool to help your dog get over fears and concerns. The best book I can recommend is Click to Calm by Emma Parsons. It’s marketed towards aggressive dogs but works great for fearful dogs and is just a great book on clicker training in general. As an aside, I use a verbal marker ("yes") more often than a clicker.

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Thanks for the great tips! Samson is a little over a year old but I think strangers giving him treats might be a good option. He also does better when people ignore him and gives him the chance to initiate the contact. Thanks again!


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I think the best "trick" for a timid dog is a well conditioned understanding of the clicker.


I have found that use of the clicker can go way beyond a simple mark for a correct behavior. If used as part of a program of desensitization/counter conditioning, the click can become a mental "anchor" to help a shy/fearful dog become more confident in the face of fear triggers.


The key to this is to take it slow (probably 10 times slower than it seems like it should be!) and to reward lavishly and consistently.


A fantastic game for dogs who are timid of people is this:


1. Teach your dog to hand target on cue. Click and treat for each successful hand touch.


2. Once your dog can target your hand on cue, enlist the help of someone else that your dog knows and trusts. Stand very close to that person and have them hold out a closed fist at the dog's level. Cue your dog to touch that person's hand. Click for the hand touch and then have your dog turn to you for the treat. If your dog understands the click well, you won't have to tell your dog to do this - he or she just will.


Once your dog does this, gradually add distance, so you are sending your dog to touch the friend's fist and then when you click, your dog returns to you for a treat.


3. Once this is solid, enlist the help of someone that your dog does not know, but whom you trust. Repeat step 2.


The nice thing about this is that your dog will learn to go greet a person with the hand touch when you cue him or her to do so and then your dog will immediately reorient to you.


For a dog with a mild shyness problem, doing just this might "fix" the problem. For a dog with more serious fear issues, it won't "fix" it, but it can really help.


One thing to keep in mind with this is to never, ever correct your dog if he or she does not approach the person when you send him or her to do so. This is not an obedience exercise, but a desensitization exercise. Go slowly and respect your dog's non-verbal communication to you if he or she is afraid. You won't reinforce shyness if you allow your dog to have some space when needed.


This can be done with a strongly conditioned marker word, but I have found the results of such training to be significantly more effective when using the clicker. Some say that the click, over time, can build new pathways in a dog's brain. I have no scientific proof of this, but from an anecdotal perspective, I have seen this happen.

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