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Hi board members,

 

Along with a recent post, a friend and I got into talking about the subject of giving a dog more confidence. She was telling me about a friend who adopted a lab/GSD mix a few months back who is still shy and reluctant to do much while in the presence of people, but is quite rambunctious while alone. This got me thinking: what are some training techniques or exercises we could do to improve confidence?

 

My own dog, although I love him the way he is, really needs more confidence. I think a common trait both Caleb and her dog share is that they both try not to do anything that would upset us, which in turn causes them both to just stick to what they "think" is what we want. For example, at home, Caleb doesn't really do much except sleep and occasionally grabs a toy for me to play with him (I always indulge him as I see this as progress), but in his dog walker's home, he'll do quirky things like try to open blinds to look outside or bark and bounce around to music (death metal apparently). Like I said, I love him for who he is, but just wished he was more comfortable being himself instead of who he thinks I want him to be.

 

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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TRUST

 

Never let your dog down. Make sure he knows you will protect him, no matter what. Do not let people pet him if he does not want to be petted. (If he is people or dog shy, just don't let strangers every get near him.) Do not force him into scary situations. If he is over threshold, back off and give him plenty of time to decompress. Be fair in your training. Praise for being brave, but do not ask too much of him.

 

Find an activity that is fun for you both. Slowly raise the bar and ask more of him, but make sure he knows you have his back. Agility can do this for the average pet dog. Tunnels, chutes and the teeter can be scary at first. For the working bred dog, training on sheep is the best form of therapy.

 

I have a terribly fearful dog, thanks to severe PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder. He was badly attacked by loose dogs. Pulling them off him involved several strangers and lots of screaming and yelling. The world became a scary place and all new dogs and people were potential attackers. I can now take him into very public places, bustling fairs and festivals, because he knows I will not let him down again. It took years to get his trust back, and I will never betray it again.

 

I body block people and get downright rude if I have to in order to make sure I protect my dog. It's been worth every dirty look from insulted strangers to have the love and trust of my dog.

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I second the "trust" tip. Really pay attention to his body language and follow his lead. If he's showing signs of stress, even subtle ones, take a step back and get him comfortable. Once he knows that you're paying attention and "getting" him, he may have a little more confidence. I also love clicker training for building confidence. Instead of him doing what he "thinks" you want, it's a little bit of a clearer way to show him "THAT is what I want!" and you can use it for picking up a toy and playing, being a little goofy, whatever. Trick training and agility can be great for building a relationship and a dog's confidence.

 

When we adopted Gabe, we also used an Adaptil collar for about a month. During that time, he really seemed more comfortable in a variety of situations that I was pleasantly surprised he did okay with. We were also doing a lot of training and relationship building, and he was just getting through the adjustment of new home, new life, etc, but I certainly don't think it hurt. It was only 20 bucks and I think worth a shot.

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I believe dogs know way more than we give them credit for. They pick up on emotions and the slightest body language that escapes us. We dont even know we are doing it but they do. IF you are worried about him being worried he will pick up on your concern but not know why you are concerned. I have a friend who dances around her house and her dogs love it, they are act silly together. SHe laughs while vacuuming so none of her dogs are worried about the vacuum. Dogs love when people laugh, ever notice that. Try it.

 

I guess I am saying go ahead and do things and take them places dont try to isolate them. Start slow maybe and dont overwhelm but the more places and things he is exposed to the more stable and confident he will be. Pay attention to what your thoughts and emotions are because they DO affect the dog.

 

Some dogs are sensitive and even direct eye contact concerns them so start with indirect, try treats with them looking at you...I think most people unknowingly reward the dog for behavior that they should not. If a dog is worried and barks or growls most people do not correct it they say AH its ok and baby him. I tell them Hey hush its no big deal

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All of the above, plus teach him a 'check it out' cue. This behavior has done wonders for the shy/timid dogs I've had, including Gibbs.

 

When your dog has that 'ogodit'sgonnakillmeandeatme' response to something, IF you are positive that whatever it is is benign, encourage the dog to approach. You can go right up the to Scary Thing yourself and call the dog to you. Reinforce w/food or a high squeaky voice or a good ear scratch or whatever your dog finds rewarding.

 

Reinforce for any move toward the Scary Thing. A look, a step in that direction, anything like that is good.

 

Keep doing that. Keep a good eye on your dog and don't overwhelm it. If something is just too much, physically back the dog away from the scary thing and take a different direction. . Matter of fact, ho hum that's just life sometimes.

 

Introduce stuff in the safety of your home. A wobble board, a noisy can or plastic bottle that you can crunch to make noise, crumpling up a bunch of paper - these are great exercises to do. You control the amount of noise and/or movement, and reinforce for calmness, or approaching the noisy thing. Wear hats in your house, walk with a cane or crutches, turn the blender on.

 

Goofy is a great thing. As is tug. Experiment with different toys. Gibbs fave is an orange, somewhat boomerang-shaped thing. He grabs it and off we go!

 

Good luck!

 

Ruth and Gibbs

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All these tips are great, but I would also like to vouch for agility therapy! My Lilly's confidence has grown to unexpected levels after conquering the fear of tunnels, teeters, and realizing that just because someone is nearby doesn't mean they are trying to give you attention. You can just see by the way she carries herself that she is more confident when trying new things. She used to do a lot of slinking around and now she walks with head and tail held high.

 

One example is when she first started agility dropping a bar would send her bolting into hiding, but now it is no big deal. New people used to terrify her, and now she casually walks around sniffing people (we aren't quite to the level of petting, but she could still get there).

 

I haven't tried herding, but she isn't very interested in it for some reason.

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Exploring with another dog that is calm and confident helps a bunch also. If the other dog acts like you wish your dog would the shy/timid dog/reactive dog will take notice of what the other dog is doing. You can almost see them thinking - hey sparky isn't worried maybe it is not so bad. the reverse can happen also so you have to use judgement.

 

Every year I take my younger dogs to a HUGE livestock expo and pair the first timers with those that have been around the block and are super easy going. The noise, big fans, blowers, thousands of people, cattle, pigs, sheep, are all taken in stride in a couple hours. One western store brings a stuffed 'real' horse that throws the dogs a bit, they know it is real but not right. Sure would like to know what they think at times

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I agree about trust, and also about the other dog thing. I looked at a lot of rescue websites and a lot of dogs this year, and many rescues will only rehome fearful or timid dogs into homes with another "balanced" dog, because the second dog is so good at building the confidence of the shy one.

 

Play also seems to help. My new girl was "perfect" for about five weeks. She wouldn't touch anything in the house, wouldn't play with the toys, would only walk with me and lie on the couch or in her crate. Five weeks in, she had gotten over her timidity enough to play with a squeaky toy, and that seems to have opened the dam. She's playing with toys and with me now. (And getting a bit of an attitude - so be careful what you wish for!)

 

I'm also taking her to a safe open space a lot to let her run off leash. There's something about this that's helping her confidence, too - she really loves darting off to explore, and then coming back to find me still there.

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"Touch" is a good thing to teach. Or maybe better, I just started using a slapped together target stick with a clicker on the end (my arms are short, lol) to have Kieran approach different surfaces and items. He has to nudge it with his nose or paws. I could see it being helpful for a timid dog to get him to approach new things. You can make it into a fun game.

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Hi folks,

 

Thanks so much for all the wonderful advice. I've had Caleb for about three years now, and (sadly) have only really recently started to pay attention to his body language. He's my first dog, and I wasn't the best dog owner, so I'm trying to make things better for him.

 

A few things:

 

1) I would love, love, love to start agility with him, but I live in NYC. As far as I'm aware, there are no actual agility courses for dogs in the city unless you want to utilize a small space run by a dog trainer who will let you use it for 6 weeks for $250. I don't have the money for that sadly. Any suggestions? We do lots and lots of fetch (with balls, frisbees, sticks, whatever), but that's about it. After his bouts of tug, we also do a find-it game with a ball that he goes crazy for. Kind of our ritual and only time I see him act the way I wish he would.

 

2) I'm a dog walker, so Caleb comes with me every day to work. When we first started, he was very reluctant to go on walks as he (I assumed) didn't like me walking other dogs. Now I'm starting to see that as I give other dogs commands, such as move around me or back up and such, he doesn't like that. It's not so much that he's afraid of everything-- I think he's more afraid of me, or the fear of letting me down/upsetting me. So I think the big issue is him not trusting me as much as he could. What could I do to alleviate that? We do trick training with the clicker (positive reinforcement, always ending on a good note), and he loves to do that, but he just goes back to his usual self once we're done.

 

3) Other than bringing me his tug toy (a squeaky snake), he doesn't really initiate play. He just kind of waits for something to happen, and then reacts to it. I've made a post about it in the past about getting him to play with more dogs, but I think that's either not going to happen because he's just not very dog savvy, or it won't happen because of me.

 

I've been very careful around him these past few months, letting him do whatever he wants if it counts towards him acting like himself (such as letting him run up with the big group of dogs to bark at one dog walking by the fence. I really didn't like that), and he's been getting better, but I just feel like there's so much more I could do.

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Border collies tend to be much more people oriented than other dog oriented. They also tend to have personal space bubbles - they don't like dogs they don't know, (and approve of ;)) to invade that bubble. After 3 years, I think that's what you've got in Caleb, a dog who prefers people to other dogs.

 

So, is there a dog that you walk that Caleb is comfortable with? Is there any possibility that you could walk Caleb by himself, at least part of the time? How is he when you leave him alone?

 

I think you're answering your own questions. I'd guess that Caleb feels overwhelmed by all the doggyness around him constantly, and the constant changes in who is walking with you.

 

For now, take some pressure off him and yourself. Whatever he wants to do, let him. (The running up to the fence with a group of dogs to bark? Not a good idea, your instincts were right.)

 

What can you do with the squeaky snake that's just a tiny bit different from what you regularly do? Does he tug? Does he drop it on cue? Will he find it if you hide it in your home? How about get it off a chair? Will he get it out of a cardboard box, or drop it into a basket?

 

Nosework has been a wonderful thing for my dogs. Really helped get Gibbs more comfortable and settled in his new environment when he came to live with us. Google Canine or Dog Nosework and you'll find some classes in your area, I bet.

 

I see Mara suggested Nosework as well. I gotta say I admire your commitment to your boy and his well-being. Good luck!

 

Ruth and Gibbs

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Nose work is great too! As far as having a favorite toy there are so many things you can do with it. My grandma has a toy poodle (formerly my dog... It's a long story) that is obsessed with cat bell balls in a sock. We got her started with just picking up the ball sock when we set it in random places and then we tugged. We moved from that to putting the ball into random open containers. Then to putting a blanket over the container, so she had to work and think more. Then we would hide the ball in easy to locate places, eventually we could hide it anywhere and she would find it in seconds. It really helped her with problem solving and I feel like she got more confident in locating the ball in the weirdest places such as an upside down stainless steel bowl. The first time we put it there she was hesitant to touch it, but now she excitedly knocks it over. Not saying a toy poodle is exactly like a border collie, but it could help him none the less.

 

One last thought have you considered hide and seek with your dog if he wants to be around you? You can either put him in a stay (if he has a solid stay) or have someone hold him then call him, but only once. Then you wait and reward upon arrival. Slowly make it more challenging for him like making him push a door open, crawl over something strange to him like a pile of blankets, or go into a tight enclosed space to get to you. Just anything to make him WANT to experience new things and start trusting you while conquering fears.

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One thing I've done to get my BC to open up and play and build confidence is to play with multiple toys outdoors at the same time. It also keeps him challenged. I'll have a tug rope and a big and a smaller ball and he loves all three. But he loves the one the most that I'm interested in - so I'll distract him from one with another and throw it and let him decide how he wants to play this new game.

 

Does he chase or do I? Do I tease him with the tug toy and then run for the ball I just threw if he didn't run (rare but happens!). And what is he going to do about the other ball? I might kick that in another direction. Or I'll play tug with him and walk over to the ball and kick it and he has an important choice to make - chase the ball or continue to play tug? He can go in either direction, but it's a balancing act based on my play with him. He has a great time and no matter what his choice, it's always the right one because we just keep playing this game and in the end he always gets to play with the toys - I don't try and dominate him or win - and we are clearly building up our bond and trust with this play.

 

I tried normal fetch,which he enjoys, but he is much more interested and excited in playing with multiple toys at once and figuring out the dynamics of the game - which are made up on the spot based on both of our behaviors. And the physics of the toys of course.

 

It's also fun for me. And I think that's key. Dogs are perceptive. If you are having a legitimate good time playing with them - that will compound their confidence.

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Agree with training for challenging things, backyard agility, "puppy parkour," noseowrk.

 

Just be sure to do it in baby steps. Let him have some success.

 

Also limit stressors when introducing something new. Too much at once is overload and no learning can happen.

 

For example: I taught my fearful dog to swim this summer. I made sure our first visit to the lesson place didn't involve swimming, just going and being there and playing in the water. New place plus scary swim would have been too much. Later visits were with just me when the beach was empty. Eventually a friend accompanied us. Eventually he could do it when there were strangers on the beach. Etc, etc.

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Everything Sue said is spot on, it is about building trust. My dog is a big soft worry wort, but everyone that meets him thinks he is this big confident dog and he is, as long as we go through life together. This last week we have been training with an outside trainer in agility and he took my toy and tried to get Rievaulx to run a sequence with him, and much to everyone's amazement he went slinky, looked at me, looked at his toy and decided it was a much better idea to come to me. My friend that runs the club immediately said don't pet him and reinforce him coming to you, and my response was simply he is uncomfortable and he knows if he doesn't like something I am here for him and that is why it is rare to see him look like this because he knows that I will always be there.

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