Fearful Dog – 3 Confidence-Building Tips

Worried Dogs Learn Best in a Safe Environment

There are many things out there that frighten a fearful or scared dog, because usually, these timid or frightened dogs just haven’t had the opportunity, at a safe distance first, to get used to these scary things.

Knowing that you have a fearful dog you must be motivated and committed to the task of confidence building.

It all starts at home and it will take some time.

Why home?  Because, there are no distractions in your home and your dog can focus on his lessons.

How to help your dog feel and be more confident

  1. Build confidence by playing games that keep your dog safe AND at the same time —
  2. Associate the scary things with these fun games inside and outside to change his thinking
  3. Teach him to follow your lead

First, help your dog feel safe and confident at home

A fundamental and strong confidence building block for your timid dog is to start requiring him to give you a sit for everything he may want or need. This is  Critical!

How to Teach Sit for Everything to Your Frightened Dog

You know what he wants, likes and needs.

Is it food, affection toys, walks? Make your list. Just put those high-value things on paper.

Begin to do this “sit for everything” consistently every day.

It will begin to make everything, food-affection-toys, predictable.

He’s thinking, “If I follow your lead and sit, I get food.”

Get the picture?

Your  Anxious Dog’s Confidence Gets Better

Here’s the good part. That same “follow your lead” mentality NOW begins to transfer to the games inside and outside, because  you’ve taught  him to play this  when he sees something scary.

He’ll soon think, “If I follow your lead in this fun game, you will keep me safe!”

If  Your Dog is Scared of People

If your dog is scared of all people or just some types of people visiting your home – always make sure your dog has a safe place to retreat to in order to feel safe. Never force your dog to interact with anyone.

Guest Have The Best Intentions

But – even with the best of intentions, guests may want to try and pet your dog saying, “It’s okay, all dogs like me!”  Help your dog’s stress in your home by instructing guests to ignore your dog.

Ignoring is –  No TLC (touch – look at – communicate). With many dogs, making direct eye contact and reaching over their head to pet them is considered a threat.

Both of you are learning.  For you, it’s as much about your new “do this-get that” relationship as it is getting your dog to be confident around the things that frighten him!

Fearful Dog and Games – They help build confidence

This is the FUN PART!  There are a few fun games you can teach your fearful dog that will build confidence and in the process, give him something else to focus on besides the scary thing – both inside your home or outside on a walk.

The goal should be  with practice, the sight of a scary thing triggers your timid dog to participate in a fun game.

Here are some games (exercises) to do with your dog at home first to teach him how to play each game.

Once your dog learns his new cool games, you get to play at home or outside!

Game #1 – Use Settle for Your Panicky Dog

This game is called:    The Settle Command in the House

This is a great game for fearful dogs that tend to hide behind you to feel safe. Only, now it’s a fun game!

How To Train The Settle Command

Settle your dog down on a leash by your side when visiting with a guest at your home.

Why this is important: Using your leash in the house allows you to maintain control of your scared dog, reassure him everything is okay and gently guide him into the settle game at a comfortable distance from the visitor.

  • Using a 6’ leash, sit in a chair or on the couch and put your foot on the leash to settle your dog by your foot (on the outside of your foot.)
  • Next, pull the business end of the leash up between your legs until your dog feels just a little collar pressure. Say, “Settle!” to your dog (only once!)
  • With nowhere else to go, your dog will eventually resign himself to settling down by your side. And with repetition, he’ll settle down immediately.
  • Then, once he’s laying down, keep him settling for 2 minutes. Practice this 3 times daily for your 2 minute time at first, then build your settle command to 10 minutes.
  • With a visitor, you will give your dog a stuffed Kong toy with favorite stuffing

Game #2 – Turn-and-Treat

This game helps you to increase the distance between your dog and the scary thing. As you’ll see, the more distance, the safer and less stressed your dog.

How to train the Turn-and-Treat Game To Calm Your Dog

With your dog on a leash and you have taken a few steps forward, simply and abruptly execute a sharp turn right in front of your dog briskly walking off in the opposite direction 6-8 paces – praise/treat your dog.

Attitude Is Everything for Your Anxious Dog

Try and make this a fun game for your dog. You want your dog anticipating that at any moment you could decide to play this game! When it comes time to put it into real practice around the scary thing, your dog simply thinks it is just another silly, fun game with you.

Game #3 is Targeting

This game is super easy and fun. In this game simply teach your dog to nose butt your left hand – then your right hand – then your left hand back and forth at an upbeat pace, until the scary thing passes.

How to train it:  

With your dog in a sit facing you, offer the palm of your hand for your dog to sniff saying, “Touch!” – as most all dogs will sniff out of curiosity.

Praise and treat with the opposite hand. Rinse and repeat. Once your dog gets it, switch to touching the other hand. Praise and treat every time.

Rinse and repeat until your dog gets it. Speed it up for rapid response. The faster your dog can do this “back-and-forth” game then the less focused he will be on the scary thing.

Scary Things Now Mean Fun Games

Now that you’ve practiced these games at home and you know your dog is performing them well, it’s time to put the games into practice in your home and on the road walking your dog.

Timing is important. The second your dog sees the scary thing, play one of your games.

I would play your Turn-and-Treat game because putting distance between your dog and the scary thing (considered a threat) is the first thing your dog would want to do. To where do you retreat?

There are a number of options:

  • Use turn and treat to go behind any close barrier like parked cars, landscape (big trees, rows of hedges, etc.) or fencing.
  • Also you can turn and treat to go up a driveway or across the street and up a driveway for distance
  • Think about using turn and treat to “just create distance” in the opposite direction of the scary thing.

Once you’re in your safe zone, it’s important to then play your targeting game of choice. Remember, in the absence of any barriers or close driveways, just cheerfully and briskly head in the opposite direction. It’s important to remain upbeat and cheerful as you turn and retreat.

When choosing which treats to use around scary things, it will be important not to use ordinary treats your dog gets all the time. I’d get a supply of grilled or deli chicken, freeze-dried liver or sliced up fat-free turkey hot dogs, etc. – something your dog doesn’t get except when being trained around these scary things!

Finally, Train at Your Dog’s Own Pace

Don’t get in a rush to get outside. Get it right inside first! Your dog will appreciate it!

If you use these tips and games consistently, give your dog time to gain more confidence with each game, your fearful dog will be much less stressed and so will you.