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Working with anxious, shy and nervous dogs

It is said that confidence comes from a feeling of well-being, acceptance of yourself and a belief in your own ability. If we’re lacking in confidence, some of the ways that we restore it are to implement planning and preparation, along with gaining knowledge and training.

So how do we relate that to dogs?

Actually, it’s very similar to humans. A dog’s ability to act confidently often comes from their own belief that they will know how to act in a given situation – or in their ability to adapt to a multitude of different situations.

To build this confidence we need to practice, a lot. We need to practice each component and then build on it until the dog is doing the behavior second nature. For example, the first time any of us drove a car, there were many components to think about – the brake pedal, the steering wheel, turning on the blinkers, checking your mirrors, the speed limit, etc. However, over time, the more we drove, the less we thought about any of these individual things. They became second nature to us. The same can be true with dogs. In the beginning, we must go slow, as the dog learns to coordinate different behaviors. As they get better and better, we’re able to ask more and more, as it becomes second nature.

We have two learning options at our disposal. The situation we’re in will determine which option we’ll use at any particular time. Sometimes, we may even use both or a combination of the two: management and training.

Management is what we constantly do when we have an unbalanced dog, or a dog that is nervous, scared or otherwise less than confident when approaching the world. Management is a great tool to use while your dog is learning new behaviors; it is what you will refer back to throughout their lifetime, such as whenever a new or scary situation presents itself.

Training is teaching your dog different behaviors you can use when your dog is scared or fearful. By getting “into their heads” we are able to give them an outlet to focus on, rather than being caught up in their bad habits. The more behaviors we can train a dog, the more they have to focus on and the less likely we will see a poor reaction to those stressors.

Marcy Eckhardt is a certified professional dog trainer, executive director of pranaDOGS Behavior & Rehab Center and canine behavior coach at La Plata County Humane Society.