What can I do to build more confidence in my timid dog?

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Fearful or shy dogs can manifest their anxieties in various ways, from drooling, trembling, panting and shaking to hiding when strangers enter the house—to growling and biting.

You can help your dog build confidence in the following ways:

• Training: There are five basic obedience commands and they can be fun and calming. Teaching a dog a few simple behaviors such as “sit,” “down” and “stay” can lay a good foundation for your dog to look to you for direction when she is uncertain. In addition, advanced level training such as rally obedience, musical freestyle, or agility can really boost a shy dog’s overall confidence.
• Desensitization: This is gradually exposing a pet to a situation, without provoking the unwanted reaction. If an animal is highly motivated to perform an undesirable behavior, and if that behavior is easily and quickly displayed, competing behaviors may be difficult to draw out. That’s where the desensitization part of the process comes into play. Desensitization is the process of exposing an animal to a stimulus beginning at a very low intensity, so that it does not result in the undesired behavior. For example, if a dog becomes fearful and growls at visitors, then the first step would be to find a distance at which the dog does not growl or show other signs of fear. The stimulus intensity is then increased gradually, with the person moving closer and closer in a non-threatening way. Another example is if your dog is afraid of the vacuum cleaner; a solution might be to turn it repeatedly and very quickly on and off before any negative reaction can take place.(See our separate article for step-by-step instructions as to how to desensitize.)
• Counter-conditioning. This is presenting a pleasant stimulus (such as meat, cheese or favorite toy) in the presence of a scary stimulus (such as a stranger).The goal is to use the pleasant stimulus to change the dog’s emotional and physiological response to the stranger from fearful to happy and relaxed. Desensitization and counter-conditioning are often used together. If the dog is afraid of the outdoors and doesn’t want to walk, you might engage the assistance of people along the route, who will give her a piece of cheese at each interval.

Just remember to always use patience; the dog sets the pace and you should never, ever yell or threaten.

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