Helping Your Dog Feel Safe
Training with kind and gentle guidance using directional cues instead of commands that must be obeyed is the first step in repairing your relationship with your dog and helping them feel safe. If you're at this page, you are probably already committed to using force free methods but I want to take a moment to explain how this training method helps the shy or sensitive dog. Some people think that force free, positive reinforcement based training is simply bribing your dog with cookies to do what you want them to do. The truth about force free training is that it is based on communication from human to dog and dog to human. It's that communication that helps to develop our dog's core confidence of feeling safe.
The first step in helping your dog feel safe is to learn how they communicate with you and how can communicate better with them!
Positive Reinforcement Training
While treats are often the easiest way for dog owners to reinforce their dog for good behaviors, there are many other ways to reinforce our dogs. Our dogs choose what is most reinforcing for them and it's up to us as dog owners to figure out what they really love. I LOVE chocolate! While you might be able to entice me with something like blueberry cheesecake, nothing is going to motivate me more to get up and do the dishes then some wonderful chocolate cake or chocolate ice cream. (OR BOTH!) I'm also very social, so the idea of going out to do something with friends is highly reinforcing for me. Azul agrees with my social side and he is easily rewarded with social engagements. Cam on the other hand would avoid social encounters with anyone outside our family and is more motivated by hanging out with me and playing ball.
The second step in helping your dog feel safe is to learn what they love the most and how you can use that to enrich their daily activities.
Our dogs can be stressed by a wide variety of things, especially when they are shy or sensitive. Some dogs might be stressed by new environments, new people, new dogs, or even new routines. It's important to realize that over-excitement, while it may be happy is also highly stressing to our dog's day. Whether our dog has a fear triggered response to trigger or an excited, "Got to do that right now!" triggered response to something that pops into their day unexpectedly, there is a release of hormones that often impact the rest of their day. The hormonal reaction to our dog's emotional triggers might only last about 90 minutes, but the stress caused can last far longer for sensitive dogs. We can help them reduce the impact of that stress by reducing the amount of triggers they encounter each day and provide more stress relieving activities. There are some activities that are known to reduce stress such as licking, chewing, & sniffing.
The third step in helping your dog feel safe is to learn about their emotions and their triggers are and plan your day in a way that reduces exposure to those triggers.
The forth step in helping your dog feel safe is letting them explore the environment you put them in by giving them time to sniff the area at their pace.
The Helping Fearful Dogs Workshop
If you'd like to learn more about developing a Confident Canine, check out these classes offered by Yooper Paws of Love and the Crazy2Calm Canine Coaches.
In this class we will explore and develop these core canine confidences by playing games and doing exercises to help your dog become more confident. All activities are designed to guide your dog through some basic foundational skills that you would normally go through in a basic adult obedience class. However this class is designed to go at your dog's speed taking into account their personality and skill level at the time. That makes this class a possibility for dogs of all ages and skills.
Confident Canines Coaches Class is also based on playing games and doing exercises to help dogs become more confident, however this class is designed to teach Coaches how to look at each dog's individual needs to set up training sessions that support that dog, both physically and emotionally.