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  • Building confidence in a nervous dog

     Jen updated 3 weeks, 1 day ago 3 Members · 3 Posts
  • henry

    February 5, 2021 at 1:48 PM

    Hello world,

    I have a 5 year old rescued GSD. She has been with us for 6 months now, but is still skittish and nervous to new environment. How do I help her build confidence and conquer her nerves?

  • Riggan

    February 6, 2021 at 6:01 AM

    Hi, Henry! Sounds like we got our dogs at about the same time. Lance is a 3yo GSD mix and was a bundle of fears when we got him. He would tuck tail and try to run when he saw a person, heard an unexpected noise, saw us carrying an object, and much more, so I understand what you are going through!

    Robert helped me understand that fearful dogs fall into two categories, and you need to assess which one applies to your dog. Some dogs have learned from life that the world is a scary place, but have a basically sound disposition. Other dogs were born with a “nervy” temperament and are always on edge by nature. This is just who they are, although life, of course, then adds to their fears. The first type of dog is fearful is certain situations that can trigger their fears, but may be fine in other situations. The second type is always fearful. While there may be things you can do to help the “nervy” dog cope with life, you are probably not going to eliminate the fears. It is simply part of who she / he is. Recognizing this can help you avoid unrealistic expectations of the dog.

    That said, here are some of the tools I have used (or am considering using) with Lance, who fortunately falls into the first category and has come a tremendous way in the time we have had him. There is still a long way to go, but we see improvement every day.

    Structure! Can’t say enough about this for helping a dog to understand that they are now in a safe, fair, and secure environment. Be sure to watch Robert’s recent lecture on this at Regular training with calmness and consistency is the best way to build a dog’s confidence. With Lance, I discovered it was very important to observe closely to find what is really motivating to the dog. He was shut down during all training due to harsh treatment in his past. A trainer helped me understand that the key of him was movement. Handing him a treat did nothing, but toss it in the air for him to catch or roll it on the ground for him to chase and you have a different dog. It’s hard to be stressed when jumping up in the air to catch a treat! You will need to find that “key” for your dog.

    Find what your dog truly loves and then find ways to build on that. In our case, it was hiking on the trails in our area. We started on rarely used trails where he could slowly start learning that the occasional person was not the boogey-man, and the overall joy of being out was worth the short negative of a passing person.

    You might try CBD or other natural anti-anxiety supplements. I did not have success with CBD treats, but every dog is different. I live with a nurse who has a strong natural medicine background, and will be trying some other natural supplements when I know Lance is going to be in a situation that pushes his buttons (such as going to the vet, or thunderstorms). I don’t expect miracles from these, but hope they might take just a little bit of the edge off.

    You might also check out Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol. This is classical conditioning that has been extremely successful with many dogs. There are tons of links to it on the Internet, but here is one: You can either print the protocol out and follow it from there, or there are also both mp3 and video files available if you want some prompting so you can focus on your dog. The key is to realize that the mat training is NOT an obedience exercise, but is training “calm.”

    This has been a very long post, but there are so many things that you can try. Keep us posted on how things are going, and remember what Robert always says: “Love the dog you have.” Good luck!

    What is Structure

  • Jen

    March 26, 2021 at 5:17 AM

    Just now exploring the site a bit more and stumbled on this post.

    Henry – I wonder how you’re doing? One word came to mind when I read your question: obedience. When I attended Robert’s Bound Angels seminar, that was a lightbulb moment for me, hearing him talk about simple obedience being the answer to so many things.

    Gives the dog the right thing to focus on, while building confidence.

    And thank you to Riggan if she is reading this. I copy and pasted that to my file – great info.

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