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  • Building confidence in a nervous dog

     William updated 3 months, 2 weeks ago 5 Members · 11 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.

  • William

    August 10, 2021 at 2:20 PM

    Our Cindy is very nervous when being walked on the street and is constantly trying to get back home. We’ve tried remedies from Robert and several other members but nothing seems to be helping so far. Today I’m going to try a new idea. I’m going to take her out to the street right in front of our house and just try to hand feed her some hot dog pieces and cheese chunks. If she does okay with this I’ll try to gradually move her farther away from the house while doing the same thing. I’m hoping that I can keep her from getting into the mode of fleeing to the house.

    BTW – she doesn’t exhibit any of this skittish behavior when we’re working or playing in the backyard.

    • William

      August 10, 2021 at 3:39 PM

      OMG – it worked! I took Cindy out to the street with her e-collar on. She wouldn’t leave the house at first so I put her 4′ lead on to get her out. Once out I removed the lead. We practiced off leash healing back and forth in front of the house. We also did sit and stay with me moving to around 15′ away and then doing a recall. All of this went really well! And on top of it all there was a lot of thunder going on at the same time. Next time out we’ll move a little farther from the house. ( using hot dog chunks and string cheese chunks for reward)

      • Riggan

        August 10, 2021 at 5:36 PM

        Great, William! It seems like you found the right technique to use with her – way to go!

        • William

          August 10, 2021 at 5:47 PM

          We will see. I usually take her out on the street around 11pm for what has been a very stressful walk. Tonight I’m just going to try to build a little on the earlier success.

          • William

            August 10, 2021 at 8:41 PM

            (we live on a cul-de-sac) The 11pm walk went well. This time I let her wander around for awhile and occasionally called her in for a treat. When she seemed to be doing well with that I walked out to the center of the cul-de-sac and called her to me. We moved around that area for awhile and then I took her to the far side of the cul-de-sac where she sometimes does her poop. She stayed with me and did a little exploring on her own. Then I walked to the opposite side of the cul-de-sac and she followed and did her poop in a yard there. Then she heeled back to the house.

            All this was done off leash but with the e-collar. I’m afraid the leash is going to make her fearful again but I’ll cross that bridge when (if) it comes.

            I’ll end this by saying that today was the first time that I thought it was really going to be possible to someday have a dog that either of us can walk on the street and take anywhere we want to go.

            • Ed (RoninDog)

              August 11, 2021 at 3:24 AM


              It is great to see progress! I would try going to a long line 10-15 ft and stay in the area she is comfortable with. I would get a carabiner and hook up the end of the line to my belt and not touch it, continue with the ecollar and just have the hanging line as a backup.

              I say this because I have had a few incidents after the dogs were doing very well off-leash in a low distraction environment. Once in a blue moon, when the distraction large enough, they would take off. I do not know how they would do today, cuz last time it happened I had bent over to pick up his poop and Bailey took off, picking a fight with another dog that I had not see approaching. It was a silly fight with a Tasmanian Devil dog ball and no bites, but that was enough for us to put an end to their off-leash privileges. Maybe in your case that could be a car backfiring a chipmunk or something else. If you can make it work with a long line it would get you that insurance.

              Congrats again!!

            • William

              August 11, 2021 at 6:47 AM

              Thanks! I can’t do the e-collar alone on the street during the day with all the distractions there could be but late at night it seems to be pretty safe. During the day I’ve been using the e-collar in my backyard and that has worked well. I think you are correct that working with a long line would be a good next step. I might try that today on a late afternoon walk when the street has cooled off some.

              BTW – Robert gets most of the props for the progress. One of his suggestions was to feed her outside where she has problems and that gave me the idea of using the hot dog treats.

            • William

              August 24, 2021 at 1:15 PM

              Here’s a quick update on Cindy’s problems with the street. We’ve made a little bit of progress but she still gets pretty freaked out when I take her on the street. She is totally okay when we’re in our backyard. I’ve used a 15′ leash and a 4′ leash on the street in combination with an e-collar. She never really relaxes with either one. She usually won’t even let me pet her when we’re on the street but last night with no leash she did get calm enough for some petting. I’ll take any progress I can get!

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