Play n' Train to Build Confidence

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PeachShyPupLookingHappyinPGDo you want life to be more fun and less stressful for both you and your dog?  Maybe you’d like your vet visits to involve a little less drool, shaking, and hiding.  Or it could be that you feel holed up in your house because walks result in a dog who is afraid to move. Or worse, trying to move so fast and in every direction in a panic that you are tripping or falling over.
Keep reading to learn an easy, quick, low effort game to help build your dog’s confidence and make life easier for everyone.

More money, less sketch

The first game I want to introduce you to is just about as simple as it can get.  It’s so simple, you might wonder why on Earth you would use it.  
Let me present a scenario for you. Think about an environment that really stresses you out. For me, it would be walking into a room with earwigs scurrying around.  Left to my own devices, I guarantee I would not focus on anything but my safety.  I very likely would resist anybody touching me for fear they would drag me towards the earwigs. I would dance about to keep any from sneaking on me, jumping and shrieking and batting at my clothing. You get the picture.  I’d be too stressed to even be able to talk in complete sentences, so it shouldn’t  surprise anyone that I wouldn’t be able to learn one darn thing in that room either.
What I probably could do, however, is go pick up something very valuable to me, such as—oh, I don’t know—some $500 bills!  Perhaps I have a friend that is very rich, generous, and understanding of just how freaked out I am. He sets a bill just a few steps away and lets me go get it.  Then he does it again and again.  What do you think might happen with me?  Well, I know:

  1. I would find thousands of dollars worth being in the room,
  2. I would have a job, fetching all that money,
  3. the repetitive setup would get me into a predictable pattern (and who doesn’t like to know what to expect in a worrisome situation), and
  4. all these combined would probably help me to relax.  

Even if the setup didn’t completely resolve my fear of earwigs, I would probably be a little less worried about them knowing that they bring an opportunity to increase my bank account.  Heck, I might even volunteer to go into the room if I knew my friend was there with his bag o’ money!

Treats will rain from the sky!

GeorgiaShyPupinPetStoreNow, translate that scenario into one with a dog at a vet clinic.  Many dogs—even those who may be confident elsewhere-—shrink and shake the moment they arrive.  If you find your dog’s $500 bill, you’ve got the only tool you need to play the game that we’ll just call “Treat Toss” (descriptive, yes?).  While you’re waiting, whether you are in the lobby or the exam room, just merrily toss a treat close by your dog, and encourage him to eat it.  Then, toss again! And again!  How easy is that?  
I’ve used this many times with one of my dogs, whose world tends to crumble at the vet hospital. It usually works beautifully to help visibly relax and soothe them.  Don’t be afraid to be their cheerleader, by the way!  Make a game of it whenever you need to give your dog something to do.  Success builds confidence and eases worries for people and pets.
I hope you both enjoy this game. And that it helps your dog on that path towards being a confident dog.  Our next blog in this series is about ways to engage your dog’s senses to help him along. If you’d like to learn other games and skills for training shy dogs, join us for Bashful Buster or a private lesson.
Happy training!