Challenges with dogs come in many shapes. From health problems to aggression, many dogs struggle with a wide array of behavioral problems that often bring them through the doors of a training facility. Having handled and trained hundreds of dogs of all breeds, I often get asked what the most difficult dog is to train.
Most people expect to hear aggressive dogs or often bully type breeds. In all honesty, dogs with nervous tendencies I find to provide the biggest challenge, but also offer the most reward when progress is obtained. I rescued my first nervous dog about eight years ago. She was malnourished, scared of the world, and unwilling to engage with anyone or anything. Working with her has taught me the patience and skill needed to help these sweet dogs learn that the world doesn’t always have to be a scary place.
Fear in dogs can be a result of anything from poor genetics to inadequate socialization at a young age to trauma and any combination of factors you can imagine. If you have a young dog and are trying to prevent these behaviors from arising, take the time to socialize properly at a young age. However, many people who rescue don’t have that luxury. And that’s where appropriate training comes into play.
When I begin working with a nervous dog, I always try to find something that will help change their expression – I want to have a tool that will allow them to put a smile on their face (food, toys, praise, anything!). Get creative, many dogs shut down in newer environments and will not engage as they might at home. I spend a lot of time reinforcing basic obedience commands. Many dogs find comfort in being able to perform a behavior they are familiar with, and it can help them to ease their anxiety in new places.
“Many dogs find comfort in being able to perform a behavior they are familiar with, and it can help them to ease their anxiety in new places.”
Once I have a foundation built with the pup, I will begin introducing ‘confidence building’ activities. Agility work is a great way to help your dog burn the excess energy and stress but also learn how to engage positively with new challenges. Agility courses are not always easily accessible, but again, creativity can go a long way in turning park benches, rocks, and other urban decorations into agility pieces.
Most importantly, you have to create a bond of trust with your dog in order to help them overcome their insecurities. Clear and consistent expectations, basic training, and fun activities are always a solid place to start. And remember, while this may be some of the hardest work you ever do, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing your nervous nelly pup learn to be a confident, social pup!
*** Note: Photo is of that same nervous dog I mentioned at the beginning of this post. She has come a long way in building her confidence and even competes now in dock diving competitions!
If you enjoyed this post, you should read Helping Your Dog Get Over A Fear of Flying here.
I have a nervous pup and know training has helped immensely. Have you tried anything for your nervous dog? Share below!
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