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Old 12-29-2012, 12:24 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Building confidence and trust in a fearful dog

Hello everyone!

As you know, I have been training rocky on not being fearful of strangers. Now that I have succeeded in doing so, I would like to build his general confidence and also his trust in me to make decisions.

If you have suggestions or personal experiences, please share. I do not care if you are a trainer or a normal owner, all types of opinions are appreciated and wanted.

Please keep in mind that rocky mainly needs improvement in meeting strange dogs and in meeting new people. I know how to build his threshold slowly, etc... I am lookin for things to build his confidence in general so when we train on meeting new people he has back up confidence
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Old 12-29-2012, 12:34 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Pleasant, upbeat, positive, low pressure obedience classes. I had my Bella in them for 3 years - almost consecutively. She had nothing - no confidence at all, and now if you saw her you would not think she was originally who she was.

I probably didn't find the right class until almost the last one we took! Now I know and if doing that with another dog, would know what to look for. Fun, positive, motivational.

The classes - being in them - protecting your dog from demands that stress them, having them look to you, offering structure, really make a huge difference.

I have a houseful of fearful, odd dogs. I also utilized the Yahoo shy k-9 group archives.

I use the clicker or a clicker noise. They love it.

I took basic agility with a few. I was very much an advocate for my dogs - nicely - in those classes. My dogs see me taking over for them a great deal. Stepping in front, basically being their secret service agent, and they appreciate it. It leaves them to be the best dog they can be.

This specific trainer is Suzanne Clothier recommended - not sure if you are in the area - for relationship based training.
Relationship based Approach to Training | Suzanne Clothier
great article

Good for you for continuing to work with him!
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Old 12-29-2012, 01:14 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I would have to agree that a class that is fun and not lots of pressure. It would probably help to find something with stable, calm dogs if possible.
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Old 12-29-2012, 01:43 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Totally agree on good classes. You don't want a class with a lot of corrections, but rather one that builds confidence through success. Classes have been transformative in several ultra-scared dogs who came to me from rescue as shut-down dogs who wanted to avoid everything and everybody. My old male practiced trying to make himself invisible his first few weeks with us as an adolescent, and he would shriek in fear and splay flat on the ground when he was approached by another dog. He grew up to be a gregarious, sociable, funny guy who believes each human he meets is going to be a new friend, and who loves dog parks and play care!

It took a lot of time, but he went through a "lightbulb moment" in his first obedience class, where you could see his face illuminate when the world suddenly started making sense and he was so proud to know the right thing to do. He thrived on it. It was wonderful for our trust-bond, as he learned he could be around other dogs because I would keep him safe.

I also played a lot of games with him to build confidence (esp. tug, praising him for being brave, and letting him win). When he was small, I even would lie on the ground and put him on my chest and tickle him--the first time I did it, his eyes got big like he couldn't believe I'd let him lie on top of me. That game seemed to mean a lot to him, as he seemed to become a lot braver after that. I wouldn't play that game with a more assertive dog, but with a very timid one who needs confidence-building, I like it.

I also think there is great value in socialization with other stable, sociable dogs -- the fearful ones often eventually learn to model the stable dogs' behavior. My current trainer has a weekly "socialization field" that is all alumni and current clients (dogs he knows, and people who are very involved with their dogs). It's supervised off-leash play time, with a cohort that's more stable than you'd find in a dog park. It's sometimes amazing to see the new dogs who arrive and are terrified go through a transformation over 3-4 weeks--week 1 they want to climb the fence to escape the field, week 2 they are glued to their owner's hip, week 3 they are meekly curious about venturing off a little bit to sniff other dogs, and week 4 they start venturing out to run for the first time with the "pack"). We've seen this process occur over and over at the field, and there's something those stable dogs do to heal the damaged ones that is very important, but it takes time. Some of our most confident, sociable dogs at the field started out as dogs who wanted to climb the fence and run away from the group! It also gets the dogs used to being around lots of different people, all of whom are very sympathetic to a shy dog's recovery.
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Old 12-29-2012, 06:48 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Thank you for all the great responses! I get pad monthly so January 1 I will know how much I can spend on classes.
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Old 01-02-2013, 12:56 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Totally agree on the classes! Also, just lots of positive, upbeat training in general. I strive to never use corrections with fearful dogs (or not major ones anyway--no prongs, scolding, etc.). Use careful management so that their whole life is positive and fun for awhile--then when eventually something scary does happen, that dog has 100 good experiences to counteract the one bad one!

Also, I have had really good luck getting involved with sports. You need to pick your trainer/class very carefully here, because your goal with a fearful dog isn't competitiveness, but confidence. You want to use purely positive methods here and let your dog figure things out on his own, even if it takes awhile or isn't perfect. A really competitive trainer may use methods or have expectations that are too much for a fearful dog (though work well with driven, fearless dogs), so that's why I caution you to look for someone who does "fun" classes.

I have done agility, herding and search training (the sport version is nosework) with my fearful dogs and saw each dog blossom. The search dog washed out of training and I've never had a good enough agility dog to compete (I did do herding trials, however), but the dogs' confidence grew by leaps and bounds. I've also had fearful dogs that I just did obedience training with and while that works very well and is definitely a good starting place, I think the sport training was very valuable.
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