Activities For A Cautious Dog

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Introduction

A dog can be cautious for many reasons. It may have been abused or mistreated, or it may naturally be wary of new situations and scenarios. It’s important to understand that caution is not fear, and fear is not caution. When a dog is cautious, they are interested but are not sure about you or their surroundings. They may react to situations with their ears back, tail town, front legs braced and mouth closed. A scared dog, however, will respond with a tucked tail, a rounded back, and a diverted gaze. It’s important to understand the difference so you can cater your activities accordingly. 

The Name Game

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Any Day
Cheap
Normal
5 min
Items needed
Treat
Activity description

The name game is a fun and rewarding activity for a dog who is shy, cautious, or fearful. It’s even fun for dogs that may not be entirely confident with people but that you wouldn’t class as careful or afraid. You can play this regular difficulty level activity in any weather – inside or outside – and it only takes five minutes. However, you can play it as many times as you like in one day, as long as you take a break. It’s also very affordable, as all you need is a handful of treats, and can be very rewarding when you see your dog come out of their shell over time. 

Step
1
Choose treats
A cautious dog may not be interested in regular kibble, so before you begin the name game, it’s a good idea to opt for a treat you know they won’t be able to resist. The snacks should also be small, easy to eat, and relatively healthy. To make sure you don’t overfeed your dog, consider taking it out of their daily food allowance.
Step
2
Get naming
The name game aims to get your dog to feel happy when you say their name. Say their name with a confident, cheerful voice, then give them a treat. Some dogs may be fearful of you throwing a treat at them, so you may want to place it in front of them instead. Repeat the process where you say your dog’s name and then reward them for paying attention. You want your dog to look at you and respond positively.
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Targeting

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Any Day
Cheap
Hard
1 hr
Items needed
Treat
Clicker
Activity description

Targeting is the process of helping your dog trust people and slowly get more confident in their presence. This activity can be quite challenging, but’s also one that’s affordable with only the need for treats, and can be quite rewarding. What’s more, it doesn’t matter what the weather’s doing as you can practice targeting at any time. Targeting requires you to have at least one person your dog trusts, and plenty of patience with a soft, reassuring voice. This activity is a slow process, and it can take some time to build up confidence in a cautious dog. 

Step
1
Hands and treats
The person your dog trusts has to stand with a treat in their hand between the second and third finger. The positioning is quite important because they need to be able to see and smell it. They then need to stand sideways to the dog with their hands down by their sides. As soon as the dog sniffs or licks the treat, you can use a positive word or clicker to let the dog know that’s a significant first step. You can then drop the treat, and repeat this process ten or more times.
Step
2
Alternative hands
When you repeat the process, with the dog sniffing your fingers, you can click your clicker or provide a positive word, but then give your dog a treat from your other hand. The more your dog can reach out to you with confidence, the more you can move your hand around and let your dog follow it.
Step
3
New objects
Instead of your hands, it’s now time to get your dog to use their nose with other objects. Sit in a chair and get them to touch the chair with their nose. You may need to use a treat to get them to remember what the process involves. When they begin realizing that they can touch new objects without them being a scare factor, you can move on to inviting them to meet strangers who you strategically offer treats.
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A Job

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Sunny Day
Free
Easy
1 hr
Items needed
Leash
Item to carry
Activity description

It can seem like a strange activity, but sometimes all it takes to help your dog feel more secure and confident is by giving them a job to do. That doesn’t mean you need to teach them how to do your taxes, but it involves you giving them a purpose at a time you think may be unnerving for your furry friend – such as going for a walk. This reasonably straightforward activity is also one that only requires a leash and something for them to carry, and it’s perfect for a sunny day. You also have to set aside an hour of your time. 

Step
1
Choose a task
You need to strategically choose an activity you know your dog isn’t confident to take part in or be around. It might be going for a walk, or it might even be you using an appliance such as a vacuum cleaner, dryer, or washing machine.
Step
2
Give them a job
The “job” doesn’t have to be anything intense. Instead, it has to be something that creates a distraction or expects something of your dog to remove the uncertainty or fear. Think about your own experience in a situation that makes you uncomfortable. If you are in a room full of people you don’t know, doesn’t it make you more confident when an organizer asks you to hand out trays of food or beverages? You now have a purpose and the thought of knowing no one suddenly doesn’t matter so much. The same concept applies to your dog. Give them a ball to carry on their walk, a rawhide to chew while you’re vacuuming the floor, or a food puzzle to work on as you do the laundry.
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More Fun Ideas...

Playdate

If your dog’s nerves extend to other dogs, then you may like to introduce them slowly in a one-on-one playdate as opposed to a full session at a dog park. Talk to friends with docile dogs and ask if they would be interested in a playdate. Introduce the dogs slowly, providing each dog with plenty of space if they are not confident with getting up close to each other. Frequent play sessions can work wonders for your dog’s confidence.  

Dog Park

A dog park is a fun place for most dogs, but for nervous or cautious dogs, it can be a place of uncertainty. However, the more you go, the better it will be. Include an activity into your dog’s schedule that will put them (safely) outside their comfort zone. The more you do that, the more likely they are to see that new experiences are things to enjoy.   

Conclusion

Some dogs are born worriers, while others have unfortunate life experiences which make them so. However, even if you have a cautious dog, there are things you can do to bring them out of their shell. The goal is to think pawsitive, work hard with your furry friend, and provide them with plenty of opportunities to try to things in new environments.