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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.