Activities For Hesitant Dogs

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Introduction

Most of us would prefer that our canine companions felt safe and secure whenever we are with them but for some dogs, this just does not come as naturally as it does for others. For pet parents who have anxious or hesitant dogs, these activities fun, interactive activities are all about instilling confidence and allowing your dog to learn that the world is not quite as scary as it might seem and that adventures can be fun instead of frightening.  

Obedience Classes

Popular
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Any Day
Moderate
Hard
30 - 60 min
Items needed
Treats
Activity description

Obedience training classes can be a great way to give your hesitant or nervous dog a confidence boost as well as providing socialization for your dog in a more structured setting than at a situation like a dog park. Gentleness should be used when correcting the hesitant dog and positive feedback is typically much more effective than heavy-handed methods. The training class that you choose to attend can be for either basic obedience, learning commands such as come, sit, and stay, or it can be more advanced obedience training that includes more specialized tricks or routines. 

Step
1
Pick a class
Your choice of class will depend somewhat on which the dog you are choosing for. For instance, a very small dog may prefer a class with only other small dogs as participants and dogs that are hesitant or anxious may be able to focus better if the classes are based in a somewhat quiet environment as opposed to a more chaotic one. A class that is made up of a smaller group of dogs is likely to be more comfortable for most hesitant dogs than a larger gathering.
Step
2
Focus
You should focus on the class and on your dog as much as possible when attending these classes. Distractions like cell phones, work problems, and loud shiny jewelry have no place in canine obedience classes as they can cause you to miss important clues and cues from your canine companion.
Step
3
Relax
Dogs tend to take many of their cues from us, particularly when it comes to whether they are in a safe situation or not. When our canines are feeling uncertain or uncomfortable they tend to look to their owner or trainer for guidance and reassurance. It is particularly important that you project a confident demeanor to help your dog feel more confident as well.
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Introduce New Things

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Any Day
Free
Easy
5 - 60 min
Items needed
New Items, places, or people
Treats
Activity description

Getting used to dealing with new objects, people, and environments is a large part of what is referred to as socialization. Hesitant dogs often have difficulty dealing with anything new in their environment and in some cases may not have had proper socialization when they were younger. Giving hesitant dogs with low self-confidence an opportunity to see and experience new things in a somewhat safer or comfortable environment can help them to learn to be more confident in multiple situations. There are several different fun ways to introduce your dog to new people, places, and things, both indoors and out. 

Step
1
New places
There doesn’t have to be a big, fancy journey with a lot of planning for a trip to incorporate new places for your dog. For hesitant dogs it may be best to start small and avoid crowds and loud noises, maybe even just turning down a different street than you usually do, or visiting a pet store your dog has not visited before. When your dog exhibits calm confidence in the new setting reward them with treats and praise.
Step
2
New people
Depending on where your dog is most comfortable, new people can either be introduced on the dog’s territory or on neutral ground while out and about. Whenever your dog shows the calm and collected behavior they should towards others, they should be rewarded with both treats and praise, encouraging that behavior in the future as well. With time, your dog may be able to exhibit calm, confident behavior in most situations.
Step
3
New things
This is an activity that can be done at home and requires little preparation but can be very beneficial in teaching your dog that new things are good. Choose several new (dog safe) objects and place them on the floor around your dog. Whenever your dog turns their attention to a new object, use a clicker to mark the action and then reward your pooch with praise and treats for exploring the new item.
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Box Dog

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0 Votes
Any Day
Free
Normal
5 - 45 min
Items needed
Box
Clicker
Treats
Activity description

The box dog activity works the mind of your canine companion, teaching them a little bit about thinking outside of the box by rewarding them for certain behaviors without giving them a specific command to follow. This activity is particularly good for helping a hesitant or uncertain dog grow in confidence as it uses only positive feedback and teaches the dog critical thinking skills. While this example uses a box as the focal object for your canine companion, other objects can be used as long they are safe for the dog to use their paws, nose, or mouth to interact with.

Step
1
It's a box!
Choose a medium-sized box that your dog can interact with; this can include a cardboard box, a shoebox, a plastic crate, and even the dog’s toybox if they have one and it doesn’t have a lid that can come crashing down to frighten them. Put the box in the middle of the floor, with plenty of room on each side for your dog to maneuver around in.
Step
2
Wait and watch
At this point, you will want to position yourself either sitting or standing so that you can clearly see both the box and your timid pooch. Then you watch for behavior that is related to the box, this can be any behavior from simply looking at the box to pawing at, pushing, or even carrying the box, some dogs may even decide to get in or on the box. Whenever you see your dog interact with the box, immediately click your clicker and give the dogs a treat. It may be tempting to point out or otherwise indicate the box, but clues should be kept subtle such as looking at the box or positioning yourself so the box is between you and your pet.
Step
3
Advanced shaping
While the first two steps that are listed are typically enough to keep most dogs happily busy for quite some time, some dogs will master this quite easily and look for more. For these dogs, the box dog activity can lead to more directed commands where the dog interacts with the box in a specific way, such as getting in or on the box.
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More Fun Ideas...

Ride in the Car

Not all dogs like car rides, but for a large percentage of dogs, car rides allow them to get out of the house and enjoy new sights and sounds from what feels like a safer vantage point.

Botanical Gardens

While not all botanical gardens allow dogs, there are many that do allow leashed canines to have access to at least part of the gardens. Call ahead to find out your local garden’s pet policy and give your dog a little time to smell the roses.

Toys

Chew toys and other sorts of puzzle toys are particularly good at releasing nervous or anxious behaviors and can help your hesitant dog to become calmer and more confident. 

Conclusion

Even nervous and hesitant dogs need exercise and mental stimulation but this can sometimes prove to be a challenge, particularly when sudden changes or loud noises make your dog too uncomfortable to enjoy their excursions. Although introducing new activities too quickly or in an overstimulating way may exacerbate the situation, utilizing confidence building activities like those listed here may help your hesitant hound to become much braver and more adventurous overall.