Building Up the Confidence of a Shy Dog to Help Him Learn to Behave

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 19, 2015

Oggy 1

This lovable fur ball is Oggy, a one and a half year-old mini goldendoodle who jumps up and occasionally nips the families nine-year-old daughter when playing.

When I arrived for the session Oggy attempted to circle around behind me, presumably to try to jump up and claim me as his property. I pivoted to keep the dog in front of me as he tried to do this. Eventually he gave up and tried a frontal assault jumping up onto my thigh. To disagree with this action, I brought my knee up to block him.

While the motion was not at all aggressive, Oggy acted as if it was, showing me a very submissive body posture and movement as he moved away. For the next few minutes he kept more distance between us then was appropriate which led me to believe that he was a shy or somewhat insecure dog.

When I sat down with her family to discuss the situation I learned that he did not have a lot of experience around other dogs when he was a puppy. The first 12 months of the dogs life is crucially important in terms of socialization. The more exposure the dog has to other dogs, the more confidence they gain in that type of situation. In Oggy’s case, this lack of exposure to new dogs and people had caused him to develop a shy or less confident personality. This quickly became apparent as I tried to initiate a leadership exercise that I like to use.

The exercise helps the guardian communicate to the dog that it is in a follower position. I start out by placing a high-value treat in the middle of the floor then claiming it as a dog would. Oggy was able to pick up the communication that he was to leave the treat alone right away. But once he communicated that he was not challenging for the treats anymore, that’s when the shyness really shined through.

As soon as the dog let me know he was no longer challenging, I give him permission to have the treat but Oggy would have none of it. Instead of coming over to claim the reward, he circled around behind his guardians and only peeked out from around them.  I had to use a number of techniques and quite a bit of coaxing to get him to come over and claim the reward the first time.

I went through the exercise a second time hoping that he would gain confidence from the previous repetition but that was not the case. Due to his extreme reluctance to come get a reward, I decided to call an audible and switched over to a simple recall exercise.

I had all of the members of the family sit in a circle and then showed them how to call the dog over using a hand signal. At first Oggy was a little bit trepidatious and you could see it in his body language and movement. But after a couple of repetitions and the positive reinforcement that we provided, he quickly got over his fears and started trotting over to whoever called him with a nice bounce in his step.

I suggested that the members of her family practice this recall lesson over the next week or two to really help the dog gain more self-esteem and confidence by mastering the exercise.

Now that the dog was feeling better about himself, I had one of the youngest members of the family run through the leadership exercise with him.  This is the same child that the dog wrestled with and occasionally nipped to correct.

Normally I start with the largest member of the family when we are running through this exercise as size certainly matters when it comes to dogs, especially with this exercise. But because Oggy was so shy and sensitive and was focusing his energy on this child I thought it would be more powerful if she was the one to master the exercise with him.

At first of the dog attempted to challenge her for the treat, but after a few timely corrections he moved away as he did for me. I was hoping that her presence would result in his being more confident in coming over to claim the treat, but that was not the case the first time.

We stuck with it and by the third repetition the dog laid down much faster. The other members of the family all took a turn and the dog consistently laid down faster and faster each time. This shows that the dog was gaining confidence in itself and the exercise. It will take more practice before this exercise really boosts Oggy’s self esteem, but the more they work with him, the more confident he will become.

Next I fitted Oggy up with a Martingale collar and showed the members of his family how to apply the special twist of the leash to stop him from pulling.  Before heading out for the walk I went over a few ways to get the dog to calm itself down. Oggy had a bad habit of getting over excited as soon as he recognize that someone was going to take him for a walk. By stopping and pausing each time the dog started to show excitement (like picking up the leash), we were able to get Oggy to completely settled down when we added the leash to his collar. This enabled him to remain absolutely calm before we left for the walk.

At first I had the members of the family wait on their front porch as I took the leash and walked the dog back-and-forth in front of their home. It only took one correction before Oggy started walking in a perfect heel on my right side.

I returned to the front porch and passed the leash over to the father of the family. I followed behind him as he walked the dog down the street. At first Oggy attempted to walk ahead of him as he always had. But after a few minor corrections Oggy quickly fell into line and was walking next to his guardian with a loose leash while in the heel position.

Oggy 3

All the other members of the family took turns walking Oggy and had the same success. Mom took the leash next and while Oggy did pull a little bit, she said it was much bette than any of her previous walks with him.

Oggy 2

The family’s son took the leash next and headed off down the street. As he was walking the dog in an almost perfect heel the father told me that some jerk neighbor had threatened to take the dog away from the boy due to Oggy’s pulling on the leash. Well I hope this neighbor sees the boy walking the dog now as Oggy was absolutely following the lad’s lead.

The family’s daughter took her turn next and had pretty much the same result. Oggy did try to walk around her a few times but she was easily able to correct him and get him back into a heel.

Oggy 4

Because of the size difference I also showed her how to use her hand motion to place Oggy into a sitting position while on the leash. While most dogs can sit easily inside, it’s often much more challenging for them to do so went out for a walk. I suggested that she use this hand motion to put Oggy into a sitting position frequently, especially when there were no other dogs are people around. This is essentially practice and will pay generous dividends the next time she’s walking him down the street and run across a rabbit, squirrel, or other animal.

Oggy 5

I finished up the session by showing the family how to feed Oggy in a more structured way. When dogs are in a group, the leaders generally eat first. I showed the family how to place food in Oggy’s bowl then communicate to him that he was to stay away until he received permission.

Once his family had established the proper boundary away from his food, I had them pull out some food and snack on it in front of the dog. This allows the dog the ability to practice restraining itself while food is in his bowl. It also helps the numbers the family assume more of a leadership position in the dogs eyes.

By the end of the session Oggy’s energy was much lower but his confidence was flying high. He had a nice bounce to his step and great body posture, was responding to the corrections and commands from his family members and already starting to follow some of the new rules and structure that we had introduced.

I strongly suggested that his family look for opportunities to expose Oggy to various dogs, places, and people. The more exposure the dog has to these new people places and things, the higher his self-esteem will go. As long as the experiences are positive and done in a structured way, it shouldn’t take long before Oggy’s self-confidence increases to the point where his shyness is no longer an issue

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