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How to help your Nervous Dog

What to do when your 4 pawed friend is more like the Cowardly Lion than everyone elses Brave dogs who seem to have an endless supply of that much needed Courage?
Lets face it, our modern world is busy, nosiey, bright and at times uncomfortable more so when you live in the city or a large town. So its not really surprising when some of our dogs get nervous, the truth is it can effect every dog from those who’ve been with the same family their entire lives to those who have come from rescue centers can be anxious in our world. If your dog is scared of loud sounds, bearded people, bikes or just everyday life then the good news is there is plenty you can do to help them.
My dog Ally came to live with me aged one, I soon realised that bikes, suitcases on wheels, skateboards and noisy busy streets upset her alot. This is what I did to help her and me too.

Let’s Start at the beginning.

Basic training with Ally got us both set up to help with her anxiety, this meant teaching her a reward word which is ‘GOOD’ now when she hears that word she knows she has done something right. A treat or a butt scratch (her favourite place to be scratched) usually follows the word ‘GOOD’.
The more I was able to praise Ally the more her confidence grew. Why? because now her life is becoming more predictable. I asked Ally to do something and now its rewarded.
Basic Training is really teaching your dog good manners and that can include looking to you when you call their name, giving eye contact, sitting nicely, walking without pulling, polite greetings, wait etc. Have a think about what you think your dogs basic manners should be. Then add in practicing your basic manners into your dogs everyday routine, this will provide some of that much needed predictability into their lives and in turn help them be braver.
Always use reward based training when working with your dog, there should be no force, fear or punishment. If you use any of these then you’ll be confirming that world is scary and your dog should be nervous.

Look at Me!!

My dog Ally hates bikes she use to go nuts when she’d see one going past us, I mean full on bat-shit crazy with a screaming banshee bark and yes it is as embarrassing as it sounds. I swear her sounds stopped traffic too!
So to help her get over her fear of bikes and resist the urge to chase, I use to keep and eye out for bikes and when one was coming our way I ask her to sit, look at me (eye contact). The bike would go past and as soon as she saw it I’d say good and give her the treat. By doing this is I was keeping her focus on me, then praising her for looking at the bike. We practice this every time a bike passed us.
This stopped her from going crazy and over time she got use to seeing the bikes and being rewarded for it. I moved onto more busier bike places from Crammond Promade to the Cycle paths around Edinburgh to the Parks too. All these places allowed her more and more opportunity to be near the scary bikes and learn they aren’t so scary after all.
Its important that you do this slow and don’t rush your dog, if they are scared of bearded men maybe they get to see a couple over the course of an hours walk but then don’t go and sit them in a room of beaded men the next day. Do work upto and through new situations just don’t throw your dog head first into them.
There will be set backs, sometimes I’d forget I was supposed to watching for bikes and one would whizz past getting Ally all excited. When this happens take a deep breath and remember not to punish or shout.

Distance is your friend.

Say for example your dog is scared of children (who wouldn’t be some times they are a little predicable). Then walking right towards a play ground on the park full of kids is going to as scary as Hell. Instead go to the park but stay on the outskirts, let your dog see the children then start practicing some training with him. He will be getting work, be rewarded and realise he doesn’t need to be too worried about them.
The next time you go to the park move a little closer to the playground and so on until one day you find yourself and your dog practicing your training within striking distance of those pesky kids.
Its worth noting that if your dog can’t concentrate on you or won’t accpet a treat from you, then you’re more than likely to close to the children. Take a breath and encourage your dog to walk away in the oppersite direction with you. Next time you go to the park go back to the distance he was previously working at.

Nose Boops!!

I love this and it has help me walk Ally along busy roads which she finds over whelming. Nose Boops or nose touches is simply asking your dog to touch their nose to your hand. So when I walking Ally and I know she could end up stressed, I ask her for a touch and reward her for it, we can walk along side the noise and she is busy touching my hand.
Nose Boops are great to keep your dog busy but they are also a confidence builder as your teaching your dog to use their nose to touch your hand. It allows dogs to become comfortable with human hands making them less scary.
Hold out your hand in front of your dog, at nose level or below. When he sniffs it say ‘GOOD’ and feed him a treat. Remove your hand, then offer it again. Each time he sniffs, say ‘GOOD’ and treat. You may need to rub a tasty dog treat on your hand first to encourage his nose! You will soon see your dog realise that his nose and your hand make a treat appear!

Everything has just gone wrong!

It happens some times, the world has conspired you, instead of being able to enjoy your walk 4 bikes appeared doing some sort of cycle dance followed my a series of trucks creating chaos and noise. Now you’ve got one nervous dog who is either hiding himself behind you or trying to take on the world.
First of all you need to take a deep breath, second try and move to a quiter spot. In this quiet spot scatter some treats for your dog and encourage him to find them. His nose will be going into over time sniffing making sure that he doesn’t miss one. All that sniffing will actually relax your dog, helping their stress levels go down.
Next ask your dog to do something he can do like Sit, say good and reward then ask for something else. Do this several times in arow and he will start to forget about whats happened and will have started to re-focus on you.
Then go home if possible, put and end an end to your walk. Let your dog go and chill out in peace so he can full unwind from everything thats happened.

Dog Training Classes

Taking your dog to training classes is also a good confidence builder as you’ll no doubt be going somewhere new, learning new things and showing your dog the world isn’t scary. Ensure that you seek out a reward based trainer too.
I offer Practically Perfect Condifendnce Classes for dogs who are nervous, anxious or scared. These help strengthen your bond while you help your grow confidence week after week. I you how to manage your dogs behaviour as well as showing you how to help them relax.
You’ll have lots of fun as I use my own Practically Perfect Protocol® designed to ensure that both dogs and their humans learn, are both happy and well balanced. Find our more about my training classes here.

Time and Paitence

I must stress that when it comes to helping your dog overcome their nerves and gain their confidence there is no better tool to do this then time. There are no quick fixes or short cuts, you will have shit days and you will have fun days.
Just take each step at a time whether they are scared of children, bikes, wheelie bins, bearded men, Christmas baubles etc just go slowly. Always think about your dogs point of view.
If you have any questions please do get in touch Contact@edinburghholisticdogs.co.uk
Take CareSuzanneChief Canine Happiness Officer

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