Training your dog may seem like a time-consuming, daunting, or sometimes even unnecessary task, however, it is a crucial component to your dog’s ability to live a happy, fulfilling life. One of the most important aspects of training is socialization. Socialization is the process of preparing your dog to enjoy and be comfortable with various people, places, activities, other animals, etc. Whether your dog is naturally social or inherently shy, introducing your dog to new and sometimes scary things can be challenging.
When the ones we love are worried or sad, our human instinct is to console, but dogs cannot understand this same type of comforting like humans do. Whenever your dog shows signs of apprehension, fear, or shyness in a situation it is important that you be a calm, confident example for them to follow. Dogs are very intuitive and can sense their owners’ emotions and feelings and will often react based off them. Instead of being worried for your dog or irritated about the situation, stay calm and relaxed.
To encourage and instill confidence in your dog during these moments, use distractions and re-direct their mind by asking them to do a simple command like ‘sit’ and reward them for that. Do NOT console them the way you might a child, by cuddling them, saying good boy/girl or it’s okay, picking them up, giving them a snack, etc. In a dog’s mind, these actions and words mean praise, which in turn, will reinforce the fearful behavior they are exhibiting.
On the other side of the spectrum, dogs that feel nervous in a situation who can also sense that their owner is nervous may become ‘fear aggressive’. This is when a dog feels the need to protect themselves or their owner, which causes them to lash out at the perceived threat (i.e., person, animal, object). Remember, the best way to reinforce a positive reaction in these moments is to build your dog’s confidence by allowing them to take their mind off of the threat with a few of their favorite, basic tasks. Some great commands to use in these situations include ‘sit’, ‘shake’, or ‘watch me’. ‘Watch me’ is an excellent command to use in various situations and is very easy to teach. Simply tell your dog to ‘watch me’ or ‘eyes on me’ while holding a treat or their favorite toy up near your face and praise them every time they look up at you. Do not reward them if they do not look at you, only when their attention is on you. Repeat this exercise often and your dog will quickly associate the ‘watch me’ command with a reward and will be eager to perform it and make eye contact with you.
All in all, the calmer and more confident you are at any given time, the safer and happier your dog will feel in return. I hope these tips encourage you and your dog to confidently explore the world together!
Baylee Bezona-Garbo, Certified Veterinary Technician
Brandie Jackson, Certified Dog Trainer