Jamie: One of the dogs that I have been working with is a gorgeous little Pom-Chi mix, just a little petite thing. She is very nervous and very shy. She is a rescue dog, and her owners have only had her for a few months, so we don’t know much about her history. Very often, people who have rescue dogs feel that issues are just part of who they are. They think there is nothing we can really do; if they have experienced trauma in their past, then they are just going to be shy and scared. But, there are exercises that we have been working on between myself, the dog and her family to build confidence. We are doing trust building exercises, pack walks with the whole family and her. There are all sorts of things we can teach a dog to build confidence in them. Confidence in themselves, and confidence in you as their pack leader.
Shar: So, giving her jobs when she is feeling nervous is part of that too, right?
Jamie: One of the things we are dealing with is that she gets very nervous when guests come into the house, and one way to combat that is giving them a job to do in these high stress situations. So that they know exactly what you expect from them, and what they should do to stay calm. When guests come over, we are teaching her to go to a certain spot where she sits and is calm and she doesn’t have to worry about people approaching her. She is learning that she doesn’t have to be shy or scared, which really helps to relax her; relax that nervous energy and stop the barking. All of that by just showing her- ok in this situation where you have been stressed out, this is what you should be doing.
Shar: So, to sum it up in a technical term: Positive Reinforcement.
Jamie: Yes, positive reinforcement all the way! We are positively reinforcing her to be in this spot during these high stress times. So that place for her is not only a job to do, but also a place that feels very safe and comfortable and she has a lot of happy memories being in that spot.
When it comes to nervous dogs like this little pom-chi, obedience training has a ton of benefits for them as well. Often shy, nervous dogs don’t really act out other than when they are feeling threatened, so people don’t really think that they need obedience training. But training gives them a routine. By practicing every day, it builds confidence in your family unit. And if a dog knows what to expect then they are going to be happy and much calmer than a dog who doesn’t know what is expected of them. If you get up and do something different every day, a shy-nervous dog is never going to build that confidence. So, the routine of obedience training as well as building that positive relationship with you as their leader is extremely important.