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Two Exercises to Help Strengthen Your Dog’s Confidence

Fearful and anxious dogs often have a hard time overcoming everyday challenges life presents. Things as simple as family getting ready to leave for the day, getting into a car, someone coming over, getting pet, or seeing a random object can spark a reaction/fear response. How can you help your dog overcome these simple scenarios?


Help Them Feel Successful

Create challenges you know your dog can overcome. I like to think about this from the human perspective when we’re feeling nervous about a task or scenario. Avoiding the situation will keep you in that nervous state when the same, or similar, situation happens again. This may even have a compounding effect in your life, and you find yourself growing more anxious as you get older. The only way to become more confident is by facing challenging situations despite any fear you may have. That is courage, and the more you work that courage muscle the more confident you become. So what challenges can we help our dog move through?


A fun way is to get your dog climbing on things you find along your daily adventures. On a hike? See if you can find a fallen tree and encourage your dog to climb and walk on it. At a park? Try climbing on the playground equipment! Use treats to help encourage your dog. As your dog’s confidence grows, you’ll soon find they are excitedly jumping and climbing on things all the time. The hard work and movement involved when climbing and balancing feels good! Now it’s time to find new challenges to overcome. Maybe your dog is nervous to get in your car. This would be a great challenge to tackle next! Get creative. The idea is to find a challenge your dog will struggle with, but you know they can overcome it successfully without shutting down. As their confidence grows, increase the difficulty of the challenges.


Resistance Feeding

Another exercise that is great for building confidence is resistance feeding. How do you feel after a strength training session at the gym? Pretty good right? I know my confidence is usually at its highest after a strength training workout. We can do the same for our dogs with resistance feeding! Work on the following over the course of multiple sessions:


Start by handfeeding your dog all their meals. Now see if they’ll follow you to eat from your hand while you’re walking backwards. Once you’re in a good place with these steps, set up a back tie outside with a resistance band. I like the large exercise resistance bands. Loop it around a post and use a carabiner to clip the handle of a leash to the exercise band. Clip the leash to a back clipping harness (make sure the harness has a Y-shape on your dog’s chest). Stand in front of your dog and have them pull through the resistance of the band to get to you and the food. Your dog is physically overcoming the resistance (challenge) of the resistance band to get the food from you. Not only are you helping them build confidence, but you’re also strengthening your relationship with them! Side benefit, this is a great foundational exercise for recall and overall attentiveness ;)


An Important Note to Consider!

We want to be reasonable with the challenges we choose to face in our daily lives, and the same goes for our dogs. If a dog is nervous to be pet, walking them up to a group of people who want to pet them is not a good idea. Take your time to understand your dog and what their threshold is in different situations. You want to pick challenges that are hard but reasonable for your dog to overcome. Any situation that triggers a strong nervous system response (fight/flight/freeze) should be avoided until your dog’s emotional capacity (aka threshold) increases. Pushing a fearful dog too much can pose a safety risk. Take things slow and reach out to a professional for help!

Dog on stack of hay
Molly used to be too nervous to climb on this stack of hay, and is now happily jumping up and staying on!

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