Updated: Oct 11, 2022
Have you got a bit of an anxious dog? A dog that seems a bit low in confidence and is easily afraid of new objects and sounds?
Here's 3 games that can help boost your dogs confidence and are all free!
1. Box of Wonders. 🤩
Did you know a lot dogs are afraid to stick their head into an empty box? So lets start with that.
Step 1️⃣: Find a box that's a bit taller, about the height of a bucker (or you can use a bucket or a planter pot etc) and start with sprinkling treats in there. If your dog is nervous about it, make sure the treats are really yummy or you put a whole bunch in. You sometimes might even need to tip the box on it's side first.
Step 2️⃣: Now that your dog is comfortably eating treats or their food out of the box lets add a bit of difficulty to it. Your dog might get a treat for having his head in the box whilst you gently tap with your fingers on the side. Or maybe they will keep it in when you shuffle the box up and down on the floor a bit.
Step 3️⃣: Let's up the ante now that your dog is totally fine with eating out of the box. We are now going to add things INTO the box. If your box is too small, you may have to find something larger. Things we can add: empty plastic bottles, tennis balls, ball pit balls, empty cans, tin foil, bubble wrap, baking trays, other random (SAFE!) household items that your dog might be a bit anxious about. Start off with just putting ONE of these items in (so 1 plastic bottle) and if your dog is comfortable with that, add another one and another until the box is full with random stuff and your dog will dive in to eat his food!
2. Get Inside 📦
Climbing into objects and onto objects is a real confidence booster. It's like doing something you're really quite afraid of (like ziplining!) and doing it anyway. It gives you an adrenaline rush and improves your mental health 'Omg I did that! I could do it!'.
Step 1️⃣: First I recommend using the world as your obstacle course. Have your dog climb on tree trunks, park benches, railings, raised cement walls, playground equipment. Anything that is safe and allowed to do so. Have them follow your hand with a lure. Is your dog scared to do it? Just reward itinitally for reaching their head forward into your hand over the object. Maybe they put one paw up? Awesome, reward! Two paws? Fantastic! Reward. How about all paws? Don't expect your dog to just jump on new novel objects without issue.
Step 2️⃣: Will your dog go inside objects? Maybe start with a box, a small suitcase, a big suitcase, a bin? Again, we start with gently shaping this behaviour. Just coming near it, eating some treats off the object, one paw in, maybe two etc. etc. Once your dog gets really comfy can you close the suitcase with them in it? Once they're comfortable with that it'll be a really cute party trick as well!
3. What is that? ⁉️
For this game we use the technique shaping and we can use really any type of weird objects or thing inside the house that your dog might be unsure of.
For example: A Traffic Cone
Step 1️⃣: Put the cone down in the middle of the room. Does your dog look at it? Mark and reward. Do they try sniff it from a distance? Mark and reward. Do they walk close to it? Mark and reward. Do they touch it with a paw? Mark and reward.
Step 2️⃣: We want to make sure we are rewarding progression. So if your dog was comfortable touching it with his nose, we won't reward just looking at it anymore.
Step 3️⃣: Now that my dog is comfortable around the traffic cone and is touching it with his nose and paw I will start changing my criteria to maybe have him stick his nose inside the cone. I will start shaping any behaviours that get closer to sticking his nose in the cone.
You can really do this with any type of object. Just to build some confidence and a feeling of 'I did that, I feel good'.
Have fun training!