If you have a dog who is lacking in confidence, there are various confidence building exercises you can try to increase their resilience towards negative emotional states. A few can be carried out each day, to ensure your dog feels successful and empowered, but not over-worked as this can be stressful for them. Rest days are also equally important for dogs, and there is research that shows dogs learn a lot while they are sleeping, so little and often is the key.
Examples of confidence building exercises:
Searching and hunting games:
- Hiding food around the house and garden and encouraging the dog to “find”. Make this very easy to start with, but in time leave treats inside items and at different levels.
- Hiding food in cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, boxes full of shredded paper, Snuffle Treat Mats, screwed up towels, etc.
- Hide a toy (or clam shell toy with food inside) somewhere in the house or garden and encourage to “find”. Again, really easy to start with. Throw toy as the reward.
- Scatter feeding: throwing dry proportion of food in the garden and encouraging dog to search for it.
- Playing with various activity toys (Nina Ottosson, Trixie Activity Toys) with handler.
Clicker Training Exercises:
- Free shaping on items such as cardboard boxes. Click and reward the dog for interacting with the box in any way (except destroying it). This could be using paws, mouth, moving around the box, getting in the box, turning it over, etc. In order to obtain unique behaviours, you must withhold your click once the dog has performed one exercise twice. If you continue to click the same behaviours, the dog will never offer anything different. Remember: touching the box with a paw on one side is a different behaviour to touching with the paw on another side.
- Hand touches: touching your hand with their nose. Hold hand at different heights and start to move your hand so they have to follow it for a period before receiving their click.
- Other nose targeting exercises: Touching the end of a target stick, pole, or wooden spoon. Encourage the dog to also touch a small post-it note, which can then be stuck to items away from you (e.g. to touch it on a wall at the other side of the room).
- Targeting with a paw(s): Encourage the dog to touch a marker or upturned bowl with their paw. This item can then be moved further away to add distance.
- Encourage the dog to place their front paws on a box, small step or wobble cushion. They can then be sent onto this item at a distance. Once front paws achieved, back paws can be worked on.
- Teach your dog to go “away” to bed, towel or marker on the floor.
- Roll over (“roll”)
- Play dead (“bang”)
- Give paw (“1” & “2”)
- Give both paws (“both”)
- Commando crawl (“crawl”)
- Play bow (“bend”)
- Weave legs (“weave”/”legs”)
- Wave (“wave”)
- Circle around handler in both directions (“circle”/”wind”)
- Retrieve post from letter box (“get the post”)
- Hold dumbbell (“hold”)
- Put waste paper in bin/tidy toys into box (“tidy up”/”in the box”)
- Stand in-between the handler’s legs (“middle”)
- To “go around” an item and then return to the handler. This can be a pole in the ground, washing line, cone, etc. (“go round”)
- To catch a treat (“catch”)
Basic Training Exercises:
- Reinforcing all training commands on a daily basis helps to increase a dog’s confidence. This can be simply performing “sit”, “down”, “come” “heel”, “leave”, etc. When a dog is successful at an exercise, they feel empowered, which in turn increases their confidence.
If appropriate for your dog’s age and breed, you can set up some fun agility equipment in the garden. This can be:
- Poles on top of flower pots
- You can purchase children’s tunnels fairly cheaply
- Put bamboo sticks in the grass to make weave poles
- Teach your dog to jump through a hoop. This can be tied to two poles and stuck in the ground if required
- You can make a “see-saw” by placing a piece of wood on top of a piece of guttering
- You can purchase back garden agility equipment online
Different Surfaces/Objects to Manoeuvre:
Encouraging your dog to walk across different surfaces, rewarding them as they go. Examples:
- To sit on a cushion or small mattress
- To walk across a tarpaulin/black bag/plastic bag
Objects to manoeuvre:
- Step over poles laid on the ground. One end of these can then be raised slightly on a plant pot
- Weave through cones placed in a line
- Get up onto different objects. This could be a log, rock, tree stump, park bench, etc.
- Walk across a large piece of rope laid out in different formations on the ground
- To walk across pieces of guttering laid on the floor
- Sit in a beach tent or under a large umbrella
- Walk/crawl under a pole
- To walk through a towel/sheet hung from something
Fun, fun, fun:
Play with toys with your dog on a regular basis. As a dog plays it releases endorphins, which makes them feel fantastic! Encourage your dog to chase a ball, play tug of war, chase a toy on the end of a flirt pole, etc.
Pet Necessities Professional Dog Training – Egham, Surrey.
www.petnecessities.co.uk. 07969 997 272. firstname.lastname@example.org.