Do you have a shy or nervous dog? Trick training is a fun and engaging way to help build your dog's confidence! Insecure dogs may act fearfully, trying to get away from things, or may bark, lunge or try to get at whatever they find upsetting. For many dogs this kind of reactivity is a sign of insecurity and rooted in fear. Trick training is an extremely versatile sport/activity. Because you don't need lots of equipment or props it's ideal to do with dogs in small spaces even apartments! You can also bring tricks on the road and work which can help insecure dogs build their confidence as you take daily walks or go on larger adventures.
One of the best ways that you can help your insecure dog feel more confident is to use positive reinforcement training methods, working at your dog's pace and comfort not forcing them into situations where they aren't comfortable. Additionally teaching your dog fun ways to engage with you and with you and the environment can help your dog to become more confident. Many dogs thrive on having a "job" or other kind of activity to do. Trick training is also an excellent and fun way to reinforce and build our dog's focus on us. For shy, nervous, or reactive dogs tricks can break the cycle of panic while out on walks before it begins. It's understood.) by canine behavior and rehabilitation experts that confidence building for many dogs comes through training rick training is a great way to build your dog's confidence, and have fun together.
As opposed to other training like traditional obedience where people can without meaning to get very caught up in a behavior being done "right" tricks is just about having fun, and it can take the pressure to perform off for both dogs and their people. The idea behind using tricks for confidence building is to use tricks to give our dogs things to do while out in the world before they become anxious. Once an anxious dog is reacting or overwhelmed, we've already gone too far, too close to whatever their trigger is. At that point learning can't happen. Instead, our goal with anxious dogs is to give them things to do instead of getting worried about the world around them.
Training of any kind should never involve coercing or forcing your dog to do skills. Tricks are a great way to have fun with your dog and build on your relationship. Trick training should always be about you and your dog having fun together. It's important to know that trick training is rooted in theories of positive reinforcement training methodologies. It's important to never scold or punish your dog as part of training. Instead, we want to encourage and motivate our dogs with treats, toys, and praise to work with us on learning new skills. Essentially if your dog isn't having fun you shouldn't be doing it!
One of the key ways that trick training can help build confidence in a shy or nervous dog is that it's a great way to create space from things they are worried about. For example, many dogs are nervous, uncomfortable, or over aroused/over excited when given the opportunity to greet strangers while out in the world. Working on polite greetings is something that can be important (for dogs who are overly excited), but for dogs who are fearful or uncomfortable with people there is no reason that your dog needs to engage with other people in the world. It's always ok to advocate for your dog's comfort and say no if someone asks to greet your dog, or to interrupt someone approaching rudely without asking. Your dog looks to you to keep them safe and comfortable in the world. A great way to be friendly and neighborly but still advocate for your dog who doesn't feel comfortable being pet by strangers is to use cute tricks like "wave." When people ask if they can pet your dog, you can say something like "my dog is shy" to prevent people from approaching and then at a distance your dog is comfortable with cueing your dog to wave! Your dog will quickly make the association that they won't be approached and often will start to offer this trick when you stop to chat with neighbors.
Engaging with the world
For insecure or anxious dogs, walks can be overwhelming. A great way to help build a nervous dog's confidence is to teach them to actively engage with the world around them. Start at home where your dog feels secure and teach your dog trick skills like putting their paws (two and four) up onto safe/stable objects, teach your dog to go between two things, go under or jump over different objects you find in your home. When your dog understands these skills, you can take these tricks on the road and start asking your dog to engage with objects you find on your walks! This is a great way to get your dog started in the sport of Parkour which is a form of urban agility. Both Parkour and Agility are also sports that are great for building the confidence of nervous or insecure dogs.
Good for us too!
Although tricks are a great way to build your dog's confidence, they are also great for helping people to be more relaxed and confident with their dogs. Having a dog is hard work and sharing your life with a dog who struggles with anxiety, fear, or reactivity issues can be exhausting and overwhelming. Being with dogs is good for our overall levels of stress. Just petting a dog can lower cortisol (stress hormone) and blood pressure. In addition, spending quality time engaging with our dogs increase oxytocin - often referred to as the love and bonding hormone. By incorporating tricks into our regular routine with our dogs both at home and out in the world we're investing positive playful energy into the way we engage with our dogs. Being around dogs is good for us, and spending time playing and training together can have big positive impacts on the relationship we have with our dogs.
If you and your dog are eager to learn more about trick training, and curious about getting involved with trick titling you can actually earn titles from home via video through Do More With Your Dog and The American Kennel Club trick dog program. Both organizations welcome any breed or mixed breed of dog to participate. Dog trainers who are Certified Trick Dog Instructors (CTDI's) from DMWYD or AKC Evaluators can observe titles for you via video and coach you and your dog through your trick title goals. Trick titles are a great way to show off your dog's skills, or just get some inspiration for structuring your trick training!