Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ask the Dog Trainer with Michael Baugh
Puppy Fears: Building Confidence

by Michael Baugh, CPDT-KSA, CDBC

courtesy Philippe Boivin via Flickr.com
Hi Michael,
I have a 12 week old Golden Retriever puppy. She has been great so far and is adapting quite nicely to living at my home, sleeping in a crate, etc. The one thing that we are having a small issue with is taking her on walks. She loves to go out in the side yard to play but mainly lay down (she is very laid back) but once we start to head out on a walk she sits/lays down. I have tried to encourage her with food, toys, and gentle pulling (I try not to too much so as to not hurt/discourage her).
A little background info. I live on a busy street so I think that the traffic noise may have something to do with it. We take her out and will just sit in the yard to try and get her used to the noise. Dublin (the puppy) wears a collar but we always use the harness when she is on the leash.
If there's anything you recommend doing I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks a lot!

Devin
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Dear Devin,  This is a great question for all of us who are raising puppies.  As Dublin matures she will be constantly balancing curiosity and caution.  When our puppy is unsure about something, including the sight and sound of passing traffic, our job is to teach her limits and boundaries – but also that  human world is generally a safe place for dogs.  

I take a three-fold approach 1) Use reward-based teaching to show the dog what to do in any given circumstance (example: stay out of the street – walk beside me).  This adds structure to their life and helps build confidence.  2) Show the puppy that everything is cool.  Offer free bits of food, toys, or play in the face of new and uncertain situations.  Model calm and cheerful behavior.  3) Give the puppy choices.  Never force a puppy into a scary environment in the name of helping her “get used to it.”  This can actually make a puppy even more fearful.  Let the puppy acclimate (with your gentle guidance and support) at her own pace.  She will come around.

While Dublin continues to work on her own bravery and comfort level, I suggest you take her in the car to a quieter area for walks and exploration.  Keep in mind also that puppies have short bursts of energy followed by rest.  Walks should be brief; you don’t have to cover a lot of ground.  With your help she will learn to take on new and more challenging sights and sounds.  Her healthy fear will keep her out of the street, while her newfound confidence will let her walk nicely with you alongside it.

Work steadily, but be patient.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Neither was Dublin.

Michael
used with permission
 Robyn Arouty Photography
Houston Dog Trainer Michael Baugh CPDT-KSA CDBC specializes in dog aggression and fearful behavior. He lives with two mixed breed dogs who both always potty outside (any reports to the contrary are greatly exaggerated). Click here to subscribe to his monthly e-newsletter.

Read more of Michael's articles at his Archive Page, or check out his last few here:

Aggression
Two Steps for House Training
Dogs and Invisible Fences
Moving and Movements

2 comments:



Dawn said...

Very helpful. I've also heard that you don't want to console a dog when they are afraid. This reinforces their belief that there is something to be afraid of. Model calm and cheerful behavior, is what I think you said.



Lisa said...

Great tips! Teaching a dog what to do (via the commands) really does help a dog build confidence in situations where he is nervous. That coupled with trusting that you are capable and confident yourself. And just like you said, acting as if everything is fine. I have found that when you talk silly, laugh, sing, etc a nervous dog will "lighten up" as well. Thanks for posting!

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