How to Help a Nervous Pup to Gain Confidence

Lessons learned as a nervous dog learned to cope with the world

Have you ever met a nervous dog? You may not know it even if you have. They’re often trying so hard to be good when out in public that the sheer effort exhausts them. You won’t have seen the manic joy that results in reaching the comfort of home.

I have the honour of sharing my life with a two-year-old Cavapoo, Teddy. Lover of tummy rubs and treats, his main pastime is chewing sticks and my socks. His favourite place in the world is lying on my lap, or running on a beach. A gentle and loving soul from the day we brought him home, he would rewrite the dictionary definition of an introvert. We’re perfectly matched. Aside from the stick and sock chewing. That’s not really my thing.

Picture shows a cavapoo dog

Puppy training, dog training, dog behaviorists and more

The world of other dogs is a challenge to Teddy. For over two years, we have worked to coax our boy out of his shell. It has taken patience and perseverance. Many tears have been shed.

Sole members of the ‘special needs’ corner at puppy training, we were given separate exercises by the kind teacher while the other pups bounded out to ‘meet and greet’ through a fence in the centre of the room. The day he walked out from beyond the screen in the presence of other dogs, I wept more tears – this time, of joy.

After several rounds of group training, we worked one-to-one with an expert trainer for months. We have hired private fields for play, and paid to go on walks with docile dogs. It has been a painstaking and costly process. But it has reaped its rewards. 

Picture shows a cavapoo dog in the snow

Breakthroughs and challenges

We now have a more confident boy who has learned that other dogs aren’t out to attack and has his range of strategies when he feels unsure. I’m proud to be his ‘safe space’. And we have learned to avoid the ‘tipping point’ when he has just had too much, and the only way to recover is a few days with no stimulation.

We still have our moments. Just last weekend, I had to go and retrieve my boy from a bush in which he had taken refuge. A fun run with two friendly dogs in the local dog-walking spot – off-limits to us for most of his young life – resulted in disaster when a larger dog decided to join in. His owner had zero recall, which is still my hidden fear.

A plea from a fellow dog lover

When you see a dog with a yellow vest, harness, or lead, or even a dog owner in a distant corner of a field, keeping away from everyone, I have one simple request. Please don’t let your dog run right up to them, shouting, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly!”

Those words are like nails down a blackboard for owners trying their best to bring their dogs out into the world in a responsible way. Hours of preparation and training have led to that outing. When it goes wrong, there are hours of corrective training ahead.

You see, we are the advocates for the animals who will go home and hide under beds or behind sofas, attacking their own back end, victims of surging adrenaline. Surely they deserve to play and run just as much as any other pooch?

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