How to Help a Nervous Dog 

Many dog owners have rescued dogs from a shelter, knowing very little about their past. A lot of dogs adopted out of shelters exhibit negative traits. They usually are extremely high energy – caused by low stimulation due to being kept in a small area for extended periods of time. They are also very timid and fearful of strangers. If your rescue dog lands in this spectrum, there are ways to help. In this article I will give you some tips and tricks on how to help your dog relinquish these sad and unfortunate traits.  

If you have brought your dog home from the shelter and they are very rambunctious, you must learn how to drain that pent up energy. Sometimes this may take more than just a couple walks throughout the day. You will have to try all sorts of new things. Maybe taking them somewhere new to let them smell new scents. When a dog uses his nose, it helps decrease stress levels. While we walk our dogs, we are typically using our eyes to look around and pay attention to what is going on. Dogs typically use their noses to get a feel of what is going on in the environment they are in as well as who was also in that environment. A top dog food website states that it’s best to let your dog take 5 minutes to simply just sniff. If you make this a habit for your dog, it will very much calm them down after being amped up from the shelter life. This should be done daily. It also would be in your best interest to go and look at interactive toys to help with your dog’s mental stimulation. With the right amount of physical exercise and mental stimulation you can tremendously help you dog! 

If you have a nervous dog that is very fearful of other people, it is important that you do not coddle this behavior. I know well, most owners tend to pet their dog when they are shaking with fear. This is completely wrong when trying to help a nervous dog. When you pet your dog, do not cuddle or give them treats as it’s rewarding their nervous and fearful behavior. When you reward your dog with pets while they are fearful of another person, you are telling your dog it is okay to be scared. If you want to get your dog to the point where they are not fearful of other people, you must not pet or reward them. When your dog realizes nervous behavior does not elicit a response, it becomes easier for them to acclimate to new people and gain confidence.  

If your dog is meeting new people infrequently, you should have whoever they are meeting greet them with treats. If someone new to your dog is going to come over, try different things to get your dog more comfortable. If a dog is scared and somebody quickly approaches them for pets, it may retaliate with a snarl or bite. I have whoever is meeting my dog come over and sit on the floor of a common area. Give the person they are meeting their favorite treats. While the person is sitting on the floor, simply have the individual toss the high reward treats toward your dog. Conversate with the person so that your dog understands they are not a threat. This will not work if your dog is aggressive.  

Fearful dogs usually need a confidence boost. Teaching your dog new tricks or involving them in activities can help gain confidence, while also being a lot of fun. When dealing with a fearful and/or nervous dog you do not want to rush the process. One great activity I enjoy is “Go Find”. This is an activity that makes them really use their nose, and like I said earlier this can drain a lot of energy and can be very fun for both you and your dog. You can play this game inside the home or outside. You can use treats or pieces of their kibble. I would suggest using their kibble, so their calorie intake does not rise substantially. If you play inside, you can toss kibble around the house while they are in another room. When you let them in, say “go find.” Typically, they will smell out the pieces of kibble you have hidden around the house. You can also use an old blanket or towel for the pieces of kibble. Roll it up, which forces the dog to try and figure out a way to open the cloth up and get their reward. If you play this game outside, it’s typically done the same. Except instead of them trying to open a cloth, they will have to sniff through the grass and/or a pile of leaves which can be a super fun activity for most dogs. 

I believe these little activities can really help a dog grow and build self-confidence. They may be a little different, but they can really get your pup thinking and using their nose. Like I said earlier in this blog a dog’s sense of smell is quite amazing and when they are using that sniffer it really helps decrease stress levels. In terms of a nervous dog, always remember to not reward that nervous/anxious behavior because it rewards what the dog is feeling at that time.