Helping a Fearful Dog Build Confidence

Patience is key in helping a fearful dog build confidence.

The key to helping your timid/shy dog is to learn to read your dog’s signals, telling you that he needs more time or distance from the scary person or event. 

What body language indicates that a dog is nervous?
  • Yawning 
  • Lip licking 
  • Ears pinned back 
  • Tucked tail between his legs 
  • Shaking or trembling 
  • Crouching low or crawling 
  • Submissive urination 
What are other important rules for building my dog’s confidence? 
  • Do not pressure your dog to interact with people or investigate new things. Allow him to approach when he is comfortable. 
  • Interactions with people should be brief with no petting. Have people toss treats instead of hand delivering them. Shy/timid dogs prefer distance until they are comfortable. 
  • Take walks in a quiet neighborhood so your dog gets acclimated to walking on a lead with you (an unfamiliar person). Walk with confidence and talk to your dog. The goal is that your dog feeds off your confidence and not the other way around. 
  • Many shy/timid dogs do better with a confident, social dog. Elicit the help of a friend or neighbor who has a confident dog. Avoid taking your dog on walks with another fearful dog or one who barks at people and dogs while on lead. Before you know it, you will be walking two vocal dogs. Training a timid/shy dog can help build confidence. A trained dog learns to speak our language, which helps to build trust. 
What if I have already tried everything listed above, and I’m not seeing a lot of progress?  
  • Find a certified, reward-based trainer who has an understanding of learning theory. Visit or a list of certified dog trainers that can be seen above. We also offer behavior classes onsite at Asheville Humane.
  • If your dog enjoys the company of other dogs, signing him up for a reward-based training class can help build his confidence. Call and ask questions before signing up to ensure that the trainer uses positive training techniques and will help support you and your dog in class. 
  • The use of high-value treats is of the utmost importance. While dog treats may work at home, they may not be valuable enough when your dog is around people or things that make him afraid. 
  • Many dogs will not eat when they are afraid. If your dog loves the chosen treats at home but won’t eat them when out and about, you will have to find a higher-value treat when you take him to new places or introduce him to new people. 
What else can I do to cultivate a trusting relationship with my dog? 
  • Hand-feeding dogs can help your dog build a relationship. For example, take your dog’s ration of kibble with you and reinforce him for good behaviors such as looking at you, sitting, or approaching something scary. 
  • Create a safe space for your dog until he is relaxed in your house. This might be a dog bed, crate, or another area where your dog can escape the hustle and bustle of a busy home. Do not let people approach your dog when relaxing in his safe space. The key to helping build your dog’s confidence is time, patience, dedication, and love. If you feel you are not making progress at any time, we highly recommend seeking the help of a professional in the field to help guide you through the process. 

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