Exercises for Building Confidence in Insecure Dogs

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

How to Help Dogs Gain Confidence

If you own a dog that cowers, pees submissively, and hides between your legs when concerned about things, you likely own an insecure dog that would do well with some confidence boosting. To help him, it does no good to scold him for peeing, push him away if he cowers between your legs, or force him in situations where he does not feel comfortable. These dogs need to be helped inwards-out. In other words, you need to build their confidence so that they no longer need to manifest outward manifestations of fear. With these tips, your dog will feel better, and the world will seem less intimidating than before.

I take this "holistic" approach with dogs I foster and train. There is no point in suppressing a behavior with harsh methods if the underlying emotions are not taken care of. If you are are fearful of spiders and tend to scream when you see one, and are slapped in the face for screaming, this will not change the underlying emotion; actually, now you may have two fears: the fear of spiders and the fear of being slapped on top of that!

5 Dog Confidence Boosting Exercises and Techniques

To help your poor dog learn to trust the world more and get a bit more confident, there are some specific exercises and training techniques that can help make your dog become more confident and secure. For certain, you do not want to use harsh training methods or aversion based training tools such as prongs, choke collars or shock, to suppress unwanted behavior. Even a loud tone of voice may intimidate the softer specimens. Please also remember that if your dog is acting aggressive, in many cases, there is an underlying element of fear at play. The following are some exercises and techniques that are good confidence boosters.


When introduced properly, agility obstacles can help your dog gain confidence. Inspired by a dog's obstacle course, agility is a sport that encompasses jumping over obstacles, running through tunnels, climbing A-frames, and walking on structures with unusual footing and wobbly surfaces. Why does agility help insecure dogs? Because the dog feels good about confronting obstacles and because he must continuously concentrate on adjusting his speed and balance.

Clicker Training

Clicker training can help build confidence in your dog. Free shaping and general shaping teaches your dog to become a creative thinker that will literally "open up" your dog. Your dog will soon learn how to try to offer behaviors. He will learn how to interact in his environment in new ways. Free-shaping is also helpful because the dog cannot make mistakes. The game "101 things to do with a box" may be helpful. Best of all, if your dog is scared of strangers, through targeting you can train your dog to target the hands of strangers and learn how to interact with them in a positive way.

Learn to Earn

Also, known as "say please", this program can help insecure dogs gain a routine. Some dogs enjoy knowing what to expect in their day. By having your dog sit before his meal, sit before opening the door or sit before putting on the leash, he learns better impulse control and it gives him the structure and routine he may crave, especially if he's a working dog breed.

Trick Training

Go get the beer from the fridge! Go get the mail! Open that door! Go play the piano! Trick training is not only fun, but it can also be a bog confidence booster as your dog gets to interact with the environment and accomplish tasks. If you add an audience where people praise your dog and give treats for the exhibition, he may also enjoy performing in front of them!

Basic Obedience

Believe it or not, basic obedience can help your dog gain confidence? How? By training your dog to sit, you are giving your dog something else to think about and also it shows your dog that he does not have to decide on his own how to act. Also, the praise and rewards will make your dog feel extra happy as he acknowledges he did something right.

A Ladder Can Help Boost Confidence

© 2012 Adrienne Farricelli

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 10, 2012:

Thanks geetbhim for stopping by, I am happy you found my hub on confidence building exercises for dogs helpful, kind regards!

sangeeta verma from Ludhiana India on October 10, 2012:

Your hub is useful in many ways for the pet owner. Thanks for sharing it. voted up.

Eiddwen from Wales on October 09, 2012:

Great words and tips which I am sure will benefit so many .


GiblinGirl from New Jersey on October 08, 2012:

Thanks alexa, I'll check out that hub.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 08, 2012:

I am sure it would help kids too!

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 08, 2012:

Giblingirl, this hub may be helpful for the guests issue, it addressed men, but can be used with any guests:/dogs/Dog-Behavior-How-to-St...

Larry Fields from Northern California on October 07, 2012:

Hi alexadry. Maybe some age-and-species-appropriate agility work could help build confidence in children as well. Voted up and interesting.

GiblinGirl from New Jersey on October 07, 2012:

I actually have a dog that gets pretty terrified any time people come over our house. We tried the thundershirt but it didn't help at all. I'll have to try out some of your suggestions to see if they help.

Russ Moran - The Write Stuff from Long Island, New York on October 07, 2012:

My Shih-Tzu is a retiring wimp. Thanks for these ideas that I shall now introduce to little Sammy. Voted up and useful. A friendly reco - some more photos and maybe a video would be great.

wetnosedogs from Alabama on October 07, 2012:

I love that ladder video. Great job.

Exercises for Building Confidence in Insecure Dogs - pets

The following was written in response to a letter on the mastiff mailing list about a young mastiff with submissive tendencies.

You mentioned he is submissive (submissive urination & defecation, hiding, face to wall, etc.). I have studied Canine Behavior & Development for 8 years now and have had success rehabilitating dogs with behavioral disorders that Certified Animal Behaviorists have given up on. I am not certified because I am not interested in other species, just canines, and they do not certify just Canine Behaviorist.

This said, I just wanted to suggest to you that you may wish to try some confidence building exercises such as the following.


Instigate a game of tug of war with the puppy. Begin gently at first and allow him to instigate any rough play. Shake the towel in front of him and tell him, "get it". When the puppy takes the towel into his mouth and pulls, release the towel and LET him win. Then praise him generously, "good boy!".

As the puppy builds confidence and begins to pull more on the towel, offer a little resistance and tug back, but always let him win, and then praise generously!

Important Note: When doing this exercise with an Alpha dog, do not allow him to win. Make him release the towel or tug when you command, "OUT".


Get down onto the floor with the puppy. A more submissive puppy will lay down and turn belly up when you initiate any contact with him. A really submissive may even urinate at this point. A less submissive will just sit down and turn his head away and not make eye contact.

While you are on the floor with the puppy place your head beneath his neck and allow him to be `Dominant Dog' for as long as you both are comfortable. (Do not try this exercise with an Alpha dog, but a submissive will never try to dominate you). Repeat this exercise on a daily basis.


When the puppy is comfortable with the Submission Exercise, place the puppy over the top of you and let him stand or lay over you. (Like a baby laying on your stomach.) While he is there you can massage or rub him and talk gently to him. Again, do not do this exercise with an Alpha dog, you will be inviting trouble. But a submissive dog will not try to establish himself as pack leader and will not try to dominate you.


When the puppy is laying down begin by gently rubbing (like petting) him. As he becomes more accustomed to the idea, start gently massaging the back, sides, neck, then move on to the legs, head, and finally (this should be last) belly. Because by forcing a dog to expose the belly, you are forcing him to submit to you and this is the opposite effect you are trying to accomplish.

Massage Therapy is naturally relaxing and calming. By massaging the muscles it forces the body to release endorphins and enkephalins which provide, an opium like effect, and causes the dog to relax. These substances (and other hormones in the body, such as adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, and corticosteroids) are associated with reactions to physical and psychological stress and adaptation to stress therefore, it assists the brain to become more accepting of new, and what may usually be frightening, stimuli.

Do not force a submissive dog to accept Massage Therapy. If he gets up and walks away, let him do so. If he continues to walk away and does not accept your attentions, begin while he is standing by just rubbing him (as petting) then slowly continue the exercises and gradually work them into a massage. I have never seen a dog who eventually did not accept this technique.

NOTE: If the dog was an Alpha, I would force the dog into a Dominant Down and then continue the Massage Therapy.


Begin socialization in areas of calm and away from excited stimuli, such as the park on a quiet day. Perform Massage Therapy on the puppy on the premises where you are doing the socialization. This will help to calm him and allow him to become more accepting of new stimuli.

Introduce puppy slowly to adults or calm children. Be certain children do not run up to puppy so as not to startle him.

As puppy becomes more accepting of new situations gradually introduce him to new and more advance stimuli each time performing the Massage Therapy at the location where socialization is to occur. Socialization of a shy pup should be done very gradually. One set back can be very hard to overcome and put you back to square one.

I STRONGLY suggest the Massage Therapy! It has cut the rehabilitation time from 1/2 -2/3 in ALL of the dogs I have worked with, be it Fear Motivated Aggressive, Dominant Aggressive, Species Aggressive from Dominant Alpha to Submissively shy. Try it! It REALLY works!

I know that there are some doubtful people who are quick to berate the Massage Therapy. To these people I would like to say, "try it before you knock it". Actually give it a workable effort.

An excellent book of reference for you is: The Healing Touch by Dr. Michael Fox, DVM. It is $11.95 and teaches all of the best techniques. It can be ordered from any book store.

Helping Restore the Confidence of an Insecure Dog

Published Date: June 25, 2014

Daisy is a one year old Great Dane female with some self esteem issues. Her owner contacted me for help with a number of behavioral problems fear of new people – specifically men. Not respecting her owner’s personal space or authority, inconsistent when following commands or corrections and pulling on the leash.

As soon as I arrived for the session I could tell this was an insecure dog. She barked, then cowered or ran away, paced in circles and was clearly agitated and stressed.

I completely ignored her as I discussed the situation with her owner. I remained as still as possible, avoided all eye contact and adopted a relaxed body pose. It took a few minutes, but eventually Daisy came over to give me a good sniff.

When I work with an insecure dog, I always try to incorporate some basic skill training. I believe that dogs feel a sense of pride when they master a new skill and that’s a great way to start building up confidence.

Her owner told me that Daisy didn’t really know any commands, so I took out some high value meat treats so we could work on the basics. I started with the sit. Its a super basic exercise, but helps put the dog in a subordinate role and gives the owner a great structured way to provide positive reinforcement.

Because she was so nervous, I held a meat treat out to the side with my palm up. Once Daisy approached, I slowly raised my hand upward and at an angle towards her back. This causes a dog to look up to follow the treat, which usually helps them ease into a sit position.

Daisy backed up before sitting down. At first I thought she was trying to increase the distance between us, but because they have wood floors and Daisy was moving to a spot covered by a blanket or doggy bed, I moved closer to the covered floor and tried again.

It took a minute and a half of coaxing, but I was finally able to get her to sit down. As soon as she did, I offered the high value treat and repeated the command word “sit” a few times as she chewed.

I repeated this process several times. With each repetition, Daisy sat faster and showed much better body posture and movement. By the end of the exercise, she was clearly carrying herself with confidence and seemed to be enjoying herself. Because she rarely sat on command before our session, I suggested that her owner repeat this exercise several times over the next week or two.

Next I went over how her owner can claim her personal space when Daisy gets too close or paws at her for attention. Its important to avoid punishment when dealing with an insecure dog. They respond much better to earned positive reinforcement which is why working on basic commands through reward training is so beneficial.

At the same time, its not reasonable to ignore a dog who is pawing at her owner in an attempt to demand attention and affection. Her owner had been putting the dog in the kennel when she got out of line.

While removing the dog from the situation or stimulation its reacting to can stop the behavior, it doesn’t help the dog learn to get over the fear. In extreme cases, thats the way to go. But for more moderate outbursts, I suggested that she simply put the dog on a leash.

Sometimes putting a dog on a leash causes it to stop attempting to take a leadership position or to take a more subordinate role. If not, the leash allows the owner to correct the dog with a quick, well timed tug.

By correcting or disagreeing with unwanted behaviors as soon as they happen, we can help communicate to the dog the things we don’t want. Combining that technique with positive reinforcement that builds up Daisy’s confidence will increase trust and lead to better interactions between dog and owner.

How To Train The Shy, Insecure or Fearful Dog

Shyness and fear behavior in dogs comes from insecurity.

Your dog’s insecurity can be caused by several factors:

  • A genetic disposition toward insecurity
  • Lack of early socialization
  • The owner not providing clear leadership
  • Traumatic past experiences

But regardless of the cause of your dog’s insecurity– believe it or not, the solution to fixing this type of problem behavior is fairly easy, using the right techniques and a little bit of patience. These are the five points that are crucial to understanding how we professional dog trainers cure the shy, insecure and fearful dog. Use these and you’ll see 80% of your dog’s insecure behavior vanish in less than two weeks, and in most cases completely disappear after three months:

1. As with any dog, the first step is to establish yourself as the pack leader. If you are not the pack leader, then your dog has no reason to trust you or listen to you. And if he doesn’t feel he can trust you, then he won’t ever learn to relax and be confident with his environment.

The way to establish yourself as the pack leader is two-fold: First, start using our “Nothing In Life Is Free” approach. (I go into more detail about this, earlier in the book). And second, start teaching your dog obedience exercises: Sit, down, come, heel, boundary & perimeter training and stay. Obedience exercises help teach your dog that you are the pack leader (after all… you’re making him do behaviors, not the other way around) It also teaches your dog to trust you.

2. Do not coddle your dog. Do not try to reassure your dog that, “everything is going to be okay.” Coddling your dog does not help. The dog perceives it as reassurance that he’s doing the right thing: Acting afraid! Instead, make a bid deal when he’s acting confident in a situation where he was formerly showing insecurity.

3. Make Your Dog “Work Through The Fear” Owners frequently think that because the dog is showing fear or insecurity, they need to stop making the dog do what they’re asking. The opposite is actually true: Dogs get over their fears by doing the behavior. Make your dog “do it.” Not with force or aggression, but rather with calm firmness and directness. When I work with an insecure dog that doesn’t want to climb up on a step, I adopt a, “Hey… it’s no big deal. Here’s what you do.” And bang! It’s over and done with, before they know it. They’re up on the step. Then I bring them down off the step and make them do it, again. The important take-away here is: I’m not giving the dog a choice. They’re going to do it, and then they’ll realize that whatever I’m asking them to do is really not so bad. You can’t reason with a dog. They have limited use of logic and reason. They learn through action. They get over their hang-ups that way. We probably do, too. We’re just too dense to realize it.

4. Repetition Builds Confidence. Make your dog “do it.” Then make your dog do it, again. And again. And then again, in a different environment. A hundred times. Two hundred times. Repetition builds confidence. Soon, you’ll see your dog realize this exercise is familiar. And familiarity builds confidence. It doesn’t matter what behavior you’re working on getting your dog to overcome: It can be sitting while people walk past. Or walking over a man hole. Or coming when called. Repetition builds confidence.

5. … read the rest of this article in Adam’s “Secrets of a Professional Dog Trainer!”

Watch the video: How To Stop Your Dog From Pulling On The Leash (September 2021).