Games One Shy Dog Owner Plays

Laurie from Saskatchewan recently shared some of the ways she discovered for inspiring her fearful dog Chewy to play. I didn’t want them to get lost in the ‘comment’ section of this blog so with her permission am sharing them with you here. Thanks Laurie!

Will that be cash or kibble?

Fetch is usually Chewy’s activity of choice so I’ve used that to teach her numerous words and phrases. (She knows approx 100 words/actions and related hand signals so far). It worked well right from the beginning (in the house) because we could interact in close proximity in an exciting, fun way without any physical touching unless she approached me directly.

I would sit on the floor several feet away and roll a ball to her or past her. She quickly became an incredible goalie. The only way I could win was to cheat- throw it over her head. She then learned to leap in the air and “grab” or “catch” those too.

The “go find it game” is one of the best teaching, bonding and confidence tools I know and fabulous mental exercise for her- a must for all dogs IMO and especially border collies. I started with hiding her ball or other favorite toys in plain view (behind me) while sitting on the floor and telling her to find it. Then I put on a jacket or hoodie and hid a toy on me while she watched-in my pockets, in the hood, up the back, get her excited and then tell her to find it. You can use a treat as well if your dog isn’t into toys. Once she knew the game, I would tell her to “stay”, then leave the room, hide it on me and return to sit and let her go at it.

The main reason I hid them on me in the very early days is that it made her eager to interact with me physically (sniffed me from head to toe, shoved her nose in my pocket, down my neck, pushed up the back of the hoodie to get the toy out). It always made me laugh out loud and she loves when I do that. Again, I just cheerily sat there without making a move to touch her at first.

Within a few months, she could find numerous objects by name in complex hiding places – upstairs on top of a door frame, on top of dressers or tables, under quilts and pillows, in the laundry hamper etc. If she can’t physically bring them to me, she signals she found the item by sitting or laying beside it.

When we go out, I ask her to find and bring her collar, leash, poop bag, my keys, purse. (Still won’t carry the latter. Too heavy maybe? lol) These items are never in the same place, so it’s actually very helpful. Helps me gather up laundry too.

She picks up items if I drop them at home and even at pet stores. There she carries them to the cashier and jumps up and puts it on the counter. As you can imagine, this took months but has done wonders for her confidence.

We did a lot of fun work at pet stores for very short stints at first at least 3x per week. It was scary for her at first with new sights, sounds and people, but it wasn’t long before she loved going there and we then moved to manners and polite greetings (feet on the floor please).

I also used a nearby park when no one was there to teach recall in a fun way. I used a long drag line (30′) at first. When she had explored for too long without looking at me, I would hide behind a tree and call her name and tell her to come find me. Other times I would just hide without calling her and she would always come barreling over to see where I’d gotten to. She was sooo excited to find me and it wasn’t long before she always kept an eye out for me to ensure I didn’t get lost.

Her reward for coming each time? Big praise, laughter, and being told to “go play”. My reward is now having a dog who will stop on a dime no matter what she’s doing, chasing dogs at the dog park, escorting a cat or squirrel out of the yard, and come to me every time I call her.

I also find it very effective to either squat down or go down on one knee and open my arms wide in getting her to come when I called her. Many people stand and bend forward over the dog as they arrive which can be very intimidating and threatening. Now all I have to do is drop into this position and she’ll come roaring over without me having to say a word. Great for longer distance communication too!

So for me, educating a fearful dog is at the top of my list. But if I do it right, she’ll never know that’s what it is.

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9 comments so far

  1. Katie on

    What a great suggestion. We have a dog that we rescued from the shelter and she is so sweet and loving, but very fearful…. We have bought her so many toys, but when we try to play with her, she looks at us weird. We just want her to have fun!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Hello and thanks for your comment Katie. If you haven’t already found fearfuldogs.com you may find more information to help you with your fearful new dog.

  2. Laurie on

    Thanks Katie!

    How long have you had your dog and what breed/s is she?

    Chewy didn’t know how to play either when I got her. I use the word “play” a lot, but to be accurate, playing fetch isn’t really play to her. Her border collie instincts and chase drive kick in so she has to chase it.

    Her ability to actually be playful with or around me took several months to develop. With Chewy, it came with bonding and earning her trust. In other words, on her schedule, not mine.

    I laughed when you mentioned the number of toys you bought. I did exactly the same thing and most are still unused in the box. Now I let her make her own selection at the pet store. Most often it’s not one I would have picked, but she always plays with the ones she selected.

    I took me a while too to learn about her interests beyond fetch.

    Have you tried any mental games? One I’ve been teaching Chewy recently is the “shell game”. All you need is a couple of plastic containers, such as margarine or yogurt containers or whatever’s on hand.

    To get her interest (if she’s food motivated), sit on the floor with her and tease her a little with a treat to get her excited (as long as this doesn’t overwhelm her)

    Place another treat underneath a container and ask her to find it. (Doing this when they’re hungry is more effective if you’re using food. I use a ball with Chewy b/c that’s what motivates her)

    If she’s confused, you can start with one container until she gets the hang of it. Chewy initially just pushed it over with her nose which was fine. After a few times, I introduced all three containers.

    Reward enthusiastically with a “Nice! You found it!” or in whatever manner she responds well to.

    I like games like this, especially with fearful dogs, because it takes the focus off both of you and puts it on something neutral and fun. Also great for bonding.

    It also helps broaden their English language skills, of which I am a very strong proponent.

    There’s also the “muffin tin game” along similar lines. Just google it and you’ll find various videos and tips.

    Just keep trying different things in short little bits each day- even for just a few minutes. She’ll let you know when you’ve hit the right one. 🙂

  3. Lizzie on

    I love the idea of the muffin tin game Laurie.
    I’ll certianly give it a go with Gracie.

    I have been using small plastic pudding pots to play ‘find the treat’ as Gracie loves to tear them to shreds afterwards. May not be all that desireable but, this is the closest thing to playing that she gets, as like so many other fearful dogs she has no interest in toys or balls etc.
    She is not destructive in the least so I’m not worried. 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      I’d be eating pudding til it came out of my ears if the pots provided my dog with something enjoyable to do. I can’t say enough how important giving a dog this kind of opportunity is.

      • Lizzie on

        I can assure you Debbie that we do get through quite a few puddings in this house.
        Gracie and I especially like the sticky toffee variety, yummy!

  4. fearfuldogs on

    Oh sure so now you’re using Gracie as an excuse to eat pudding!

    • Laurie on

      If I send Gracie a nice beef bone, can I have her pudding?

      • Lizzie on

        Are you trying to tell me something Laurie? 🙂

        Seriously though Gracie’s weight is becoming a concern to me. As food is her only motivation, I’ve regularly used ‘high value’ treats. She cannot have the exercise she needs outside, so it was inevitable that she would gain weight.

        Interesting to read Debbie’s latest blog on diet! My dogs have been on a raw food diet for years, although I do feed kibble as well. I can’t stomach the tripe and offal first thing in the morning 😦


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