It’s the oldest tip in the book! “Oh here, give him a treat”.
I’ll explain myself. I want you to imagine something that scares you, maybe a spider or a clown. Now something that you would love to eat, pizza, cake, crisps, a salad (really!?). Now you’re going to imagine the scary thing holding that food item you really want, Eg. The spider is holding a pizza and offering you a slice. How do you feel about this situation? Do you suddenly feel that the spider is no longer scary? Props to you if you don’t. Most of us will feel conflicted. We really want that pizza but we really don’t want to get too close to the scary spider/ clown whatever. I imagine that is how a nervous dog feels when we hold out a treat. I’d call it icky feelings.
Obviously whoever came up with this idea had their heart in the right place, and it’s a decent principle, trying to get the dog to associate us with nice things, but there’s a way we can do that while avoiding the icky feelings.
Get a wee handful of treats at the ready. Instead of holding a treat out to the dog, step back and throw the treat towards or even better, a bit behind them. When they finish eating, chuck another. If you’re throwing the treat behind them what you may see is that after each throw they take a few steps closer towards you each time, this is not yet an invitation to touch them! But they are feeling more confident. Keep it going. When doggy appears to be happy coming right up to you in anticipation of the next treat being thrown back then kneel known, give them the opportunity to sniff you without sticking your hands out at them. Yes, I know it’s hard. Yes, I want to pet all the dogs too. Be patient! The less pressure you put on them the more likely they are to trust you and want to be your friend quicker. You may keep chucking treats away. If you hold a hand out do they move away or do they take up the invitation? If they move away then they just aren’t ready yet. It may take a few sessions to get there. Take it easy, give them the power of consent and build that lovely trusting relationship.
Ps. teach kids this too!
If you have a nervous dog with some icky feelings and would like more guidance, get in touch!