5 training games that will help build your dog's trust

A well-trained dog trusts their owner and feels safe in their environment. A confident dog is a happy dog! Dog trainer, John Woods reveals his top training games for helping a nervous dog build confidence through five fun, trust-building games.

Think about those people you trust...

How did you get to that stage? Perhaps, they followed through on what they said and you always know exactly where you stand?

Although trust is different to humans and dogs, it's still an important bonding element in your relationship with your pet.

Why is training important?

John Woods

Once trained, confident dogs will follow their owner and will perform what is asked of them (looking forward to the praise and/or reward they trust will follow!). A well-trained dog will trust that a familiar routine will result in the positive result they're anticipating. This is important for maintaining a positive and safe relationship in the home and the wider world.

If you have adopted a rescue dog, you may find that you have to work harder to build back the trust that may have been lost or that was never built.
With hard-work comes the greatest reward, and there's not much more rewarding than seeing a nervous dog transform into a confident, happy one! Just ask our centre staff.

It's your job, or you and your dog trainer's job to establish a strong relationship built on trust. As well as, to help a nervous, shy or timid dog to feel safe and able to rely on humans again.

Training is important for your dog's general welfare and can also help your dog to cope when they're left alone. 8 out of 10 dogs find it hard to cope by themselves but only 50% of dogs that suffer show obvious signs. Training can help reduce the likelihood that they will suffer from separation anxiety and associated issues which can significantly impact their happiness.

Find out more about identifying and treating separation anxiety.

Trust building games

Play is a great way to build trust and confidence. Here are my top five brain games to help you build your relationship with your newly adopted shelter dog...

Teaching Tricks

rspca dog training with tricks

Sometimes the simplest games are the most effective when it comes to training. Start by finding a trick that you find easy enough to stick with. Tricks like paw, hi-five, or crawl are usually good starting-pointing.

Your adopted dog may be new to training games and so you may be free to introduce training your way. However, depending on where your rescue dog came from, your dog may have had some initial training at the centre. The first step would be to talk with centre staff if possible to discuss any known history and any games that they're more engaged with as well as if they have any big motivators (for example, food!).

Either way, the type of trick you pick or start with is usually irrelevant. It's all about setting your dog up to succeed and offering plenty of positive reinforcement and reward!

Remember, even a centre won't usually be aware of a rescue animal's entire history and so it's important to pay attention to your dog. If they aren't reacting positively to one game, try another until you find something new or something that they enjoy.

Although, try to avoid trying too many new things in quick succession as this can be confusing. Stick to one game for long enough to find out if the initial challenges can be overcome and always take your time with training. There's no reason to start with hi-five if it's not for them - they may be more warm to offering a paw and so you can start there and build on it!

Hide and Seek

rspca training for dogs hide and seek

The idea of this trust-building game is to get the dog exploring the environment they are in. 
New pets need to feel comfortable with their family and also with their home. Treasure hunt games are a great beginner trust-building exercise as they allow your dog to explore new areas freely and independently.

Science shows us that there's an increase in dopamine - the 'feel good' hormone - in dogs while they are searching for something. All you have to do is place treats in easy to reach places around your home and garden. Then, encourage your dog to seek them out! As they get used to the idea and begin to build their confidence, you can place the treats in harder to reach places, like under chairs or down the side of the couch to keep them engaged and exploring more places.

By having your dog explore every nook and cranny (while supervised), if they do spot something for the first time and get startled, you will be there with them and can reassure them by being calm and positive yourself and also giving them some especially tasty treats. This will help them to associate the 'new thing' with a good feeling.

Explore Training

rspca dog training

This one is more of a technique for owners than it is a game - and it's great for dogs with low confidence as they can't lose!
Initially, there's no specific aim to this activity. You simply offer some toys, boxes, pots - anything that you think your dog might like and then observe how they respond. If he/she shows a behaviour you like - such as play - then reward them. Doing so consistently will encourage positive and healthy behaviour.

By watching what your dog naturally chooses to do, you can then decide on an overall aim. Say he/she goes straight to the box but is wary, you can simply reward their interest. He may stick his nose in, great!

As you progress, you can throw a toy in there or add some paper. You may even offer some more boxes of different sizes that contain different objects - you're simply following his/her lead and helping your dog explore their environment. In turn, your pet knows that you're there with them and learns that 'exploring' leads to positive outcomes - for example, treats!

Walkie Talkies

rspca dog training walkie talkies

This is a great way to build on your relationship with your dog. Before you set off, set yourself a target. For example, in a 20-minute walk, you will call your dog's name five times at varying intervals with the aim of getting their attention.

By practising this you're building on your dog's focus, reminding them that you're there with them and also showing that you have treats!
This particular training is important for keeping you and your pet safe in the future. Should something go awry and you need to get his/her attention - they'll have learnt that it'll be worth listening to you! Make sure you are consistent with calling his/her name and rewarding their attention.

Play!

rspca dog catch

The reality is, you can't beat good old-fashioned play to build a relationship. Dogs love to tug and most love to chase, so investing in a flirt pole (a pole with a rope tied to it and a toy attached at the end of the rope so that it can be pulled along, lifted in the air etc.) can be very rewarding!

We know that if they're used to playing, dogs feel good doing so, so what better way to help them figure out that you're a good guy than by making them feel good?

Problems can arise if you have a dog who has never played or been given the opportunity to. So, you may need to introduce play from scratch. Begin by offering a selection of toys, see which they choose and then entice them to play by making the toy move around, disappear/reappear from behind something and so forth.

Remember, consistency and patience are key

Depending on the history of your new family member, you may have a long way to go before they trust you fully, but play will certainly help you on your way! As with any new skill, practice makes perfect. Committing to training will also help you and your family bond with your dog or puppy (as long as the training is approached as an enjoyable thing to do by dogs and humans alike!). Remember, training should be fun!

If you're ever concerned about your dog's behaviour, seek advice from the centre you adopted from or source a qualified behaviourist in your area.

Find out more

Discover more dog training tips to build trust and confidence.

Before you go...

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