Q: We just adopted a rescue dog who is extremely nervous. How can we help him?
A: Nervousness is common in rescue dogs and may be challenging to overcome, but with time, patience and perseverance, it will improve. Acknowledging and respecting the dog’s feeling of nervousness is important when helping a dog overcome this.
As far as possible, a nervous dog should always be made to feel safe in his environment and never be forced to confront something that makes him nervous, as this will make the situation worse.
Try to identify the specific triggers that are causing the nervousness. Some dogs are nervous of different types of people, children, other dogs or certain noises.
Increasing the distance between the trigger and your dog will help to decrease nervousness. Move far enough away so that your dog feels comfortable enough to respond to you and accept treats.
Once you know the distance that is needed to keep your dog calm, you can work on slowly decreasing the distance by coupling nervous situations with positive rewards, like treats, lots of gentle praise or games. I would recommend contacting a qualified behaviourist if you are unsure about this and for more specific advice in your situation.
Alyson Kingsley Hall, behaviourist