Anxious dog? Try these 3 confidence-boosting tips from a trainer

Scared dog hiding under the bed
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Seeing your dog in distress is the last thing you want, and it can be hard to watch if you’re a protective pet parent like us. For those with nervous dogs, everyday situations can be a potential trigger, making it hard to go about the day as normal. 

Fears and phobias in dogs are common, and although it takes time and work, there are lots of ways that you can boost their confidence. Not sure where to start? Mattison Skoog, a dog behavior and business coach, has just shared three of her top tips on Instagram that you can try out.

Before you get started, it’s important to remember to stay patient with your dog. This comes above everything, according to Mattison. It’s easier said than done when looking for quick results but going at your dog’s pace will reward you in the long run. Reading dog body language and signals will also help you to communicate with them better. 

If you want to improve your dog’s confidence, here’s Mattison’s advice: 

1. Use food patterns and cues consistently

It all starts with creating a safe and engaging learning environment for your dog. You can do this by adopting food patterns and cues (using the best dog treats) that increase the predictability of your training.

2. Introduce controlled stimuli

You can also boost your dog’s confidence by introducing them to controlled stimuli, such as new sounds, textures, sights, and smells. According to The Journal of Veterinary Behavior, counterconditioning (combining a desirable stimulus, like food, with a scary stimulus) can help change an animal's behavior.

3. Desensitize them to triggers

From loud noises to traveling in the car, there might be a lot of things that frighten your dog. To help desensitize them to the triggers, Mattison suggests exposing your dog to potential startles gradually over time. This approach helps to “extinguish the manifestations of fearful behavior”, according to the BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine. It’s a good idea to record it when you do so you can look back on how far they have come.

For more expert advice, here are five things a champion dog trainer does to train her own dogs. Want to learn more about dog body language? I learned these five dog body language cues and they changed my relationship with my dog. 

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Megan Milstead
Staff Writer

Megan is Staff Writer on PetsRadar and covers news, features, buying guides, and reviews. When she’s not talking about her cats, Nala and Chilli (a rare occasion), you’ll find her watching funny pet videos on Instagram and sending hundreds of them to her friends. She’s particularly interested in pet wellness and is fascinated by cat behavior. Megan has been animal-obsessed for as long as she can remember, having grown up with pets since the age of three and competed in horse riding competitions for seven years. She has had a variety of animals, including horses, dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, and fish, which taught her first-hand everything she knows about pet care.


Megan studied Journalism at the University of Westminster, where she specialized in lifestyle journalism and was Editor of the online student publication, Smoke Radio. She has experience working across digital and print media and previously worked for titles such as Harrods, My Local News, and Licklist. As a committed pet mom of two, she enjoys going the extra mile for her cats and is passionate about helping readers find the answers they need.