Skip to content

17 Of The Tug-E-Nuff Community’s BEST Tips For Helping Shy & Nervous Dogs

Does your dog often get scared? Do they get overwhelmed by everyday situations? Would you like to find a way to boost and build their confidence?

At Tug-E-Nuff Dog Gear, we’re here to help. We often get asked for our tips on boosting the confidence of shy and nervous dogs.

There are lots of approaches you can take. Our favourite, and the one we (and many of our customers) have found most success with is to use a training toy they find especially motivating to distract and redirect their attention in situations they find tricky. 



Which toy you use all depends on what your dog finds motivating - we have options to suit every dog of every breed, and we can even provide a personalised toy recommendation. Particularly effective though are:

  • Sheepskin Chaser Tug (ideal for giving nervous dog's distance during play)
  • Food Bag Bungee (perfect if your dog is a foodie, but a treat alone doesn’t quite cut it)
  • The Clam (great for building confidence around noises your dogs struggle with, especially if you make a ‘noise box’)

german shepherd with nose in dog food toy

To help you help your shy or nervous dog, we also asked our lovely followers on Facebook and Instagram to share their tips and advice on building confidence. We had some fantastic responses.

Here are a few of our favourites:

🐾 Patience, care and understanding - it’s taken two years to get my rescue to trust me, made my day when he laid down beside me for a while for a belly rub - Joanne on Facebook

🐾 Chewing and licking is very calming! Reducing their anxiety before an activity sets them up with the best possible chance!  Also, listen to your dog. They may not be feeling it that day. Don't get stressed or annoyed. Finish on a good note, everything can wait for another day. - Laura Parry on Facebook

🐾 I taught my dog Merlin that he didn’t need to worry about other dogs because it is my job to sort out any issues.... his job is just to sniff and enjoy his walks and enjoy being a dog! So for example, if another dog runs up to us I will turn and walk him away - because he needs to know I will always remove him from a scary situation. - Harriet Smith on Facebook

🐾 Do enrichment activities to build confidence! - Sarah Swing on Facebook

🐾 Use a Chaser Tug to encourage a nervous dog to play. The longer handle gives the dog more space from you, helping to reduce pressure that might otherwise prevent the dog from engaging in play. Wiggle the tuggy along the ground away from the dog (think like a squirrel), not towards them. Moving the tug away is less scary for a worried dog and is more likely to spark their curiosity and appeal to their instinct to chase. - Mich Mercer on Facebook

🐾 Buffy is a one-year-old Hope Rescue pup. She is deaf and we are struggling with recall now that our big boy Tyger can not go on walks to the park to play with other dogs.We keep her on a long line and use Tug Toys waved in the air or along the grass to get her to come back to us. It's all about making me more fun than the dog over there and using it as and exciting distraction. - Sarah Clark on Facebook 

🐾 Ignore the negative, always praise the positive, no matter how small. Never force them into a situation they’ll feel uncomfortable in otherwise they’ll never have any trust in you. Be their comfort blanket and always end training sessions or walks on a positive note. - Courtney Fisher on Facebook

🐾 I love to work with the timid dogs at the shelter where I volunteer. My best tip is to carefully modulate your energy level slightly higher than the dog's. If I go in with high energy, I would overwhelm a shy dog. If I go in with energy too low, I'm not helping. By pitching it just right, I become non-threatening, interesting, and friendly. It takes practice, but it works every time. - Rebecca Porter on Facebook

🐾 Give others warning if needed (see pic) - Sarah-Wynne Jenkins on Facebook

🐾 I think we should first understand that a puppy needs to acquire most of these skills before 4-5 months of age. A good breeder will start to enrich the environment and this work should be continued at home. Take your puppy to lots of different environments (city, beach, vet). The more experience they have, the better. - @thethreemusketeerdogs 

🐾 Build an incredible bond through play so they know you are there for them and they know where to look for support. Encourage them to explore new environments, textures, shapes and sounds. Be aware of your dog’s comfort zones and DMT (distract, mark, treat) triggers. It’s important to find high value rewards and we use Tug-E-Nuff toys. Encourage calmness and reward them for being calm (without talking or fussing too much so they stay calm. It’s a privilege every day to be a nervous dog’s wingwoman/man - they are so brave and try so hard. - @tyler_and_maya_tales

dog with bright fauxtastic tough dog toy

🐾 Little and often. No need to overload their minds. Small, positive interactions every day. - @thecostswoldspaniels

🐾 Take it at their pace and don’t put them in situations they are not ready for. - @kangarucrazy 

🐾 Patience is key when it comes to nervous dogs, and dogs lacking in confidence should never be forced to do anything they aren't comfortable with. Little and often and always giving the dog  a choice is how we deal with Rusty’s lack of confidence. - @rustyfoxred  

🐾 Rewarding any novelty to start building a great optimist. New noises, new objects (as simple as a shopping bag or Tupperware box). New things = amazing things happen. - @absolutelyavi 

🐾 In terms of using Tug-E-Nuff toys: excitement. Lots of praise, lots of easy wins. Also, patience, positivity, reward and trust. Build your bond using play and your dog will know you’ll help them through anything. Keep it fun and rewarding! - @tobieandlexi 

🐾 Time, space and patience. Let them have lots of choice and build confidence at their own pace. - @amandajayne.coupland 



What the experts want you to know about reactive dogs

7 easy ways to help a rescue dog learn to play

5 simple things to make your dog super happy

Previous article Five Signs Your Dog Would Be Perfect For Flyball