Bonding And Trust With A Nervous Dog


Experienced Member
Nervous is probably not exactly right, but Kitana does not like to be touched and will typically shrink if you try to get her to stand or lay down, ect. And if my voice is not totally upbeat and cheerful she shrinks away and acts like I'm yelling (and I'm far from it).
She's 2, a rescue, loves food and toys, and when I was adopting her I found out she HATES her body touched when she has a toy in her mouth. She will snap, but with me she is starting to know I am not doing anything bad and am not going to stop touching her either.

Anyhow, she is the total opposite of my crazy lab x who bounces back from being told no. So I am having to come up with a completely different way of training her. Any suggestions?


Honored Member
Yes what Jean says, is a good way to go. Calming signals are always good. So when you want to touch her, move in sideways, with a little curve, don't walk straight to her. No direct eye contact, but blinking, likking your lips and yawning will all reasure her.
Also stay low when you pet her. Make yourself small by crouching down to her level, don't bend over her(this is threatening or dominating to a dog)
Lots of praise and/or treats while you pet her. Keep a treat in your hand so she has to make an effort to get it, like likking or nibbling it and at the same time let you hand glide over her shoulder.
Then after this let her do some stress relieve by playing, throwing a ball or whatever she likes to do.
I walk a dog who has the same problem. This dog won't take food, but she loves her ball. So I show her the ball, pet her for a few seconds, then throw the ball.


Well-Known Member
Hi, me again... just a thought. She seems to be taking cues from your voice (I've read this a couple of times) so... what about using hand signals only? Words are really, for our benefit mostly. Those noises become associated with a behaviour for the dogs. You could ask a dog to "spaghetti" and if that's the sound she has association with the action "sit" that is what will happen. The grammar is our own, not theirs.

The next thing that I'm thinking is building confidence. It can be her tricks. A trick is, again, like obedience, a learned pattern of behaviour. So... I would start with the Puppy Stuff. even though she is 2 years old. Things like Puppy rule of 7. Eating on different surfaces, walking on different things, different textures in her mouth etc. Just always be ready to stop before she shuts down.

Reward behaviors you want to see again, ignore the ones you don't. She gets rewarded for moving off the front step, not running toward it in fear. She gets rewarded for staying the course meeting strangers, ignored for sitting between your legs. (I would, also, personally, try to move to the side if possible, so she can stay in her "safe zone", slowly decreasing this zone over time)Don't try to coax her out, don't try to baby-talk her back onto the lawn. When she makes her own progress toward the desired behaviour, reward. (click/treat)

Focus on what she is doing "right". Reward that, you'll probably find that this girly is so tuned into you that she will start to offer it more often.

As to the touching... I would find her break point. If she can handle 5 pats on the chest (start with a spot that is the least threatening) stop at 4 and reward. Repeat a lot! Move up to 5 strokes, then 10. When she tolerates that touch, get a little more vigorous, pat opposite to the fur growth, use the back side of a brush, then the right side, exhaust the choices. Know that each spot you desensitize will take the same amount of training. As her trust builds, you will find the repeats will be less. Keep a log, so you can see your progress. It will change faster than you may realize and it's always good to look at your progress.

You could try to smear peanut butter on the back of your hand, so she can lick it off while you pat, no pat=no peanut butter, if she backs away from the patting, she is removing her reward, her choice. . One baby step is better than one set back. Reward highly (whatever that is to your dog) finish quickly, and practice often.If she starts to react poorly, back up to the last spot she was comfortable, and get her happy there.

As recommended, the Examination Lesson is a great example to follow. You'll know you've got it when you can do this lesson!

PS, one other thought... if you think your dog could tolerate it, you could tether her to you with her leash. It would, I believe, help her to look to you for guidance and understand that you make the decisions. Most fearful dogs, need to know someone will look after them and make the decision.


Active Member
Some dogs just aren't the "touchy feely" sorts, so she may never love being cuddled or that sort of thing. You should teach her to accept handling though and I believe someone already posted info on that. Before jumping into that though, I would work on some fun stuff and bonding stuff with her. Have you tried any clicker training with her? Does she like food? If so, I'd click her for super easy stuff so she starts to understand that she can earn rewards from you and can develop a training relationship with you. Even if the only things she does at first is look at you or move her head, click and reward often. Also try to come up with a routine for her, so she can gain confidence in knowing what will happen in every day life. Try to take her on walks at least a few times a day where you just enjoy each other's company.

The snapping with a toy in her mouth could be a form of resource guarding. This explains step by step how to work through that: Resource Guarding v1.pdf


Honored Member
How is this dog now? Is this dog getting better, or worse,
about being touched? HOw is this dog doing with unknown people?


Experienced Member
So we are doing ten times better. I think she is getting used to me, and I am trying not to be so gruff when around her. She is a dog that is not big on the touchy feely stuff, but I still try to incorporate that as a reward along with some high pitched squealing (which she likes and works since she tends not to get over excited).
We are doing some clicker training, which is working great. I keep my mouth shut for the most part and we understand each other quite well. She's also starting to get over the fact that yes, I am going to touch her body. Her hair is growing out finally, so we are getting some decent grooming/bonding time in.

Thanks everyone for all the advice.


Experienced Member
something you could try since your clicker training her, is to get her to touch,
get her to start coming forward and touching your hand then over time try to get her to sit beside you when your sitting on the ground (for about 20 seconds if not more), be at her level so your less imtimidating and get her used to being beisde you without you reaching out to touch her, even better if you can get her to lie beside you,
then go back to her touching your hand while you move your hand round her sometimes touching her with your free hand and click and feed only when your free hand touches her, dont move your hand in and out really fast if she backs up go back to moving your hand slowly toward her not actually touching her until she doesnt react again then just hold your hand on her and reward heaps

eventually you will able to move your hand to her more vonerable parts of her body and be able to tuch her anywhere,

we got a new pug, Bacon who had a problem with anyone touching his legs, (he has a scar on one of his front legs and had a bad nail trimming session one time)

so we worked this method on him, hes gotten sooo much better can still be a problem when it comes to nail trimming (he actually had to be sedated to get his nails cut) but now he doesnt mind us touching his legs and feet he still acts up if we have trimmers with us but is slowly getting there

good luck with your dog