How to Get a Dog to Trust You (10 Tips)

As a dog owner and a dog trainer, I’ve worked with hundreds of pups, from fearful rescues to confident show dogs. And in my experience, building trust is the essential first step to developing a strong bond with your dog.

While some dogs are naturally outgoing, others may be shy or scared due to a lack of socialization or past trauma. 

But don’t worry – with time, patience, and the right techniques, even the most cautious canine can learn to trust you completely.

In this article, I’ll share my proven methods for getting dogs to trust you using positive reinforcement, routine, and compassion.

Whether you’ve just brought home a new rescue dog or are struggling with a long-time family pet, these tips will help strengthen your relationship and make your dog feel secure. 

how to get a dog to trust you,

Let’s get started!

Why Trust Matters in the Dog-Human (DH) Relationship 

For dogs, trust is the foundation of a feeling of safety and security. 

When a dog trusts you, they feel comfortable coming to you for affection, playtime, food, and comfort. As your dog’s “safe space,” you become a source of calm and reassurance when they are scared or unsure.

Trust is also vital for training and socialization. Dogs who trust their owners are more likely to respond to commands and learn new behaviors. They will also be less fearful around new people, animals, places, and experiences if they know you have their back.

Building a bond of trust leads to:

  • A well-behaved dog: Trust facilitates training by making your dog eager to listen and please you.
  • A confident, friendly dog: Your pup will feel comfortable around strangers and in new situations when trusting you to handle interactions.
  • A happy dog: Dogs who trust their humans experience less stress and anxiety.
  • A strong human-animal bond: Mutual trust creates a deeper connection and more rewarding relationship.

Signs Your Dog Doesn’t Fully Trust You

How do you know if your dog doesn’t fully trust you yet?

Look for these common signs:

  • Avoiding eye contact: Lack of eye contact can signal fear, anxiety, or insecurity.
  • lip licking and yawning: These behaviors are often calming signals that show stress.
  • Pinned back ears: Ears pressed tightly against the head indicate feelings of fear.
  • Low or tucked tail: A lowered or tucked tail can mean a dog is frightened or timid.
  • Shivering or trembling: If your dog’s body shakes, they may be very worried or anxious.
  • Hiding or backing away: Dogs who don’t trust might hide under furniture or retreat when approached.
  • Urinating or defecating: Some very scared dogs lose bladder or bowel control.
  • Barking or growling: Deep, loud vocalizations can be a fearful dog’s way to create distance.
  • Snapping or biting: Extreme distrust could lead fearful dogs to snap or bite when feeling threatened.
dog looking,

If you notice these signs, your dog may need help learning to feel more secure through trust-building techniques. Catching problems early allows you to intervene before fear escalates into aggression.

Why Some Dogs Struggle to Trust

There are a few common reasons why dogs may have difficulty trusting humans completely:

Lack of Socialization

Puppies have a prime socialization period between 3-16 weeks old. If they aren’t exposed to enough people, places, and stimuli during this developmental stage, they are more likely to become fearful of new things as adult dogs. Proper socialization teaches puppies how to be confident in unfamiliar situations.

Previous Trauma

Dogs who have been abused, neglected, abandoned, or otherwise traumatized can develop trust issues. Bad experiences like rough handling or punishment can make them hand-shy.

Re-homed dogs may have learned not to trust if abruptly separated from a previous family. These pups need extra patience to rebuild confidence.

Medical Issues

Anxiety disorders, pain, or sickness can make dogs seem more fearful or irritable, causing them to be slower to warm up to people. Working with your vet to treat any medical problems can improve your dog’s ability to trust.

Poor Breeding

Some dogs are genetically prone to nervousness or skittishness. Responsible breeders aim to produce mentally sound puppies through proper breeding selection. Unfortunately, irresponsible breeders may pass on tendencies towards fearfulness.

The key is addressing trust problems early. With time and TLC, even the most cautious dogs can become attached to their caring owners.

Tips for Getting a Dog to Trust You

Building trusting relationships with dogs takes effort, but it’s extremely rewarding. Here are my top training tips:

1. Be Patient

Rushing the process won’t work. Let your dog warm up to you at their own pace. Move slowly and speak softly around timid dogs. Refrain from petting or cuddling until they solicit affection first. Allow days or weeks for them to get comfy.

2. Use Positive Reinforcement

Reward desired behaviors with praise and high-value treats like chicken or cheese. This conditions your dog to associate you with good things. Correct unwanted behavior by redirecting them, not punishment. Yelling or forcing interactions will undermine trust.

3. Follow Their Lead

Let your dog guide interactions, especially new rescues. Approach them calmly and see if they sniff you or instigate contact themselves. If they seem uncomfortable, give them space. Build confidence through sessions of hand-feeding meals.

4. Establish a Routine

Predictable schedules and consistent daily routines make dogs feel secure. Feed, walk, and play with your dog at the same times each day. Make sure they have designated areas for resting, eating, and eliminating. Dogs thrive on structure.

5. Use Their Name Positively

Associate your dog’s name with rewards and praise so it becomes a signal of good things to come. Say it happily before play, meals, and affection. Soon your dog will recognize their name as a positive cue.

6. Take High-Value Treats on Walks

Bring tasty, smelly treats when walking your dog or introducing them to new people. Ask strangers to offer a treat while you reassure your pup. Having a happy experience helps overcome uncertainty around new faces.

7. Let Them Investigate New Objects

Don’t force your dog to interact with something unfamiliar. Allow them to approach in their own time. Offer treats for any displays of curiosity or bravery. If they seem very worried, increase the distance.

8. Use Calming Aids If Needed

Anxious dogs may benefit from calming supplements, pheromone diffusers, or thunder shirts. But never sedate fearful dogs in an attempt to force interactions. Talk to your vet about appropriate calming aids for your pup.

9. Practice Obedience Commands

Daily short training sessions build trust through structure and positive reinforcement. Start with basic cues like sit, stay, and come using high-value treats. You want your dog to respond reliably when called in uncertain situations.

10. Avoid Punishment

Yelling, scolding, physical corrections, or other punishments will destroy a dog’s trust. Scared dogs may react defensively if punished. Stay positive – your dog depends on you for safety.

Special Considerations for Fearful Rescue Dogs

Bringing home a new rescue dog is extremely rewarding, but these pups often need extra help building trust due to past negative experiences. Here are tips for forming bonds with fearful rescues:

  • Give them a separate “safe” space like a crate or corner of the room. Don’t force interactions in their zone.
  • Avoid direct eye contact initially, which can seem threatening. Kneel sideways instead.
  • Toss high-value treats to fearful dogs rather than handing to them directly. Let them take from your palm when ready.
  • Teach and reward simple cues like “sit” and “watch” to build confidence.
  • Let fearful dogs approach new people and dogs on their own terms. Don’t make introductions too quickly.
  • Consider anti-anxiety medication if intense fear persists beyond 2-4 weeks. Consult your vet.
  • Enroll in positive reinforcement training classes tailored to fearful dogs once vaccinated.
  • Allow 2-3 months for most fearful rescues to settle into their new home. Some take 6 months or more to truly bond and trust.

Proper socialization and continued counterconditioning can help anxious shelter dogs become happy family companions. But be prepared for the process to take considerable time and training.

Gaining the Trust of a Scared or Abused Dog

For extremely hand-shy dogs who have experienced abuse like hitting, my top tips include:

  • Move very slowly and avoid direct eye contact, which can seem threatening.
  • Toss treats gently towards the dog until they are comfortable taking from your hand.
  • Approach the dog sideways rather than head-on so your body seems less imposing.
  • Teach the dog to come get food and treats from a bowl rather than taking directly from your hand.
  • Avoid petting the head initially, as abused dogs may be hand-shy. Instead, offer gentle pets under the chin or chest where they can see you.
  • Use a basket muzzle on initial walks if the dog seems prone to biting when afraid. This protects everyone while you work on socialization.
  • Consider anti-anxiety medication from your vet if intense fear is present. This can take the edge off while you work on behavioral training.
  • Enroll in a training class specifically for fearful, abused, or reactive dogs using only rewards-based methods.

Rehabilitating an abused dog’s ability to trust requires the owner to proceed slowly and avoid anything that seems to scare the dog. 

With dedicated training and love, even mistreated dogs can regain trust and live happy lives. 

Never give up on them.

Getting a Shy Dog to Trust You

For shy, timid dogs who lack confidence, focus on building trust through structure, routine, and positive associations.

Help them overcome fears gradually. If they are scared of men with beards or bikes on walks, start exposures from a distance and reward calm behavior. Go slowly.

Use high-pitched praise and food rewards for any displays of boldness, even little steps. Shy dogs need constant reinforcement.

Enroll in training classes designed specifically for shy dogs using rewards-based methods. This teaches social skills.

Give them a safe den-like area at home where they can retreat when feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Respect their safe zone.

Avoid punishment for fearful behavior. This will make shy dogs more insecure. Stay positive and patient.

Consider anxiety medication if intense shyness persists and inhibits the quality of life. Talk to your veterinarian.

With time and proper socialization, even the most timid dog’s trust can be earned. The secret is moving at their pace and letting them build confidence through baby steps.

Gaining the Trust of an Adult Dog

For adult dogs who are aloof or slow to warm up, focus on respecting their boundaries while making yourself indispensable through care and bonding activities.

Feed them tasty meals and treats by hand to create a positive association with you. But don’t force interactions.

Take them on frequent walks which are chances to bond. Use praise and treats for good leash manners.

Engage in calming bonding activities like grooming, massages, playing soothing music, or just sitting quietly together.

Use their name positively to capture their attention. Call it before serving meals or giving affection.

Respect their preferences for interaction. Some dogs bond closely while others prefer more independence. Let their comfort level guide you.

Allow freedom but maintain structure through a predictable routine. Adult dogs appreciate having choices.

Ask for simple behaviors like “sit” periodically, which most adult dogs know. Reward generously until commands are reliable, deepening the bond.

Introduce guests slowly if they seem uncomfortable around strangers. Take introductions step-by-step.

Be patient and move slowly with adult dogs, just as with puppies. Let trust build gradually based on positive experiences with you over time.

Earning the Trust of an Adopted Puppy

Puppies adopted from shelters or breeders bond closely with their new families – especially if you begin building trust immediately. Follow these tips:

Start hand-feeding meals right away so your puppy associates you with food. Let them eat gently from your palm.

Keep initial introductions brief – 30 minutes at a time. Then let the pup rest quietly in their crate with treats and toys.

Use high-pitched praise and rewards for all wanted behaviors, even basic things like eye contact and coming when called.

Establish a consistent schedule for feeding, walks, training, play and rest. Puppies thrive on predictability and routine.

Provide a safe, cozy place like a crate where the puppy can unwind when overstimulated or tired. Respect their space when resting.

Carry tasty treats on walks to reward good leash manners. Praise all calm, polite behavior.

Enroll in a positive-reinforcement puppy kindergarten class at 10-12 weeks old focusing on socialization.

Remain calm and patient with typical puppy behaviors like nibbling, accidents, and chewing. Never punish – redirect and reward the right behaviors instead.

Start basic cues like “sit,” “stay,” and “come” using treats in 5-minute sessions daily. Keep it fun!

With plenty of rewards, structure, and affection, adopted puppies come to trust their new families quickly. Consistency is key during the important first few months.

Bonding with a New Puppy

Welcoming a new puppy into your life is so exciting! Here are my top 5 tips for bonding and building trust right away:

Spend time on their level. Get down on the floor and interact with your puppy at their level. Let them come to you and initiate contact.

Hand-feed all meals at first. Helping your puppy associate you with food builds a positive relationship quickly.

Keep initial training sessions short and sweet. Puppies have short attention spans. 5 minutes of play or training followed by naptime prevents overstimulation.

Set up a cozy, den-like area with familiar bedding and toys where your puppy can relax when over-tired. Respect when they retreat here.

Take them on walks and car rides. New, positive experiences together strengthen your bond as their trusted companion. Bring treats and praise good behavior.

Pro Tip: Add your puppy to your existing dog’s routine gradually. Scheduling separate walks, training, and playtimes prevents tension. Meet outdoors on neutral territory initially. 

Signs Your Dog Trusts You

How can you tell when your hard work is paying off and your dog truly trusts you? 

Here are the signs to look for:

  • Relaxed body language: A trusting dog will have loose muscles, a wagging tail, and soft facial expressions.
  • Coming when called: If your dog responds reliably to their name or “come” cue, it’s a sign they see you as the leader.
  • Willingness to be handled: Dogs who trust allow handling of paws, ears, teeth, and body without fear or aggression.
  • Eye contact: Frequent glancing at you for guidance shows confidence in the relationship.
  • Playfulness: Play bows, bringing toys to you, or leaning into pets all demonstrate your dog feels safe to be silly and vulnerable.
  • Offers behaviors unprompted: When your dog starts automatically sitting, lying down, or staying without a cue, they understand these behaviors earn rewards with you.
  • Seeks out your presence: Dogs who trust are happy to be with you, follow you around, and sit close to your side or at your feet.
  • Relaxed in public: Dogs who look to you for guidance and reassurance in new situations trust your ability to handle interactions.

Seeing these trust-building behaviors emerge is so heartwarming. It means your dog sees their human as their trusted leader and secure base. Maintaining that special bond should motivate you to continue using positive, reward-based training.

Common Mistakes That Destroy Trust

Building trust requires patience and proper techniques. Some common mistakes actually undermine relationships between dogs and humans.

Be sure to avoid:

  • Punishing fearful behaviors: This increases insecurity and fearfulness.
  • Forcing interactions: Let shy dogs approach new things at their own pace.
  • Moving too quickly with anxious dogs: Slow down and wait for the dog’s comfort level to guide next steps.
  • Failing to establish structure: Dogs feel unsure without routines, rules, and predictability.
  • Using a harsh tone of voice: Yelling frightens dogs and harms trust.
  • Making introductions too soon: Wait until a new dog is secure with family before adding visitors or strangers.
  • Pushing dogs into uncomfortable situations: Don’t flood them by immersing fearful dogs in their biggest fears.
  • Comforting dogs when frightened: This risks reinforcing the fearful behavior. Redirect their attention positively instead.
  • Failing to socialize: Lack of controlled positive exposures to people, places, and things in the first 4 months makes dogs more prone to fear issues.
  • Skipping vet visits for anxiety: Treating any underlying medical conditions improves the dog’s ability to focus on behavioral training.

Note: Trust is built slowly over time, but it can be destroyed quickly by even one scary or painful experience.

Maintaining Trust Long-Term

Once you’ve built a foundation of trust with your canine companion, you’ll want to maintain it throughout your lives together. Here are some tips:

  • Keep up with reward-based training. Continue reinforcing commands and teaching new skills.
  • Practice patience and compassion in all interactions. Never erode trust through anger or force.
  • Provide consistency in schedules, rules and routines. Dogs feel secure with predictability.
  • Make sure their needs for exercise, enrichment and socialization are met. A happy dog is a trusting dog!
  • Regularly revisit bonding activities you enjoy together, like play, snuggling or brushing.
  • If behavioral issues emerge, address them positively. Refresher training courses help reinforce the relationship.
  • Stay alert for any medical issues causing anxiety or irritability. Keep up with vet care.
  • Give them focused attention each day. Make your dog feel valued.
  • React calmly if mistakes happen; don’t scold or punish. Just redirect gently.
  • Celebrate your friendship frequently with pats, praise and special treats or toys.

Trust is the foundation of a fulfilling human-canine bond. Put in the effort to maintain it, and you’ll have a happy, well-adjusted dog who adores you throughout your lives together!


I hope this article gave you a comprehensive overview of how to build trust with dogs using positive methods. While earning a fearful dog’s faith takes work, the payoff of having a best friend for life is priceless.

The most important things to remember are:

  • Go slowly and let the dog set the pace.
  • Use rewards, routine and care, never punishment or force.
  • Provide a safe space and respect their preferences.
  • Stay alert for signs of fear, anxiety or medical issues.
  • Maintain trust consistently once it’s built.

With ample TLC, even the most cautious canine can bond closely with their caring human. If problems arise, consult a certified trainer who uses force-free techniques tailored to your dog’s needs.

Trust is a gift that, once given, we must appreciate and nurture each day. Cherish your dog’s faith in you. It demonstrates the depth of your unique friendship. Now go share some belly rubs and treats with that special four-legged companion of yours!

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