The "Follow me" game for fearful dogs

fearful dogs Sep 13, 2023

If you'd like to teach your fearful dog to happily follow you- to their potty area, to the door, back to their safe space, or just around the house- the "Follow me" game can be a helpful training exercise. It's a simple, low-stress way for your dog to become more comfortable moving around- and more comfortable with YOU moving around. 


What is the "Follow me" game?

The "Follow me" game is just a way to provide reinforcement to your dog for following you, while giving them the space they need to be comfortable doing it.  The simplest version involves laying a trail of treats on the floor behind you as you walk away from your dog.  

There are a few details that are important to get right when playing the follow me game:

  • Pick the treat delivery method that's easiest for your dog: For most dogs, leaving treats on the floor will be easier than trying to get your dog to take treats from your hand. Some dogs will do best if you just stay upright as you walk and drop treats behind you, but other dogs will have an easier time spotting the treats if you bend down and place them on the floor. Occasionally, a dog might prefer to take treats from your hand. Check out the video below for examples of all three treat delivery methods. 
  • Keep moving! Unless you're handing treats to your dog, keep moving steadily away from them after you drop or place each treat on the floor. This allows your dog to decide how far away you need to be before they're happy moving forward and eating the next treat. 
  • Expect incremental progress: If your dog is too scared to go somewhere, like out to the yard, don't expect to be able to use the follow me game to get them there on the first try. If your dog is willing to take a few steps in the right direction and eats one or more of the treats you've left, take that as a victory and keep practicing. 
  • Don't trick or trap your dog: This game is not meant to be a way to get your dog to go somewhere they are really afraid to go. For instance, if your dog hates baths, don't use the follow me game to get them into the bathroom, and then close the door behind them. Your dog should always have the option to leave the game and retreat. 


How can I use the "Follow me" game? 

You can use the follow me game to teach your dog to move with you and walk to any number of helpful locations. Uses our clients have found for the game for include:  

  • Walk to potty pads
  • Walk to the door
  • Walk outside
  • Walk to an unexplored part of the house
  • Walk over a surface we're practicing with (e.g. teaching a dog to walk on a ramp)
  • Walk together with the leash on in the house

You can see some of these examples in action in the video below. 

If you try the "follow me" game and love it, or if you get stuck,  shoot us an email at [email protected] and tell us about it. We'd love to hear about your successes, or help you troubleshoot.