Fearful, timid dogs sometimes have trouble with interactive meals. Fear can totally shut down a dog’s appetite, as well as their desire to solve problems. Don’t let this discourage you, as fearful and anxious dogs often benefit the most from interactive feeding. Slowly engaging your dog with easy sorts of puzzles will give them something to do besides worry, and using his nose can actually help build a shy dog’s confidence.
Start a timid dog’s food games as easy as you can. Increase the difficulty slowly, and be careful to go back to the last place your dog was successful if suddenly they can’t do it anymore.
If your dog is fearful of certain things, like putting their head inside of boxes or of objects moving near their face or feet, that doesn’t mean he can’t do nosework games or use moving food toys. It just means you’ll have to reward him more often for interacting with the item they’re afraid of, go slowly, and never force him to do anything. If he says something is too hard or too scary, trust him and reward him instead for their best effort.
A dog that’s afraid to put his head inside a box shouldn’t be lured to put his head inside a box for a treat. Instead, he should get lots of rewards for looking at the box, sitting near the box, sniffing the box, putting his feet near the box. This will build confidence a lot faster than “tricking” him into putting his head in there with food. Dogs know we can force them to do things—it happens to them all the time. We want to build confidence in fearful dogs, not prove to them that they don’t have any choice over what happens in their lives.
Many timid dogs that won’t use interactive toys are happy to use a snuffle mat. If you want to experiment with that without making the investment in a snuffle mat of your own, try rumpling up a light towel or a few washcloths and spreading some bits of food over that. If the towel is a similar color to the food, the dog will have to use her nose to find it, and you’ll get a sense as to whether a snuffle mat might be a good option.