Do you have a puppy or new dog who is starting from square one in training? Is your adult dog really a scaredy-cat, which makes teaching him anything pretty difficult? Either way, hang in there! This month, we’re going to be talking about confidence in a four-part series! Confidence is so important for dogs who need to learn and function in our human-centric lives!
So what is a confident dog? And why should you help your dog build confidence? We consider a confident dog one who can go with the flow and handle most things life throws his way with ease. These pups are relaxed and fully functional in many kinds of situations! They aren’t afraid of new people or environments, but rather, they happily engage and explore.
You’ve probably figured out that some dogs seem to be all confidence, while other dogs need a little help in this department. For the latter dogs, you can imagine that it takes a bit of effort to get them there, but the benefits are so worth it.
Your life and your dog’s life will be easier, safer, and more fun if he’s confident. He’ll be able to go more places with ease and actually enjoy family gatherings and activities. Besides, confident and relaxed dogs are primed learners. This means you can train more efficiently and effectively.
Why Confidence Might be Genetic
Let’s talk about selecting dogs. After all, each dog is an individual who has various personality traits, and these traits develop over time. Behavior and personality are influenced by many factors: genetics, early socialization (or lack thereof), later experiences in life, nutrition, and more.
Did you watch the recent Pets & People: Dog Breeding and Puppy Selection? Our knowledgeable guest Deb Pierce discussed some excellent points with Catherine Comden, CPDT-KA, on what to look for in an ethical breeder that is producing healthy and temperamentally sound pups. Starting with known genetic qualities is one path to weighing the odds of having a confident dog in your favor!
Another path would be meeting with adult dogs needing new homes! Shelters like ours have many wonderful adult dogs needing homes. Lucky for adopters, often times, what you see is what you’ll be getting.
What about those cute shelter puppies? You may never meet their parents to know what their personalities are like. The shelter may not know what kind of upbringing and socialization they’ve had. And adopters are told animals’ personalities now are not necessarily predictive of their personalities later. Does that mean you should pass these kiddos over? Of course not!
As mentioned above, there are many factors that go into raising a confident, well-rounded pup. It may be a little higher risk, but even with carefully bred dogs, experienced breeders will readily share this truth: there are no guarantees. So give that shelter pup a chance, and then read on to become a super puppy, super dog raiser!
How to Help Your Dog Build Confidence
How do you “create” a confident dog? Well, regardless of age, keep in mind that rewards-based training, like we teach in our classes and private consults, is key to building confidence and trust.
In brief, this is because stress, such as that which would be caused by forceful, painful, or intimidating methods, inhibits learning new skills. Meanwhile, learning what is good/safe vs bad/unsafe happens all the time.
It makes sense that our dogs (or anyone) can’t be confident and trusting at the same time he is being yelled at. Things like being tugged on, shocked with a corrective collar, or rolled over on the ground don’t help either. But if we know what our dogs “Love with a capital L,” and add it to any new skill or situation, it is likely that our dog will enjoy and succeed in any activity.
For our puppy families in particular, we have Sensible Puppy. This is a class designed to be oh-so-much-more than your typical basic puppy class. We routinely foster confidence in puppies (and their families) through our rewards-based teaching of valuable life skills. We also use games that instill confidence and trust, and opportunities to explore unique obstacles and footings and. It’s also important each class provides a chance to engage with a variety of people and other puppies.
Seeing a puppy go from hiding under a chair during week one to eagerly greeting everyone is not an uncommon change. Even if he already seems outgoing and confident, it’s critical that puppies are well-socialized during their first four months of life. You need to know how to support and train them through what are known as “fear periods” during their development.
Bonus tip: socialization is more than exposure to dogs and people. Socialization should be providing your puppy safe, enjoyable experiences with anything and anyone they will encounter throughout their lives.
Other Resources for Building Confidence
For families of dogs young and old, how about some more reading? Catherine has written some fabulous blogs (here and here). Each provides suggestions on how to reduce fear in dogs and can help your dog build confidence.
Learn about being an advocate for your dog so that you have his back (and he knows it). After all, having the social and emotional support from someone you trust is only going to make a situation better!
Part of knowing when you need to advocate for your dog’s needs is understanding when he is uncomfortable with an interaction or in a specific setting. Be sure to learn about dog body language. Stay tuned for my blog on allowing your dog to have a say in what happens to him.
Now, about that training…. My next blog will go over a couple of skills and an easy game, which are great for building confidence. Would you prefer in-person help? Check out our training services that range from small group classes to one-on-one lessons!