Building Confidence in Your Dog
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in training your dog is building confidence. Most dogs are eager to please, but many lack the confidence necessary to get through challenging training exercises.
For example, if you have ever taken your dog to obedience class, then you are familiar with this common problem. Your dog may do great during individual training sessions at home without distractions or in a less chaotic environment, but all of that changes when she is surrounded by multiple dogs and their owners in a class setting.
Your dog has lost her confidence in the face of these new challenges because she can't focus due to too many sights, smells, and sounds. Once your dog loses focus, training becomes much more difficult. This problem not only affects behavior during obedience classes; it also spills over into every day of your life together.
How do you build a dog's confidence? It starts with having a solid training plan and following through on it the same way, every time. Building your dog's confidence doesn't mean that she can get away with bad behavior without consequence; it simply means that when training challenges arise, you are well-equipped to handle them. To better understand and overcome confidence issues in dogs, let's look at some of the more common problems and how to handle them.
Can Dogs Be Shy?
Just like humans, dogs can be shy. The first step in building your dog's confidence is to determine if she truly has a shy temperament. It sounds funny, but you want to make sure that you are not just assuming your dog is shy when really she may be extremely fearful or timid. Examine your dog's body language carefully for signs of fear and anxiety rather than simple introversion.
In most cases, dogs that have a shy temperament are more easily scared than they are aggressive. A truly fearful dog will try to avoid any type of confrontation with a human or a canine. If you push too hard, your dog may slip into defensive mode and lash out in an attempt to scare off the threat.
How Do You Know if Your Dog is Lacking Confidence?
When it comes to shy dogs, the best way to identify a problem is to look at your dog's overall energy level. Shy dogs are typically on the low side of the energy spectrum; if they aren't extremely lethargic, they are probably pretty close.
If you have a family member or friend with a shy dog that is not as active as other dogs in its household, then there is an excellent chance that the problem stems from a lack of confidence. Of course, this lack of energy could be due to other causes such as breed, age, or health issues. Whenever possible, it helps to get a professional opinion from a canine behaviorist or trainer.
Another important factor to consider is how your dog interacts with other dogs and people. A shy dog will typically try to avoid conflict rather than instigate it. If your dog gets nervous and then acts out aggressively, she may lack confidence and fear or anxiety issues.
What Are Other Signs of Low Confidence?
Aside from a low energy level, other signs that your dog lacks confidence include:
- Fear of the leash
- Fear of the outside world
- Fear of new people
- Fear of new places
Any dog that shows fear via body language lacks confidence. Dogs that tremble, shake, or throw a look of terror in your direction are telling you loud and clear that they have fears that must be overcome if they are going to succeed in training.
What Are the Signs of Fear or Anxiety in a Dog?
- Flattened ears.
- Tail between legs.
- Lack of appetite.
What Causes a Dog to Lack Confidence?
There are many issues that can cause a dog to lack confidence. They include:
- Unstable early environment.
- Genetic predisposition.
- Poor socialization.
- Past experiences have created fear or anxiety.
- Lack of exercise.
- Health problems.
The only way to handle these issues is to take a step-by-step approach to each problem that arises. Build your dog's confidence by starting with the easiest behaviors and then moving on to more challenging ones. Let's look at a few types of problems that commonly occur when trying to build a dog's confidence.
First Steps in Building a Dog's Confidence
Lack of socialization is one of the most common causes of low confidence in dogs. Specifically, a shy dog may have been socialized to people or other animals inappropriately during the first few months of life. In many cases, this type of experience can cause fear or anxiety that persists into adulthood. You can't just erase these experiences from your dog's memory bank. However, you do have the power to make sure she has positive associations with people and other canines in the future.
You need to make sure she gets plenty of good socialization experiences to do this. The easiest way to accomplish this is with daily walks where she encounters many people and experiences. When introducing new dogs into your home, use positive reinforcement to help her associate the canine visitors with good things. This type of experience will go a long way toward building your dog's confidence.
What are Examples of Confident Behavior?
Confident behavior is typically easy to recognize. When you watch a confident dog, she looks happy and relaxed. She holds her body in an open manner with ears up or forward. Her tail wags at medium height without any frantic motion, although it may move quickly now and then.
She walks purposefully with no signs of anxiety, such as panting, pacing, or lip licking. She greets other dogs and people calmly with no signs of fear or aggression. The only way to build confidence for some dogs is through confidence training.
What is Confidence Training?
Dog confidence courses are designed to help your dog feel more comfortable in various settings. The classes typically involve indoor and outdoor training sessions that help your pet become more comfortable being outdoors, meeting new people or dogs, and going to new places.
In addition to helping your dog become less fearful, these courses also provide a great opportunity for you to practice behavior modification, desensitization, and other training techniques that will help your dog feel more confident in the future.
Confidence Building Games for Dogs
Some dogs enjoy confined spaces as it makes them feel more secure. Others may fear them. A simple game to play with your pup involves an empty cardboard box. Clear the area you're going to play in, and then toss a toy or treat into the box. Encourage your dog to go get it. When she does, praise her enthusiastically. Repeat this game several times until your pet is comfortable entering the box by herself.
Don't become discouraged if she is hesitant to go inside the box, and don't force her. If you toss treat after treat in the box, and she refuses to go after them, that is fine. Leave the treats there to create a jackpot for when she does go in. The first step is just getting her to realize that the box is not a threat and contains lots of goodies.
However, alleviating the fear of confined spaces is not the only use for the box game. From there, you can use the box as a training tool. For example, you can teach her to go inside the box and stay there. Or, perhaps she would enjoy retrieving the box and carrying it over to you. Finally, she may eventually enjoy flipping the box onto herself and scooting around the floor in stealth mode.
Whatever your dog's personality, you can find a way to make the box training game work for her. The ultimate goal of this game is to teach her that there is no wrong answer in how she plays or trains with the box.
Hide and Seek
This game involves a little nosework that will stimulate his mind and teach new skills, all while strengthening your bond as it requires you to work together. You start by hiding some treats in obvious places while the dog watches you from a seated position. Once you've hidden all the treats, say the desired command, such as "Find the treats!" As your pup sniffs out each treat, praise him.
After he becomes familiar with the verbal command, you can move on to more challenging hiding spots. He will become more confident in using his nose to find things in time, rather than just relying on visual cues.
Targeting is a training exercise that involves your dog touching a specific object, typically with its nose or paw. It helps build confidence because the pet focuses on positive behavior and associates it with praise and rewards.
To teach your dog to target, begin by placing a treat close to one of its paws. Say "touch" (or another command) as he noses or paws at the treat. As soon as he successfully touches the treat, say "yes!" and give him the treat. Repeat this process several times, so he gets used to associating the target with good things.
Once your dog has mastered touching the treat with his nose or paw, you can start moving it around and making it more difficult for him to find. Next, try placing a target in front of your pet and encouraging her to "target" as she moves toward it. When she touches the object, say "yes!" and give her a treat.
If your dog is having trouble finding the target, try using a toy that he likes to play with. This will encourage him to move around and look for his toy because he'll associate finding it with a good thing – yummy treats. Once he finds it, give him lots of praise so he learns that finding the target means good things for him.
You can gradually move from simple targets to more challenging ones. This may mean that you take the game from an indoors setting to outside where there are more distractions. The key is to make it challenging, but not too hard or frustrating for your dog.
Tug & Fetch
Playing tug-of-war and fetch can really boost a dog's confidence by making them feel strong and important to you. To start, buy your dog a special tug toy that he can only use while playing with you. Make sure it is big enough so the toy doesn't accidentally get stuck in his throat while he's tugging away.
Give him a command to get the game going, such as "take it." Once he's got a good grip on his end of the toy, allow him to pull it out of your hands. After several seconds of play, give him another command to return the tug toy back into your hands. You can then start again by saying "take it."
Tug and fetch are great games that not only help establish you as the dominant leader, but they also resemble a form of positive dog play he would play with his canine buddies known as "role reversal." Role reversal is an instinctual behavior in which the dog takes on the role of pack leader while you take on the role of follower or "submissive."
Confidence Training for Dogs
At one point or another, all dogs experience fear due to an event that happened unexpectedly and without warning. If you'd like to help your pup overcome this type of anxiety quickly and comprehensively, you can enroll her in a structured confidence training class. A professional trainer will help your dog overcome its anxiety by teaching it to associate real-world scenarios with positive experiences.
The goal is for her to learn that the situation initially associated with fear and anxiety can also create a happy, rewarding experience. Once this happens, your dog's confidence should grow as she realizes there's nothing to truly be afraid of. This should help to lessen her anxiety and improve her quality of life as she begins to have more fun.
The Beacon Dog Academy training course focuses on positive-reinforcement methods to help you teach your dog that there's nothing to be afraid of. You'll learn to properly use treats, toys, and verbal praise to reward your dog for displaying confidence in various scenarios. You'll also learn how to handle situations that may trigger your dog's anxiety so that you can help her through it without exacerbating the problem.
This comprehensive approach will give you the tools you need to reduce your dog's anxiety and prevent it from returning in the future. So, if you're ready to help your dog overcome her anxiety and improve her confidence, sign up for the Beacon Dog Academy today!