A confident dog is a safe dog. Confidence is one of those aspects of raising a dog that many owners overlook. Some dogs naturally have a confident personality while others are fearful. However, all dogs can be conditioned to be more confident. Whether young or old, adding some of these activities to your dogs life will help them in the long run.
When a dog barks repeatedly, pulls aggressively on a leash, or worst of all bites humans or other dogs, it isn’t because they are angry and aggressive. It’s because they are scared and lack confidence. I once worked with a dog that played well with other dogs, but then one day was attacked by another dog at a dog park. Immediately after that she was scared of dogs and became aggressive. She would snap at other dogs and bark. Whenever a dog appeared the hair on the back of her neck would stand up and she’d stiffen. She doesn’t have a deep seeded hate towards other dogs, she is just scared. That is why it was important to build her confidence back. So how do you do that?
No matter the age challenge your dog, and do these challenges with them. As a puppy this could be something as simple as climbing on a log or going up and down stairs. If your dog is hesitant to do it, help them do it. The key here is to push them but not to let them fail. If you go for a hike and there is a rock that you think they can jump up to but they actually can’t, and as a result they fall and get hurt, then this will hurt their confidence.
In training for the US military, recruits do what’s called the Confidence Course. This course, made up of climbing tall structures and moving along ropes and cargo nets, is designed to be completed but push the recruits. As a result, upon completion the recruit feels more empowered by their own abilities. That is exactly what you should do for you dog. Design a confidence course and take them through it. Increase the difficulty as they get better. Over time you will see a change in your dogs behavior.
Mental stimulation of any kind is great for your dogs brain. It tires them out, teaches them new things, and helps you build a bond with your dog. But it also helps your dog with their confidence. Just like physical challenges, tricks have a degree of challenge to them. During training your dog is thinking “What do I have to do to get that reward?” Whenever they are rewarded, it gives them a rush knowing that this is what I have to do. They are figuring out what they can do to please you.
Think of it this way. You are working at a company and your boss speaks a different language than you. One day he comes to you with a request and money in his hand. He tells you the request and you can’t understand, but you really want that money. You start trying different things and then all of a sudden he gives you the money. You do the same thing you just did and you get more money. After a while you begin to understand what your boss is asking of you and now regularly receive money.
The point is, being able to know what is expected of despite the barrier in communication can really boost your confidence. This applies to your dog as well.
If your dog has fear of dogs or certain people then you need to expose them to these stimuli in a controlled way that results in a positive encounter. Always take safety precautions. Make sure you have a way to control your dog and even consider a muzzle.
If it is dogs that your dog has an issue with, introduce them to dogs that you know are well socialized and calm. The key is to structure who your dog meets so that they only see the world through rose colored sunglasses. Let them think that every single dog out there is just like this one. Have your dog spend time with these sorts of dogs and after a while they will become desensitized. The same goes for humans.
This sort of socialization is what you should do with your puppy. If you have a puppy and have not been regularly introducing them to other animals, people, and experiences, you need to start immediately. It will save you time and grief later.
The ultimate tool that you have in your possession is your bond with your dog. Building a bond with your dog tells them “Hey, if you are ever scared look to me, I’ll keep you safe”. That should be the bond that you have with your dog. Use that as your mindset when you spend time with your dog. How do you build that bond? Simple. Do the things above and spend time with your dog. It will happen. Dogs are pack animals and they look for someone to lead. Those leaders are you and the people in your house.
If you were walking down the street and saw something that scared you, wouldn’t you feel better if you trusted the person you were with to protect you? That’s what your dog is looking for. Let them think “I don’t need to bark at that dog, my human can protect me”. You are the key to your dogs confidence. Embrace it and mold your dog into the great animal they can be.