How to build a dog’s confidence?
I feel like more and more people start to care about the dog’s well being. For those that are involved in dog’s sports, it’s apparent that you want the best for your dog, but even a typical pet owner begins to ask questions and really try their best to make a dog’s life better and more enjoyable. When we think about a dog with a good life, we tend to start tossing character traits. The dog is happy, cheerful, enthusiastic, energetic, confident.
Introduction to answering the question “How to teach dog confidence?”
How can we make it happen? If your dog can’t be described with those traits, what can you do to change it? What do we even want to achieve? Let me guess what you’ve just thought: The last question is a weird one. “What do we even want to achieve?”. We want to build confidence in dog. It’s in the title! Am I right? Whenever I’m talking to people outside of the behaviorist circle, I feel weird asking this question, “How confidence look like?”. I can see disoriented expressions on the reader’s faces. A question for which the answer seems so obvious that people don’t know what to tell me. But bear with me because “How confidence look like?” is the most important question you can ask when you think about building a dog’s confidence, and I will explain to you why in a moment.
Confidence is a label that can be described with a behavior. The fact that it’s a label causes some problems. We have one question, and still, we have many answers to it. How? You ask. For every person, every dog and every situation, “being confident” will mean slightly different things.
Are we doomed?
If confidence means so many different things, then how can I tell you how to build it? We will discuss it in two steps:
- Define your confidence
- Rules to follow
Firstly we will find what confidence means to you. Basically, at this step, we are choosing what we are going to teach. We can’t teach dog a confidence because it’s a label, but we can describe it, pick behaviors we want, and build the picture of a confident dog. We are thus making your dog confident.
Secondly, even though we talk about countless “pictures of confidence,” what we would describe as confident shares some similarities. Because of that, we can conclude some general guidelines that will allow you to hopefully get the outcome you are after ad see how stunningly confident your dog can get.
What a dog’s confidence looks like in your opinion
What do we really aim to do here? What finding your confidence picture mean?
Whenever you struggle to avoid labels, just think about how you would describe it to a blind person. Close your eyes, let the imagination run free and see your dog. He or she looks happy and confident. Try describing what you see.
I will describe for you my picture for my older dog so you can have a better idea of how it should look like:
I can see him standing tall. Not like “I’m big, so don’t walk up” tall, but he keeps his head high. Imagine that I asked you to keep your chest up so this kind of look but with a dog’s body. His weight is bear mostly on the front limbs in an easy to spot fashion. The tail is relaxed, swinging freely as he moves. His typical tail position is pretty high, so it’s not fully between his legs. It sticks out a little, but you can sense relaxed muscles around his tail. His eyes are open pretty wide. They are lively but not hyper-focused, It gives an aura of energy, definitely not bored or sleepy look. Ears are slightly raised, not fully like he would hold them when he tries to listen to something but also not in the aerodynamic way Something in between. His mouth is either closed or open with a tongue inside. As we walk, he sniffs and casually explore the environment. He doesn’t stay in one place for too long. Kind of like sniff, head up and walk, sometimes looks at me, then sniff again, etc. I can feel that he knows where I am. He quickly responds when I call him.
I guess that’s it from me. I was never a good writer at school, so it’s probably not the prettiest thing you’ve ever read, but the most important thing is that you can see your picture in great detail. That’s the prerequisite to making long-term progress, in my opinion. Don’t skip this step. Take a piece of paper and write yours now. Look what is important in your opinion to build confidence in dog. When you are done, the next step will be waiting for you.
Rules to follow
All those behaviors you just described can come from success. Speaking more like a behaviorist, if a learner knows how to access a reinforcer repeatedly, you will start seeing “confident” behaviors.
Training sessions to increase dog confidence, in a nutshell, could be described as repeatable accessing a reinforcer by a learner by performing a behavior desired by a teacher.
Answer for the question “How to build a dog’s confidence” will be very similar to “how to structure successful training”. In my opinion, we should instead focus on teaching behavior, and this will create confidence as a by-product.
For those who aren’t convinced yet, let’s put it into an example. Let’s say your dog struggles with dog-dog interactions. How can you build up his confidence? First, you, as a teacher has to understand what’s happening and describe desired behavior. Then you create a plan and practice with a dog in a way your dog is comfortable with and gradually increase difficulty. Do you see it now? Building confidence means teaching a behavior at a learner’s pace.
How to build a dog’s confidence? Step by step guide
- Define your confidence picture.
Hopefully – this step is already behind you.
- Create a plan
Commonly speaking – if you want your dog to be confident, you have to be confident as well. Give a good example. Knowing what you need to do builds up YOUR confidence, and on top of that, it will leave you with more focus left that you will be able to use to support your dog better. Meaning, instead of thinking about what to do, you can be there for him/her.
How to create a plan for managing with dog’s confidence issues?
Where can your dog succeed?
In other words, you have to find a level of difficulty in whatever you work on in your dog’s confidence building – which your dog can be successful. For example, if it’s barking at other dogs, find a distance at which your dog is “calm”. If it’s playing with toys, then ask yourself how much your dog is willing to do? Will, he/she grab it but just hold, or maybe your dog looks around and is not interested in playing. In that case, find a place where he/she can focus. Whatever it is, we gave to find your “start line.”
What do you need to do?
How to teach dog confidence and how to show him what actually you want from him? Do your research. There is plenty of resources out there: books, websites, other people. Find the information you need, and don’t forget about using common sense. If you’ve found something on the internet, it doesn’t mean that it’s true. Is shock collar a good confidence builder? Would I feel more confident if I knew that in a difficult situation, I would be shocked? I guess not. Deciding what makes sense and what doesn’t isn’t that difficult. Just be mindful of what someone tries to tell you. Find and information and question it!
How to progress?
At this point, you should have a good idea of how you are going to work and where to start. Now we need to know how to move forward. Remember that good progression is based on a learner’s behavior. Ask yourself, does my dog look like my description form step one? If yes, make the situation a bit harder. How to make it harder should be described in this step. It can be a shorter distance from a dog, for instance.
Plans are crucial for long term progress or at least make it much easier to achieve, but don’t forget that it’s a tool. You are using a plan. Don’t let the plan use you. What I mean is keep watching how your learner is doing. If you feel like you should change your plan along the way, then do it. The plan is just an idea of what to do to improve dog’s confidence, and it helps you stay on a truck longer but don’t blindly follow it. Use it!
Building confidence in dogs takes time, so be patient and really watch how it’s growing. Try to notice those small changes. Each change is a step to a more confident dog. This will keep you motivated to continue, and please do it because it’s worth it. When after a while, you watch how your dog looked and how much he/she changed, it can melt the heart of even the most alpha males. Good luck!Tags: animal training, dog, dog training, dogtraining, science of learning, szkolenie psów
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