Building Your Dog’s Confidence


Much like humans, dogs exert similar behaviors and attitudes in certain social situations. Going out-and-about, some dogs may be over excited and, literally, jump for joy to be doing an activity with their best two-legged friend. Other dogs may be the opposite and show signs of a lack of confidence. A dip in your dog’s confidence level can pose a number of issues that may make your dog feel nervous, aggressive, timid, or lethargic.

Having two rescue dogs, both coming from animal shelters, I have experienced several of these issues with my pups. Oliver, a four-year-old Pitbull mix, has always been a nervous dog out in public. Though he shows his nervousness and anxiousness in a variety of ways. At times, he can become reactive toward other dogs, thinking that showing out will get him the space he wants. Other times, he shakes and makes, what I like to call, “monkey noises.” These high pitch whimpers come out when he sees people or other dogs approaching. He doesn’t know how to react, whether to be excited or fearful, so he copes with it but projecting tones. Though very sprightful at the house, my 2-year-old female, pit/cattledog, Indie, also can have dips in her confidence when out in public. Classic signs for her are the tail between the legs and keeping low to the ground. Her signs of nervousness are probably better recognized than what Oliver shows. Indie bows her head low to the ground and tucks her tail and legs as close to her body. She wants to stay as close to me as possible, uneasy of strangers that approach. Her backstory of living most of her life on the street may be why she is weary of the unknown; however, there are several solutions to getting the puppy pep back in their step.

A quick trick to making your dog feel larger than life is simply that. Have your dog place on higher up objects. Dogs are already constantly looking up to humans. So, just like humans, putting them higher up or at an eye level statue can give them a big boost in their attitude and make them feel better about their training. If you’re just beginning to train your dog, start with a few inches off the ground and work up. Have them place on pillows or dog beds, then graduate to a place board. Small rocks outside can be great places too. Eventually, when you’re out-and-about with your dog you’ll be able to place them on much larger object such as park benches, jungle gym equipment, stone walls, large rocks or boulders, even steps. Both Indie and Oliver enjoy hiking, so when we come across some boulders we start to climb. It may sound silly, but think of standing on top of a tall mountain looking down at all of the houses below. It’s a pretty good feeling. That’s what we want to stimulate in your dog.
banner6Because I have been working with my dogs for a few months, I have been able to build a pretty good focus with them. They both know that they should pay attention to me when we are out-and-about and that they could be given a command at any time. Sure, it sounds easy enough, but when distractions are happening that focus between dog and person is harder to obtain. To keep Indie engaged I pull out the toys. She loves to play. Any toy that squeaks, flies, bounces, and pulls, she is ready to play. If I see her attitude dipping, I’ll bring out a tug toy. Five minutes of running around, pulling, tugging, shaking and squeaking means we’re back to business. She just had a lot of fun and is more willing to offer up her commands. Her focus is now directed more toward me, wondering when and if I’ll bring out that toy again. Plus, playing with your dog strengthens your bond with them, and if I’m having fun she’s having fun too.

oliverThough Oliver enjoys playing fetch at home, he could care less about toys when we are out in public. A passing dog trumps his all time favorite squeaky tennis ball. We look like a couple of goofballs when I’m squeaking the ball and he’s paying me no attention, rather eyeing another pooch making his “monkey noises.” So in this instance, I pull out the big guns; high value treats; the smellier the better. High value treats are simply meat. I often time go to the grocery store and purchase a rotisserie chicken for around $5. I’ll debone the chicken and take a baggie of meat with me when we go out. Once Oliver gets a whiff of the meat in front of his nose he is back focusing on me, distracted from what was once causing him anxiety. But, sometimes, food is not enough for Oliver. If he’s not in the mood for chicken or already with a full belly, I have to find what reward means most to him; me. Oliver’s a funny one. His biggest reward is praise. Sounds simple, but you really have to give him lots of love and make him feel it. If I can distract him with the chicken enough to get his focus back on me, I’ll ask for him to do a command. Though, his confidence is still not where it should be and I know I’ll need to pep him back up. Once he does what he’s asked, I’ll release him, bend down to his level and give him a good rub down. He loves a back scratch and a chin scrub. I’ll give him lots of verbal praise and really reinforce that “good boy.” Once he is fully indulged in the moment, I’ll pick up his leash and start jogging around.

Running around with runningyour dog is going to remind them that it’s a fun situation and nothing to worry about. Running picks up their energy and helps them to concentrate on you rather than the other situations. We’ll run one way then quickly jolt to another side. I’m keeping him interested in the run by switching up directions. I’ll throw in a few pats on the back and bows to really get him hyped up again. He’s back to his old self and feeling more refreshed. His attitude is now pepped and ready to roll.
Most importantly, keep your training and out-and-about sessions fun. Reward them for good behaviors and always end of good notes. Have patience and set your dog up for success. All dogs have different behaviors and will require different types of training. But when approaching a skittish or nervous dog, there are a couple of tips to remember. Bend down low. Get on the dog’s level. Humans are much more intimidating when we’re standing five or six feet tall in the air. When we’re lower to the ground we’re more approachable. Be calm and use food. Dogs like Indie, who think food is the best thing on the planet, will be more willing to come say hi if they get a treat. Don’t try to force the food to the dog’s mouth, but rather hold it still and let the dog take it from you. If the dog gets close enough to be pet, be sure not to force your hand on top of their head. This is a very dominant position and can make the dog more nervous. It can also make a dog snap or show its teeth. Pet underneath the chin or along side the body. Many dogs, like mine, enjoy their neck and chin being scratched and long strokes along the dog’s side will be relaxing and calming to them. Lastly, if you’re approaching another dog who appears nervous around your dog. Simply walk past the dog keeping your own dog’s focus on you. Meeting time needs to happen in a safe, low-distraction environment instead of a high-distraction public area.
With this tips and tricks, your dog’s confidence will grow and their personalities will blossom. Both you and your dog will enjoy doing more activities together and life together will be more fun.

Chappell Russell

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