When we consider our dog’s behavior – and how we want them to behave – confidence is often pretty high on the list. A confident, assertive dog typically acts in a more reliable manner, and is more likely to have positive interactions with other dogs, people, and their environment. They respond to setbacks more quickly. A confident dog is usually easier to manage as a dog owner.
Before we begin, there is one important question to consider – how exactly do we define confidence in our dogs? It is important to draw a distinction between how humans think about confidence in themselves, and how we define confidence in our four-legged friends.
For humans, confidence is deeply connected with self-esteem, self-awareness and our understanding of our own capabilities. We can experience self-doubt, and spend countless hours questioning ourselves. Our confidence levels can differ in various aspects of our lives, such as work, family/friends, or hobbies/activities that we partake in.
This is in stark contrast to dogs. Confidence in dogs is more instinctual, influenced by their environment and prior experiences. They are not able to reason cognitively in the same way as humans. Dogs do not experience self-doubt, and they cannot tell us explicitly that they aren’t feeling confident; however, there are body language cues that they use to express their confidence in any given situation.
Just as humans can adjust their mindset to feel more confident in certain areas of their life, it is possible to build confidence in dogs through training activities and positive interactions. In this article, we’ll explore some tactics you can use to build confidence in your dog.
Why confidence in your dog matters
There are several reasons why having a confident dog is beneficial – for themselves, and for you as their owner.
- Improved health – Confident dogs see reductions in stress and anxiety, which contributes to improved physical and mental health.
- Reduced behavioral issues – Separation anxiety, chewing and other destructive behaviors are less likely to occur if a dog is comfortable in its environment.
- Easier to handle – As an owner, it is far easier to take your dog for a walk or out in public if they are confident and relaxed at the end of the leash.
- Increased safety – A confident pup may be less likely to react to situations by putting themselves in dangerous or risky situations.
- Better quality of life – Building confidence in your dog will contribute to a higher quality of life for your dog and your family.
Tips for building confidence
Every dog is different, and their genetics and life experiences will contribute to their level of confidence. Some dogs may be particularly shy or timid, and need more work to build up their confidence. However, here are some general principles and ideas you can implement.
Puppy socialization window
We have previously discussed the importance of socialization. Exposing your puppy to the world in the critical puppy socialization window (within the first three to four months of their life) will help to build a more well-rounded, confident dog as they progress through adolescence and into adulthood. One reason why many ‘Covid puppies’ were so difficult to manage in public is that there were limited socialization opportunities due to the circumstances surrounding the pandemic.
Don’t overwhelm your dog
If you have a particularly shy or fearful dog – perhaps one who is timid around other dogs – don’t overexpose them in an attempt to build confidence. This is likely to have the opposite effect. Instead, gradually expose your dog to the stimuli, and make incremental progress over the course of several sessions. For example, if your dog is undersocialized, find a friend with a well-socialized pup and arrange a meetup. Start slowly, and observe your dog’s body language as you introduce them. Make the experience a positive one. Over time, you can start to introduce them to different dogs in new environments.
Dog training has many benefits – it acts as a framework which you can use to control your dog. It also provides structure for your dog and instructs them on acceptable behaviors. As your dog understands their basic obedience commands, their confidence will increase. You can also engage in specialized dog sport training activities like agility or scent work. Learning these new skills will often provide necessary physical and mental stimulation to further improve your dog’s confidence.
You can improve your dog’s confidence through positive, enriching experiences in a number of different settings. Physical exercise is important to maintain good health, but it can also be a great outlet for your dog’s energy, and encourages them to take part in activities that align with the reasons they were bred in the first place. Mental stimulation can be something as simple as a dog puzzle or the ‘hide the treat’ game.
Be patient, consistent and positive
It is very rare for confidence to increase in a critical environment. Depending on your dog’s history and genetics, building their confidence could take a while. As with any dog training initiative, it is imperative that you remain patient and consistent throughout the journey. If you lose your temper or become inconsistent with your instructions, the process will take longer. It is also important to maintain a positive mindset. Not only will this have positive results for your dog’s confidence, but it will further strengthen the bond and trust between you and your dog.
Remember - every dog is different
As we said previously, every dog has different genetic makeups and unique learned experiences that can influence their confidence levels.
Some dogs may have extreme levels of shyness or timidity, which will make the confidence-building process a slow and laborious one. You may also need to enlist the help of a professional dog trainer if your dog has behavioral issues that are acting as a blocker, and will need to be resolved to help improve their confidence.
Owning a pet dog should be an enjoyable experience! A confident dog breeds confidence for owners, and ensures you can lower your own stress and anxiety when bringing your dog out in public.