Having a confident canine companion can change your life.
We work daily with dogs that are working on their confidence. Every dog has a different history, a different personality, and a different biology that contributes to their confidence levels.
Why is this important?
Having confidence improves the ability of your dog to learn, their comfort level in novel situations, and their ability to communicate and socialize effectively. A dog that is confident will take risks in order to receive something. For example, a confident dog will try to jump over something on command to receive a treat (jumping over something without knowing how you will land is scary!). If the risk is too large compared to the reward, you might get the stubborn side of your pup.
So, how do we build confidence in our dogs?
The number one piece of advice I have for building confidence in your dog is build trust with them first. If your dog knows that you’ve got their back, they will feel more comfortable taking risks. Every single day of work, I go into a home with a nervous/anxious dog. A lot of my time is focused on building a trusting relationship with the dogs I walk. I use up a lot of treats…
Do NOT force your dog to do anything! That just shows them that they have no choice, and does not build their confidence OR their trust in you. I never force a dog to let me leash them up, touch them, or get in my car. If I did that I would end up with a pack of dogs that thinks I will force them to do things, even if they don’t want to. Do you think they would come running when I call them in the park? Yeah right!
Work on basic obedience. You know that feeling you get when you figure something out? That “In your FACE world!” kind of feeling? Dogs get that too! Learning new things builds dogs confidence and creates a stronger bond between you and them. Basic obedience can also help you help them get over fears.
Check out this video on hand targeting to help the fearful/shy dog. One of the simplest commands, it is probably one of the most useful out there.
I’ve heard a few people say that they do not want “coddle” or “comfort” their dog, because that will make them think that something actually IS wrong and that they SHOULD be afraid. I have never had this be the case, and nobody explains it better than Suzanne Clothier in this video:
Also take a look at this article from the WholeDog Journal about Helping Timid Dogs
One last observation from this humble dog walker, is that group walks can drastically increase your dog’s confidence (if they are comfortable enough already to join a group). Having a pal to play with is such a great experience for nervous or shy dogs. I have seen so many introverted pups come right out of their shell after being in group. HOWEVER, do make sure that your walker communicates with you about your dog’s behaviour. If your dog is too stressed around other dogs, or in the car, or with the walker, or in the park, etc. then taking a step back is probably the right choice.
And of course, be patient. You can’t rush a dog into being confident!