By Haley Smith
What is dog confidence? While genetics can certainly play a role in how dogs carry themselves, dog confidence is not something they are naturally born with. Just like humans, dog confidence develops over time and can fluctuate. For example, a puppy under 14 weeks of age goes through a couple of critical socialization periods. This is when their rapidly developing brains learn to navigate the world and cope with stressors- this is also a time where fear or anxiety can start to develop.
Why is it important for my dog to be confident? Having a dog who is uncomfortable around new or unfamiliar things, easily startled, insecure, anxious, or fearful can be draining for both dog and owner alike. While some of these things may present themselves in difficult ways to identify, other ways are more noticeable- such as excessive barking, destructive behaviors around the house, fearful of walks, people, or other dogs.
A confident dog will have fun taking on new experiences and adventures, they will take new challenges head-on. Confident dogs are also more likely to bounce back from setbacks or obstacles quicker than a dog who is not. Having a confident dog also means that the owner and dog are mutually confident and trusting of each other.
Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog, there are always ways to work with and build a more confident foundation for the both of you. There are desensitization and counterconditioning techniques that may help, such as exposing your dog- with discretion- to more scenarios, different types of people, and unfamiliar surfaces. However, starting with something small will help lead to more advanced exercises. Here are a few tips on starting with dog confidence:
-Play a game with your dog such as the “shell game” but with dog food in place of shells. Your dog will love to eat the food if they pick the right cup!
-Expose your dog to a new material feeding bowl.
-Play a game with your dog: such as hide and seek in a familiar place, like your home or backyard.
-Teach your dog a new trick (YouTube has some great ideas!)
-Throw a couple of pieces of kibble/treats in the yard and tell your dog to “find it!”
– Be patient and have fun!
Not only do dogs love to learn new things, but these confidence building exercises also help with mental training, trust, and bonding with your dog. Remember that mental stimulation is just important as physical exercise for your dog. You and your dog are a team, so, it is important to know when to pause these exercises and when to keep going with your dog- there is no one-size fits all!