This post was originally written for Sidewalk Dog Media. I also published it on my dog training website, High Spirits Dog Training. Originally written March 17, 2017. Still my writing, still relevant, still useful!
Is your pup a little unsure in new situations? Want to remind your dog of his inner strength and super powers? Just looking for a way to connect more with your four-legged pal? Here are some tips to build your dog’s confidence – and his trust in you!
Let Them Explore
Encourage your pup to explore her new surroundings and sniff as much as she wants. Just don’t pressure her to go somewhere when she’s telling you she’s uncomfortable. Let her go at her own pace and reward her for making good choices. By exploring her environment, she’ll learn that he can trust you and that it’s not so scary after all. Just needed to check it out for herself!
Put Feet on Things
A great way to help your dog gain confidence is to have him put his feet on different surfaces. Climbing onto, over, and through obstacles can be fun! Make a mini-adventure course in your own living room with couch cushions, cookie pans, and other unique feels. Be creative! When you’re out on a walk, ask your dog to put his feet up on a garbage can, a storm drain, or a brick wall. Dogs are very tactile creatures. By doing this exercise, your dog will be more confident exploring new things. King of the world!
If your dog is uncomfortable, having her perform tricks she knows well will boost her confidence. Hand Touch is a great one to refocus your pup. Make sure it’s fun and engaging to help your dog take her mind off what’s making her insecure.
If your dog is really afraid of something, use the time-honored technique of approach-retreat. Essentially, you simply encourage your dog to approach the scary thing as close as he’s comfortable, reward and reinforce there for a minute, then retreat away from the scary thing. Getting close puts pressure on the dog. Reward him for being brave by moving away, which relieves that pressure. Each successive time he approaches, he will have more confidence because he’s done it before and because you’re not pushing him. Pretty soon, he’ll be able to go right up to the scary thing and investigate.
Whenever your dog is uncomfortable or unsure, be sure to give her lots of mental breaks. As mentioned earlier, there is pressure being put on her. Dogs learn best in short sessions with frequent breaks. You can give your dog a break by leaving the situation for a brief time, bending down to love on her, or putting her somewhere quiet.
Play is wonderful for relieving tension, distracting your dog, and boosting his self-confidence. The name of the game is fun! If your dog is having fun, he won’t be as worried. Jog around, play tug, throw a toy, or just be a goofball. Tension gone and mission accomplished.
Getting out into the world and exploring with your dog is a wonderful experience for both of you. (If your dog has serious fear issues, seek the help of a professional dog trainer.)
Have you seen our full day recorded seminar on building confidence in nervous/anxious dogs? HUGELY helpful if this is something your pup struggles with. Step 1 towards becoming an adventure dog.
You can watch it right now - check it out here.
Danielle Lindblom CPDT-KA (certified professional dog trainer)