With all of the insecure dogs we've seen struggling and in need of training help, we want to share with you the best gift we feel that you can ever give your dog. Your dog receives numerous gifts from you in it's lifetime, everything from quality food and bedding, to toys and excellent vet care. Truly, the most important gift you can give, or invest in for your pup, is building his/her confidence.
Imagine for a moment, what it takes for you to feel confident. Independence and mastery of skills, right? Conquering something (new) on your own terms, being able to take ownership and say "I did that," while also receiving the support and encouragement from others for a job well done? This is true for your pup, and they are looking to you to create opportunities for that same rush of success, which builds confidence and in turn, makes for a more balanced dog.
Dogs who are confident can become calm-submissive in the world a thousand times more naturally than dogs who are insecure. Ever so many of the most bothersome behaviors in a dog are presented because of insecure, anxious foundations that typically result from a lack of early socialization, improper handling of puppy fear periods, or over emotional handlers. Once anxiety sets in to a fearful/insecure dog, and that dog becomes a problem in the world, their pent up energy from limiting their experiences is like a ticking time bomb. I often hear of the downward spiral between owner and dog, "he used to be mildly problematic and then he just started getting worse. We stopped taking him on walks and now we can't take him anywhere. He's driving us crazy." Undoing anxiety and fear is so much harder than instilling confidence to begin with, but most people miss their chance. They don't have the tools they need, miss the warning signs, or become emotional about the problems their dog displays. Your insecurity in how to proceed then feeds your dog's insecurity... a vicious cycle.
If you're raising a puppy or rehabbing an adolescent/adult and want to gift them a lifetime of confidence, it's imperative that you start right away teaching them to SELF-SOOTHE (send to 'bed,' crate train, show them how to sleep and play independently of you). Don't indulge whining or attention seeking. For all ages, the following are applicable, but self-soothing still matters for the adolescent/older dog, it just may need to be coached a bit differently than for a puppy. Sending your dog away when they whine or act pushy and demanding for anything shows they don't get what they want that way. Pack leaders call the shots and give out attention on their terms, be a leader by balancing your affection for times when your pup is calm, quiet and giving you space. Call them for food when they're not excited and fixated on it. This habit will bring about more calm and less excitement or compulsive behaviors.
SOCIALIZE puppies often, with dozens of people and pets. It's easier to build confidence in a pack and packs accept puppies more seemlessly. Don't put off dog encounters until you pup is a year and hasn't learned a thing about how to read other dogs. Focus on short, positive encounters with lots of variety, but certainly with safe dogs whom you know are friendly. If your dog is older(9 months +) and insecure, slow this down, but find good single or small group playmates to build on positive encounters. No dog parks full of unpredictable dogs and potential problems.
EXERCISE (daily), quality exercise, where your dog is in a respectful heal or following behind you, is needed for your pup's lifetime. Romping with fur friends is not working or training, it's a reward and should be in balance with quality exercise/work with you.
TRAIN, every chance you get, it's in the small stuff. Use every doorway as an opportunity to practice 'wait,' with you always leading ahead before your pup can come through. Remember to send your pup to a 'mark' to wait for their meal, they are not allowed to cross that mark/threshold until you call them. Use a bed or mat as a spot to randomly send your pup and praise them enthusiastically with tug or fetch after they complete the exercise and have been released. This becomes a foundation for placing your pup in a wait as you greet guests or sign for a delivery. Teach puppies tons of tricks to build confidence and use later as building blocks for leash skills.
EXPLORE the best methods for working with your pup in a fun and exciting way (agility, earth dog, fly ball, barn hunt, tracking, therapy work, clicker training...). Every dog is unique and there isn't one size to fit all in training. Listen to your pup and try different things until you see the light turn on and an activity that really helps them blossom. With puppies, the eagerness is a huge advantage. They're (hopefully) curious and motivated, submissive and soaking up every word you say. Put the work in, take the little bit of extra time, to show them what you want, so they can feel confident in themselves and the world around them. If a behavior won't be cute/desirable once full grown, don't allow it in your puppy... anxiousness or fear in puppies is a red flag and should be taken seriously before your full grown dog is a danger to himself or others. Find ways to set them up for success then be patient with older dogs who lacked the chance to become confident and now need more time to undo the damage.
Remember to always drain their energy FIRST, they'll have less to stress with!
Happy confidence building~