Training for Confidence


Training for Confidence – In addition to working with dogs, I am a new triathlete. Before a race my anxiety is through the roof…what if I get eaten by a cousin of the Loch Ness Monster? What if I crash my bike trying to avoid a suicidal squirrel? What if I finish dead last and all the pancakes are gone, like the first time? The thing that gets me through these crazy thoughts is the fact I have swam, biked, ran, and done many other things in the past—and I survived.

Socializing your dog works in a similar way. Regardless of age, continually exposing her to new situations in a safe environment is one of the best ways to build her confidence. And confidence is the key to a well socialized dog. A gentle way to begin is to expose your dog to new textures such as grass, tile, pavement, sand, gravel, etc. This allows her to discover new things and learn that something unfamiliar isn’t necessarily scary. If she is hesitant to walk on a new surface, encourage her to take a step or two by luring her with food or her favorite toy. If she is still wary, praise and reward her if she even sniffs the new element, and build from there.

Meeting new people is also a great way to build her socialization. If your dog is a bit shy, begin by introducing her to people who have a positive but calm energy. Although it is fantastic to introduce her to people who are super excited and love dogs, this may overwhelm a shy dog at the beginning of her socialization and reaffirm her fears that people are scary. Once she has become more comfortable with people, she can be introduced to your more energetic dog loving friends.

Speaking of energy, as a pack leader, your energy guides theirs. In a dog’s mind, if a pack leader is anxious, then “I need to be as well”, so be sure to be calm and positive as you are working together on her socialization. Also remember to make this process fun for both of you. Use food or treats, make it a game, have a big payoff (a belly run or playtime) when she deals with a situation successfully. Never punish a dog for being fearful, but encourage her both verbally and with food. A little patience and understanding go a long way in helping your dog become a well-rounded canine citizen.

Every new experience, interaction or item your dog comes into contact with is an opportunity to socialize her. By having a great attitude and training often, you can help her cross the finish line and become a confident, well socialized part of the community.

—Kim P.
Canine behavior coach, behavior advisor, training counselor.