How to Build Confidence in My Dog - Step by Step Guide
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Generally speaking, it is not a cause for concern if a dog is shy of new things. However, when a dog's behavior becomes excessively fearful, it usually indicates low self-confidence, which should not go unnoticed by its caretakers. This behavioral problem not only shortens the life expectancy of dogs and makes them more susceptible to certain diseases, but also prevents them from interacting with their environment.
The following AnimalWised article explains how to build your dog's confidence and what factors might be responsible for the lack of confidence.
What is lack of confidence in dogs?
Although they may be related, fear and insecurity are not the same thing in dogs. Fear is one of the basic emotions dogs feel, and it is essential to their survival. Fear is a key part of the defense mechanisms in dogs, which allows them to be alert and react when danger threatens, either to flee or to defend themselves.
So we can argue that fear is a natural reaction in dogs, and even a confident dog can be afraid in certain situations. One of the main differences between fear and lack of confidence is that a confident dog has more resources to manage their emotions when faced with an extreme situation.
A dog that lacks confidence has not had the same opportunities to develop their confidence. Either because they have not been properly socialized or because they have lost it because they have been systematically or continuously exposed to fear, stress, and isolation. As a result, insecure dogs tend to exhibit overly anxious behavior that exceeds the limits of what is "natural and expected" in dogs.
You may be interested in this other article, where we talk about dog body language and their calming signals.
Why some dogs lack confidence?
In general, excessive fear and insecurity in dogs are associated with three main factors:
In terms of genetic inheritance, it is important to remember that some dog breeds are naturally more fearful than others. Their predisposition to fear may vary due to various non-social fear factors in dogs, such as loud noises, fear of heights, etc., and fear of the unknown or stranger. In this sense, body size and composition seem to play a key role in these dogs' response to fear, as small dogs tend to be more fearful than large dogs. Do not miss this other article, where we talk about which are the most skittish dog breeds.
The interaction between dogs, the education they receive, and the environments they are exposed to all play a critical role in their response to fear and stress. Consequently, these factors directly influence how confident a dog becomes over time because they have not learned how to interact harmoniously with people, stimuli, and the environment. Therefore, dogs that are not properly socialized tend to react very fearfully to new and/or unexpected situations.
Regarding experiences, it is important to understand that we are not only referring to traumatic experiences related to different types of physical or psychological abuse that a dog may suffer. Although these experiences can lead not only to excessive fear but also to phobias, there are other traumatic experiences that can weaken a dog's confidence. For example, if they have lived for a long time with an illness that has caused them great pain.
In addition, both excessive fear and certain phobias in dogs can be due to a negative association with certain stimuli or objects. Dogs can associate a loud noise they fear, for example, with certain objects, people, animals, or environments. As a result, the dog can feel fearful in these situations even if the noise is not there. This explains why some dogs hide at the mere sight of a hair dryer or vacuum cleaner because they associate these objects with the loud noise.
In more extreme cases, dogs separated from their mothers and siblings too early or living in an unenriched environment or in isolation may develop sensory processing disorder (SPD). SPD is a condition that affects how your dog's brain processes sensory information (stimuli). Sensory information includes things your dog can see, hear, smell, taste or touch. This causes them to develop generalized panic in adulthood at almost any stimulus.
How to increase a dog's confidence
Logically, we cannot change the genetic information of a dog. Fortunately, there are many things we can do to increase a dog's confidence and prevent insecure and overly fearful behavior. Let us take a closer look at how you can build your dog's confidence in no time:
Respect natural weaning before adoption
It is important to respect the weaning age of puppies before separating them from their mother and siblings to build their confidence. Although the weaning process begins in the 3rd or 4th week of the puppies' life, it is recommended that the puppies stay with their mother until they are 2 or 3 months old.
The socialization phase of the dog begins at about three weeks of age and ends at about three months of age. During this time, puppies first learn, along with their mother and siblings, the basic codes of their communication and social behavior, and then recognize what the so-called "friendly species" are.
Therefore, it is very critical that during this period your dog is exposed to different stimuli, people, and environments. This way, your dog will be able to slowly but surely build a positive relationship with them. If you have decided to adopt an adult dog, or if you did not have the opportunity to socialize them when they were puppies, do not worry. With patience and dedication, you can socialize a dog during any stage of their life.
Earn your dog's trust
It is also important to take time to gain your dog's trust. The quality of the bond with his caregiver influences a dog's upbringing and behavior. It will be much more difficult for a dog to feel secure enough to interact with unfamiliar situations and people if they do not feel safe with their caretakers.
Use positive reinforcement
On the other hand, it is essential that you choose well the methods you use to educate your dog. These methods are crucial in strengthening or weakening both your bond and your dog. False scolding, confinement, and physical punishment will only contribute to your dog's fear. We advise you to rely on positive reinforcement to encourage your dog's learning.
Daily walks and exercise
It is also essential to provide your dog with an adequate amount of physical activity. Daily walks provide not only exercise, but also interaction with a wider variety of people, stimuli, and environments. An enriching environment is, in turn, key to supplementing your dog's daily physical activity and mental stimulation to prevent a number of behavioral problems related to stress and boredom.
You might be interested in this other article, where we explain why your dog is afraid of other dogs.
What to do about a fearful dog?
It is neither possible nor advisable to completely remove fear from a dog because, as we have seen, it is a basic and fundamental emotion for its survival. However, the tips we have explained in the previous section will help you to increase your dog's confidence and prevent excessive fearful behavior.
Likewise, dogs suffering from more complex problems such as phobias, stereotypies and generalized panic associated with sensory processing disorder usually require specialized treatment. To overcome the traumatic experiences that led to this behavior, it is best to consult a professional to get a more accurate diagnosis and then establish treatment guidelines based on your dog's needs.
Do not miss this other article on socializing an adult dog.
If you want to read similar articles to How to Build Confidence in My Dog - Step by Step Guide, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.
- Dias, BG; Ressler, KJ (2014). Parental olfactory experience influences behavior and neural structure in subsequent generations , Nature Neuroscience 17, 89-96
- Hakanen, E.; Mikkola, S.; Salonen, M. et al. (2020). Active and social life is associated with lower non-social fearfulness in pet dogs . Sci Rep 10, 13774. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-70722-7
- Dreschel, N.A. (2010). The effects of fear and anxiety on health and lifespan in pet dogs , Applied Animal Behavior Science, Volume 125, Issues 3–4, Pages 157-162