People often ask me how Wynston has become so confident and well-behaved. I even hear comments from strangers such as, “Wow! Look at him pose for the picture with all these distractions! How do you keep him so focused?” It all comes down to confidence. Wynston went from being a fearful, emaciated puppy to a brave, courageous boy. But how has he come so far? Wynston is so confident that he can fly on an airplane without anxiety, explore new trails without fear and sit in a loud expo hall without freaking out. I’m going to share nine ways to build your dog’s confidence based on our experience and success.
9 Ways to Build Your Dog’s Confidence
Confidence isn’t built over night, for humans or dogs. Building confidence is a constant, daily process. It’s almost like building a muscle – you have to work at it every single day. And just like humans, dogs have off days too, no matter how confident they are. Let’s look at how you can work to build your dog’s confidence.
Yes, that’s correct – daily training. Let me rephrase; you need to work on training with your dog every. single. day. Don’t let the thought overwhelm you. I’m not talking about hour training sessions. Daily training sessions can literally be 2-5 minutes. Dogs don’t have the capacity to focus and learn for long periods of time like humans. They need short, sweet, rewarding sessions.
I’ve been working on basic training skills with Wynston everyday for the last six years. For the most part we stick to the basics – sit, stay, down, etc. Basic obedience training is the basis for building your dog’s confidence. (This is also how I’ve taught him to stay so patiently for photos. A dog can’t be a model without an amazing sit-stay command).
Always use positive reinforcement when training your dog. I never, ever condone the use of “tools” such as e-collars or prong collars. Even though Wynston is far beyond basic commands, I still treat him during our training sessions. Your dog is never “too smart” or “too trained” to get a treat for sitting and staying. If your dog isn’t food motivated, use praise and their favorite toy. You can also try using high value treats such as chicken, cheese or delicious meats. They may keep your dog’s focus better than regular dog treats.
It’s important to socialize your dog as much as possible as young as possible. A dog is never too old to be socialized properly, but it’s beneficial if you can start them as a puppy. Socialization doesn’t necessarily mean letting your dog loose at the dog park (that can actually be detrimental). Some healthy, safe ways you can socialize your dog are:
- Take them to play dates with dogs that you know are well-behaved and trustworthy.
- Join a meetup group for other dog parents.
- Take them walking at public parks.
- Enroll in a training class that uses positive reinforcement methods.
When your dog is playing nicely and being brave, reward them for displaying positive behavior. Even though Wynston is 7 years old, I still treat him for being a good boy around his friends and cousins.
Try a dog sport.
Wynston and I started agility in spring 2014. We met some of our greatest friends through agility classes, and the sport allowed us to bond and build confidence as a team. When I think back, I realize that we began training in agility at the most perfect time. Wynston was just starting to come into himself as an adult dog and he needed a push to become more confident. Agility trained us both how to work together in a positive manner. It also helped Wynston with socialization. Overall, the experience was one massive confidence booster for both of us.
Train outside the house.
Every time I take Wynston somewhere, whether it’s to the park, on vacation or to a pet event, I use it as a training session. I always have a pocket full of treats to use as positive reinforcement. We practice our basic commands in areas with commotion in order to work on focusing in times of distraction. People often wonder how Wynston will sit for a photo and look at the camera with so much going on around him – it’s because we constantly train outside the home.
Spend one-on-one time with your dog.
Part of the reason I believe Wynston is so confident is because of the bond we have. Spending one-on-one time with your dog helps the two of you build trust and communication. So put down your phone and spend 15 minutes just sitting on the floor with your dog or playing a game of fetch. Give them attention with no distraction. The stronger your bond becomes, the more confident your pup will end up being. It sounds too simple, but it works.
Take them to dog-friendly stores and restaurants.
When you take Fido to a dog-friendly store or restaurant, they are getting exposed to lots of new sights, smells and sounds. Training your dog in these sorts of environments is imperative for your success. I believe that Wynston has gained much of his confidence this way. I take him everywhere with me. We started by going on rides to the drive-thru, then graduated up to stores, then restaurants, and now traveling around the country. Start small and treat often!
Never scold your dog.
This may seem like a “duh” statement, but you’d be surprised how many pet parents think it’s okay to physically scold their dogs. The only thing you are accomplishing by physically punishing your dog is adding to their lack of confidence. When you inflict pain, your dog will learn fear and distrust. Never, ever, ever, do that to your dog. Ever.
Rinse and repeat.
Building your dog’s confidence is all about repeating and rewarding positive behavior over and over and over again. Just because I took Wynston to a store one time doesn’t mean that’s where our training stops. I’ve been training with Wynston every single day for six years, and that’s why he’s so incredibly confident. Every step you take toward making your dog more confident needs to be repeated and rewarded. Trust me – your efforts will pay off.
Wynston is a PetSmart model. He didn’t make it there being a fearful dog. Believe me when I say that your dog’s confidence is important!
A confident dog is a happy dog, and happy dogs live longer! Well, I don’t know if that’s true, but we’ll go with it.
Is your dog confident or are you working to build confidence? What areas are you struggling with?