Confidence is King; it allows your dog to unlock its SuperHero Powers.
Confidence is a belief in oneself. It is the conviction that one can meet life’s challenges and succeed—and the willingness to act accordingly.
You never hear superman say, “I’m not fast enough” or “I can’t leap that high.” Instead, he knows he can, and he does. And as you know from your own experiences, confidence feels terrific.
What a Lack of Confidence Looks Like in Dogs
When dogs lack confidence, they display it in many ways we don’t like, and much of the time, we misinterpreted it.
Recognizable displays of fear like cowering, shyness, or retracting maybe how your dog shows a lack of confidence.
But Sometimes, excitability is how a dog will a lack of confidence. Excitable urination and overly zealous greeters are two examples of this.
Or if your dog can’t move toward or away from something it might be displayed as frustration.
Like with us, the problem is life causes our dogs to perceive the world as something they can’t trust or as something super exciting or even frustrating.
And that causes dogs to question safety or become aggressive, fearful, or overly excited.
And life is throwing these things at our dogs all the time. Our dogs are noticing a ton of stuff we are oblivious to.
How Negative Emotional Associations Develop
Most of the time, when our dogs attend to something in the environment, we don’t even realize they have noticed it. So we don’t give them any feedback, and their natural skepticism causes them to assume it is a bad thing.
Now, we have established the seed of a tiny negative association. So the next time that same or a similar situation occurs, they assume it is terrible, and our dog has an amped-up reaction.
The other common situation is our dog notices something, and an unfavorable outcome follows it.
Your dog might see a dog and pull on the leash to get closer, but the collar or harness your dog is wearing causes discomfort. Or you might scold your dog, and now it thinks other dogs cause the discomfort and your scolding to occur.
Or it might be you say hi to your neighbor right as the scary trash truck goes by. Your dog’s association is the word “hi” or your neighbor, which caused the dangerous trash truck to go past.
If we are unprepared to convince the dog it is a good situation, the emotion of fear, excitability, fear, or anger increase.
Dogs are naturally pessimistic. If you don’t successfully take action to give them a good experience, the next time they see something, they are more likely to assume it is bad because their distrust has grown.
And if that’s not enough, stuff is going on all the time, all around us, which requires us to become mindful.
Building your Dogs Confidence
Building confidence is about giving your dog good experiences with all the stuff that is going on around them. That can be you give food, play, praise. Use what delights your dog.
In the comments section, tell me about your dog’s confidence. How does your dog’s lack of confidence cause limitations for you? In what situations does your dog have high confidence or low confidence.
Susan Burgott on March 9, 2021, at 12:52 pm
When we come upon new things like trucks, utility workers, roof cleaners, dog walkers, etc, Cody sits and we quietly observe for a minute. He came with this reaction, and I think it gives him a moment to cope. He is confident that we can calmly observe new things, then move on.
Debbie Schaefer of The Well-Mannered Dog replied on Sun, March 10, 6:09 AM
That is great, you don’t have retraction. You will know his confidence has grown when he starts approaching things on his own.
Lonny Hanson on March 11, 2021, at 10:03 am
Steel is an overzealous greeter and an overly excitable dog in some situations. He gets very excited when he’s about to interact with other dogs. If the other dog makes too sudden of a move or is aggressive in any way, he goes into fight mode.
Debbie Schaefer of The Well-Mannered Dog replied on Thursday, March 11, 10:41 AM
Yes Lonny! It is great that you recognize it is a lack of confidence that is the root cause because we can do something about that. We can teach calmness skills, play confidence games, teach disengagement and arousal regulation. The combination of these things will turn this behavior around. You can see more information on this training in our Changing Dog Emotions Program.