Cues for confidence: Make your pooch more confident and fearless!

A confident dog can face unfamiliar situations and respond appropriately to them. They can also bounce back from uncomfortable or scary situations quickly. Sharing some amazing tips for confidence building for your pooch!

–Nitya Ramchandran

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Fear, anxiety, and discomfort cause a spike in stress hormones in dogs, which negatively affects their immune system and makes them susceptible to disease. Dogs continue to learn throughout their lives, and we can help alleviate their fears by adopting a step-by-step approach.

It all boils down to body language

Becoming familiar with your pet’s body language will help you understand when he is distressed. For instance, some shy dogs shut down and freeze when someone approaches them, making people think they’re doing fine when, in reality, they are experiencing a great deal of stress.

Make socialization a priority

Your pet may be fearful because he was not socialized well as a puppy. He did not have enough positive experiences or may have had a scary exposure to the human world. Provide him with safe, happy experiences with strangers, sounds, objects, places, and other animals during the critical socialization period between 3-14 weeks to help him mature into a confident adult dog.

Teach him to be calm yet assertive

Dogs live in a well-defined hierarchy. In a pack of wild canines, the leader decides when the others are to rest, feed, hunt, and move. An under-confident domestic pet needs that same leadership, boundaries, and rules to feel safe and confident.

Allow your pooch to think for himself

By doing everything for your pet, you’re making him dependent on you. Instead, allow your pet to think for himself. When you throw a ball at your pet, and the ball disappears, don’t rush to retrieve the ball for your pet. Instead, allow him to find the missing toy. Figuring out the solution on his own will boost your shy dog’s confidence. Make sure to praise him when he can find the lost toy!

Smart choices – more puzzles and games

Puzzle toys keep your pet mentally stimulated, besides being a great source of fun. The more your pet learns how to troubleshoot and solve puzzles, the more confidence soars.

Home alone and safe

Leaving an under-confident pet alone at home for long periods can make its confidence dip further. Make sure your pet feels safe whenever he is by himself at home. Make his crate or kennel a haven where he can retreat when feeling fear. Leave the door open to allow him to venture out and explore when he feels confident.

One-to-one interactions are powerful

Dogs are social animals. Negligible interactions can make your pet withdrawn and under-confident. Take out time for one-on-one interaction with your canine companion every day. Spend time brushing him, playing with him, or affectionately petting him.

Desensitization and counter conditioning is crucial

You can increase your pet’s confidence by repeatedly exposing him to the stimulus he finds scary so that it gradually becomes less novel and more routine. It is called desensitization.

If you want your pet to get comfortable going to a neighborhood park, begin by bringing him to a quiet corner. Let him see and hear other people and dogs from a safe distance. Over several short sessions, you can move incrementally closer to the crowded areas of the park. If your pet seems overwhelmed, you’ll need to figure out how to decrease the stimulus to the point where it’s not scary to your dog. Proceed at the pace that makes your dog feel safe.

In counter-conditioning, the animal experiences a very tolerable exposure to a stimulus, followed by a yummy treat- one that he doesn’t get at any other time. Once the animal is comfortable with that level of exposure, you can progress to a more difficult step.

Perks of positive reinforcement

Nobody’s perfect, including your beloved pooch. Never punish and scold your pet while attempting to train him. If your pet has to constantly walk on eggshells for fear of incurring your wrath, he will rapidly lose confidence. It will convince him that the world is a scary and unpredictable place.

Instead, be calm and patient. Use a clear verbal cue, such as “No!” when your pet gets it wrong. In case your pet does well, praise him and offer a treat.

Shower him with TLC

There’s a myth that giving reassurance to a scared pet will reinforce his fearful behavior. On the contrary, our calm voice and gentle petting can be hugely reassuring to your fearful pet.

Celebrate small wins

To boost your pet’s confidence, make sure you celebrate every little progress he makes by praising and offering him treats.

Don’t push him to hard

Pushing reluctant pets into scary situations only serves to augment their fear. It also increases the risk that they will reach a point where they are so afraid that they become aggressive.

Befriend a confident canine

Other friendly and confident members of their species can be an asset in helping shy pets. Dogs who are unsure around people may be comfortable with other dogs. Some reticent dogs do not venture out alone but will gladly go for a walk with a canine pal.

Allow your pet to set the pace

Let your dog take the final call about meeting new people or visiting new places. If a kid wants to hug your pet, but your pet is hesitant, do not force him. Make him believe he has some control over his life to increase his confidence.

Put yourself in your pet’s shoes

Try to observe the world the way your pet does and you’ll be able to experience what he’s going through. It will help you spot confidence busters and defuse them before they become problematic.

Identifying triggers is important

Fearful often have predictable triggers that cause them to tip over the edge. Identifying the triggers and taking the necessary steps to reduce the severity of your dog’s responses to them will help build confidence by showing that the scary thing isn’t that scary after all.

The power of touching/targeting

‘Touch’ or targeting is about getting your pet to place his nose or paw against your palm. It helps draw your pet’s focus away from a scary stimulus. It can change his emotional response to the stressor over time. Present your open palm to your pet, and when he moves in close to sniff, mark the behavior with a joyful ‘yes’ Follow it up with a treat.

It’ll take a lot of time and patience to build your little one’s confidence. Don’t be harsh, just keep those nerves calm and carry on with a smile.

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