Recently I was talking to the participants of my Agility class about the benefits of engaging their dogs in novel experiences as a way to build up their confidence. But what exactly does that mean?
So here is how I think of building confidence in our dogs. The goal of any confidence boosting exercise is to expose our dogs to a novel experience in a manner that the dog is challenged enough and learning something new, but at the same time he is comfortable i.e.: not too stressed or worse – afraid or anxious with the experience. As a result, the dog has acquired new skills that will permit basically two things:
Resilience and the courage to engage in life experiences as in: “Ah, piece of cake! I can do that! Or that is not something scary…”
We all have heard time and time again about the importance of socializing our dogs while puppies. In essence what this means is exposing our dogs when they are really capable of taking in massive amounts of experiences to anything that potentially they will confront during their lives as well as exposing them in a manner that again helps them boost their confidence to anything that is foreign to them. I think it is easy to forget that dogs are mostly living in our world and in order to not only “survive” but also thrive they must be able to learn to navigate in our man-made world with aplomb.
As much as we would like to have our dogs escape harm and pain, the reality is that we cannot fully and always protect them from what scares them or can hurt them. However, what we can do is pepper our dog’s lives with well-thought out experiences so that when our dog is confronted with something new and potentially concerning they can bounce right back from it with little to no emotional distress. If situations like this are handled with an understanding of how to build confidence appropriately, the experience itself will serve as one more opportunity for building the resilience needed to bounce back.
Our dogs, just like us, need to practice skills on a regular basis. Becoming confident is not any different – it is a process. One that can indeed make a difference in the quality of life our dogs can experience.
My suggestion to you is that you become keenly aware of areas where your dog can benefit from more positive exposures and that you learn to set these learning experiences so that your dog soars with confidence. Stay tuned for more specific information and how to.