Building Confidence

Building your dog's confidence is an important part of getting off to a good start. Dogs start to develop their attitudes toward people and the outside world as soon as they can see and hear, so exposing a puppy to people and places to build his confidence around them, often called socialization, should begin as soon as you get him, ideally at 7 weeks. Your dog should be confident with people of all sizes and shapes and in new situations and places. If this exposure does not start before a dog is 12 weeks old, your dog may have confidence problems. He may be afraid of people or afraid when you take him to new places. He won't be happy, and neither will you.

Start by introducing your puppy to lots of different people—children and babies, tall people, fat people, men with beards, and women with large hats. He should meet these people both at your house and in other places.

If your puppy shows fear of anyone, be careful not to inadvertently praise him for being fearful. This happens when an owner tries to reassure a frightened puppy by petting him and speaking soothingly to him. Unfortunately, the puppy thinks that you are praising him for acting fearful and will act more fearful in the future. Fearful behavior can then progress to growling and snapping. Don't misinterpret this as overprotectiveness on the part of your dog. Your dog is simply afraid, and has been encouraged to act that way by you. The proper response to fearfulness is to insist your puppy not back away from whatever frightens him. The sit-stay (see chapter 5) is a useful tool in dealing with this situation. In a firm but kind voice, tell your dog to stop acting silly.

Expose your puppy to different people to build his confidence. (Belgian Tervuren)

Then have the person of whom your puppy is afraid offer him a bit of food. Try to make the puppy take a step forward to get the food. Then praise your dog for this behavior. If your puppy acts fearful of anything, don't avoid these situations or people with your puppy. Instead, try more exposure. Be careful, however, not to create such panic in your puppy that his fears are just further reinforced. You can push a little, but not too much.

A typical example is Tiki, a Yorkshire Terrier. Tiki was enrolled in my obedience classes when her biting problem worsened. This is not unusual in small dogs because it is easier to tolerate biting in them. When Tiki walked into the first class and I went to greet her, she hid behind her owner, who promptly picked her up and started cooing words of reassurance in Tiki's fringed ear. With that kind of backup, Tiki then turned into a miniature canine terrorist, snarling and growling at me. After I explained to Tiki's owner the effects of her reassurance, we started a program of building Tiki's confidence. I sat on the floor and offered Tiki, who was not in her owner's arms, a delectable tidbit of cooked beef liver seasoned with garlic powder. At first, she would only come as far as my outstretched arm. Gradually, I coaxed her closer, until she would finally climb into my lap. After a few weeks in class, we started to have the other class members offer Tiki a treat. We made sure Tiki was hungry and therefore motivated. It became a ritual after class; everyone fed Tiki before leaving. Meanwhile, Tiki was receiving the same treatment at home. By the end of the class, Tiki was running to greet people.

Some people are afraid to encourage friendliness in their dogs because they want their dogs to be protective. However, only a confident dog, a dog who is not afraid of people, can be counted on in a threatening situation. Socialization is absolutely necessary to help a dog distinguish between who is threatening and who is not. Protective behavior, if your dog has such instincts, will not emerge until your dog matures. If you see aggressive behavior in a puppy under six months of age, you can be sure it is caused by fear. Do something about it immediately.

Besides exposing your dog to different people to build his confidence, you will also want to take him to different places. Check with your veterinarian regarding when a puppy's vaccinations will provide him with adequate protection from infectious diseases. Meanwhile, take him to places where he won't be exposed to such diseases. City dogs should go to the country, and suburban dogs should visit the city. Don't just take him to outdoor places. Ask a good friend to let your puppy come inside his house—on leash, of course! If the weather is warm, puppies can learn to swim at 8 to 10 weeks of age. Take it slowly; wade into the water and support your puppy. Remember, the idea is to build his confidence, not to scare him.

A good rule of thumb is to expose your puppy to anything he may face in his life before he is 16 weeks old. Be creative. How about elevators, open staircases, wheelchairs, and baby strollers? An overnight stay at the boarding kennel where you plan to leave your dog when you go away is a good idea

Puppies should be exposed to children as early as possible. (Irish Setter)

while he's still a puppy. Your puppy should have a chance to interact with other dogs. Puppy training classes are an excellent way to provide your puppy with exposure to different people, dogs, and places. (For more information on choosing a good training class, see chapter 10.)

Taking the time to do this confidence building while your puppy is still young will give you many years of enjoying a confident dog. Your dog will be more adaptable and flexible. He will be better behaved when he meets new people or goes somewhere. If your dog is older, he will still benefit from such exposure, although progress may be slower.

Dog Owners Handbook

Dog Owners Handbook

There are over a hundred registered breeds of dogs. Recognizing the type of the dog is basically associated with its breed. A purebred animal belongs to a documented and acknowledged group of unmixed lineage. Before a breed of dog is recognized, it must be proven that mating two adult dogs of the sametype would have passed on their exact characteristics, both appearance and behavior, to their offspring.

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