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How To Boost Your Dog’s Confidence

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Not all dogs are outgoing, confident, and comfortable around other people or other pets. Many canines can be nervous, fearful, and even aggressive in social situations. Learning how to build confidence in an insecure dog can make all the difference for your pup to live a happier life.

Helping Your Dog Feel More Confident

For dog parents who are used to carefree, extroverted, and social pups, the idea of boosting your dog’s confidence may sound a little odd. However, when a pup feels more confident in a situation, they will also feel more comfortable, thus lowering their anxiety and stress levels.

Signs of a confident dog include a wagging tail, wiggly body, eagerness to greet other people and dogs, and a relaxed mouth with their tongue hanging out or a grin expression. While some dogs may naturally adopt these behaviors, others may have to work up to being this comfortable around others.

When dogs are hesitant around outsiders, it may be from fear, anxiety, aggression, shyness, or a combination. These emotions in your dog can be caused by many factors, including their environment, health, history, lifestyle, and personality. For dog parents, it’s helpful to learn more about recognizing the signs of these emotions, why they are occurring, and what you can do to help your pup feel more reassured in social settings.

Did you know that dogs can also experience separation anxiety? Learn the signs, causes, and treatment options.

How To Socialize a Nervous Dog

Similar to how people can experience social anxiety and become nervous when meeting new people or going to new places, dogs can also feel the same way. Of course, each dog is unique, so some may exhibit more extreme symptoms than others. For instance, some canines are OK in new environments until they meet a new person, while others become anxious as soon as they leave their property.

The signs of social anxiety can be divided into three categories:

  1. Fearful Behavior: Your pup will stay close to your legs, trying to hide behind or under them. They may also let out a whining sound.
  2. Nervous Behavior: This can include excessive drooling, restlessness, and potty accidents.
  3. Aggressive Behavior: Your dog may let out a deeper growl or bark and even lunge toward nearby people or dogs.

Though there are many reasons why dogs will show these types of behavior, one of the most common is because the dog was not socialized enough. Of course, no dog parent wants to see their dog go through these behavior changes every time they are in a new social setting, so it’s crucial to learn some ways to ease their anxiety.

The best place to begin is with a small step, like introducing your pup to one friend or family member. Allow your dog to approach the person at their pace and never force an interaction. If your dog is food motivated, have your friend give your dog pieces of food or a treat and if your dog prefers toys, have your friend reward your pup with their favorite toy. It’s important that these types of controlled interactions are calm and safe. Reward your pup for a job well done and use positive reinforcement when they have a successful interaction with the new person.

When you believe your dog is ready for the next step, try taking them out into new environments while still choosing calmer locations. For instance, you can walk in a new neighborhood, visit the local park during a quieter time of day, or take your dog to someone else’s house. Remember to keep these outings fun and positive, rewarding your dog every time they have a successful interaction.

small dog hiding under a couch

How To Build Confidence in a Fear Aggressive Dog

While some canines may be nervous or anxious in social settings, others can show signs of fear-related aggression. When a dog is put in a situation where they don’t feel comfortable, their fight-or-flight instinct could kick in, and, depending upon the environment, they may not be able to get away. Without being able to leave, your dog could feel as though they have no other choice but to ‘fight.’

With fear aggression, your dog may show many signs: growling, barking, lunging, wide-eyed staring, and biting. This can be scary, especially because your pup can exhibit behaviors they normally never do. If left untreated, fear aggression can progressively worsen as your dog ages, and social situations can cause even more problems. This is just one reason why learning to help a fearful dog gain confidence is crucial.

Thankfully, there are many steps dog parents can take to help their pup’s fear-related issues.

  • Talk with a professional. If your pup is showing fear aggression symptoms whenever they interact with other people or dogs, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. They may want to do a thorough examination to ensure there isn’t an underlying issue. Otherwise, they may help you find a dog behaviorist that could further help you and your dog.
  • Avoid triggers as much as possible. Depending on what is causing the fear aggression in your pal, it is best to avoid the root cause as much as possible. At least until your dog can first go through some training.
  • Don’t force your dog into a situation. Pushing your dog too quickly out of their comfort zone will only cause more fear aggression and will be a step in the wrong direction. If you are trying to reacquaint your pup with the item they fear, this will need to be done at your dog’s pace, and you need to allow them to leave the situation whenever they begin to feel uncomfortable again.
  • Find your safe distance. Some dogs may not be fans of other dogs, but they are OK at a specific distance—any closer is when they may show signs of fear aggression. Figuring this distance is a helpful way to still go about your routine, such as walks, while being able to control your dog’s interactions better.
  • Create a safe and positive environment. Depending on the item that causes your dog to be fearful and aggressive, providing your pup with a safe place where they may retreat can be beneficial. Using positive reinforcement can reassure them that they are OK. For many pups, their crate is a perfect safe zone.

While not all fear aggression issues can be resolved entirely, working with professionals and being adamant and patient with training can significantly improve your pup’s reactions. Instead of only being able to stand a few lengths from another dog, you can help your pup become more confident with passing closely by. Or, if your best pal has a fear of children, you can help them learn to tolerate young kids better and react more appropriately.

One of the best ways to help your dog overcome the item that causes them fear is to slowly, in a controlled environment, have them interact with the object, person, or dog. This will be a slow process for many pups, so remain patient and always make the interactions fun, positive, and safe. It’s best not to rush this process and never force your dog to move faster than what they are comfortable with in an interaction.

As an example, if your dog has a fear of men, enlist the help of a male family member or friend. Try meeting up in a neutral location like the park. Keeping your dog and friend at a distance, have your friend toss your dog a treat, and use encouraging words. Over time you can decrease the distance, always allowing your dog to be the one to approach your friend. Though it could take weeks or months, the goal is that your dog will eventually come to learn that they do not need to fear men.

As you see your dog improve, try allowing your male friend to pet your dog, give them a toy, or even take a turn walking them. When you think your pup is ready, try introducing another man to your dog, showing them that they have nothing to fear.

Are you curious what dogs think about? Learn more about the inside of a dog’s mind.

How To Give a Timid Dog Confidence

While some pups may have fear aggression or anxiety in social settings, others may just be timid around other people or dogs. There can be many reasons why a dog can be shy such as genetics, lack of socialization, and past trauma.

No matter the underlying issues, building confidence in shy dogs can make a difference for your canine best friend. Thankfully, there are many options dog parents can explore. One of the best places to start is with obedience and tricks. Whether simple commands like ‘sit,’ ‘stay,’ or ‘down’ or fun tricks such as ‘shake’ or ‘speak,’ training can help give your dog direction and more confidence. Another benefit of working on obedience is that it can strengthen your relationship with your canine.

Keep in mind that it may take your timid dog a little extra time to learn their new commands and become comfortable and confident. Patience and positivity can go a long way during this process.

Dogs can have complex emotions, just like people. Learn more about which emotions your pup is expressing.

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

If you adopt an older dog, you may notice that they aren’t the most confident—they may be timid, anxious, or shy. It’s also possible that your once confident pup can lose some of that confidence as they age. Rest assured, there are some tips you can follow that could help improve your dog’s demeanor.

  • Go for a walk. Walks are a wonderful, low-stress socialization opportunity. Your dog can see other people, animals, and places from a safe distance. You can also move at a comfortable pace for your pup.
  • Have company over. Invite friends or family over, allowing your dog to interact with people in an environment they are already comfortable in—just don’t overdo it with too many people all the time. Allow your dog to approach your guests whenever they are ready.
  • Approach things from a distance. Sometimes your pup may not quite be ready to visit a dog park or walk through the busy farmer’s market, but they may be comfortable walking past these events from a distance. Allowing your dog to experience these sights, smells, and sounds from a distance in which they feel safe, can be an excellent segue into reacquainting your pup with busier social settings.
  • Keep a positive attitude. Dogs can pick up on our emotions and body language. If you remain calm and confident, you will automatically teach your dog that they can feel that way too, and there’s no need for them to feel stressed.
  • Ask for help. Never hesitate to ask your friends and family members for help during this process of socializing your pup and building their confidence. If you feel a little overwhelmed, reach out to your veterinarian, local dog behaviorist, or training professional.

There are many confidence-building exercises for dogs, but some may fit your dog’s needs better than others. Though it may take a while until you can see some results, stay consistent and keep up the good work—your dog will thank you.

Whether you are learning how to train a scared dog or how to build a dog’s confidence with other dogs, this can be a rewarding process with positive results for you and your best canine pal.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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