How to Boost Your Dog’s Confidence
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It’s shocking to us that people can abuse dogs, treat them poorly and neglect them. That someone can actually look into the sweet eyes of a dog and hurt him is unfathomable to us.
Working with rescue dogs, we see it every day and one of our focus as volunteers is helping to socialize them to make sure they can learn to enjoy life, that they can be easily adopted and have the life they deserve.
And we learned how to do it with Dobby, our 6 year-old Portuguese Podengo.
Dobby was a hunting dog that was too docile to hunt. While we’re sure there are hunters who take proper care of their dogs, what we see the most are neglected and abused hunting dogs.
Sometimes, dogs are simply shot dead by their owners because they can’t hunt.
Dobby was tied to a tree to starve, riddled with mange.
After what we suspect were a few days, he managed to break or chew the rope and free himself and was found skin and bone on the side of a road, eating dirt.
Dobby was found and adopted at about 9 months of age. He came to us battered, bruised, sick, traumatized and afraid of his own shadow.
Our first weeks together we’re not easy. Learning to live in an apartment, walk on a lead, interact with people and other dogs, everything was new and unfamiliar territory to him.
Patience and a lot of care got him functional to live his everyday life, but he had no confidence whatsoever.
Since he was our very first dog, we had to go and learn everything there was to know about boosting a dog’s confidence.
5 Tips to Build Confidence in Your Dog
We researched and talked to dog trainers until we found these 4 tips for boosting our dog’s confidence and you can do it too.
Tip 1 – Take Your Dog to Different Places
You may think keeping your insecure, anxious dog in familiar places is the best thing for him, the state he gets in when you take him somewhere different is hard to watch.
But what you need to think is, if you take him to new places constantly, he will overcome that because he will just get used to it.
Taking your dog to different places helps to boost his confidence because, while he may be scared at first, he will learn over time that there is nothing frightening about it.
Also, being able to overcome his fears, much like for humans, is the best thing he can do to feel confident and self-assured.
So go ahead, take him with you to the beach, a new park or when you’re out visiting the family.
He will be anxious at first, but with your reassurance, some love and a couple of treat, he’ll get through it.
Tip 2 – Play With Him
Not only to make him happy and relaxed, but also because toys challenge your dog and give him purpose.
It sounds easier than it is!
Dobby had no idea what toys were for and anything that was thrown in his direction would cause him to run away.
The first toys he liked were chew toys because he knew how to use them!
Plush toys he destroyed as fast as he saw them, squeaky toys were the easiest to annihilate, he would just catch the squeak box and pull until ripped.
Overall, we went through so many toys that were either destroyed or discarded we honestly lost all count. And Dobby still lacked the will/enthusiasm to play.
So the challenge here is finding the right toys to make your dog get excited.
For Dobby, it’s chew toys, things he can chew on and that doesn’t require him to move around a lot. Preferably toys with nice tastes like chiken, beef, etc.
Some dogs prefer plushes, soft, cosy, good to cuddle with. Others love chasing stuff around, like balls (frisbees are a good option if your dog doesn’t get intimidated by it).
There are so many options available, all you need to do is give them a try.
Tip 3 – Train Him
We’re not talking about the fancy stuff.
Your dog doesn’t necessary need to learn how to play dead or to an agility course (though if you have the time and patience to invest in it, he will love it).
We mean the simple training. To sit, lie down, give his paw, stay, etc.
Train him to do as he’s told and reward him once he does.
Learning some of these tricks are actually very useful on your day to day life but he’ll feel totally proud to be able to do it.
If you’re a dog training enthusiast, you can easily build from there.
Tip 4 – Challenge Him
There are two things that are guaranteed to make your dog happy, proud and confident: doing a good job at something and pleasing you.
After reading about it, we decided to create challenges for him to overcome and, once he did, we would praise him and reward him and pretty much celebrate him and his achievements each and every time.
Doing this without losing patience in the process is paramount to making your dog feel confident and happy.
So first, we continued to play with him, except now we wanted to challenge him mentally. And that’s were puzzles come in!
We started very small, with an egg carton and some treats. We placed the treats inside the carton and handed it over to him. His purpose is clear, eat the treats without destroying the box! If treats aren’t enough of a motivation, you can use other things, like ham, turkey, chicken, cheese, whatever your dog loves.
Once he figured how to do it, we tried plastic cups and kept building from there.
Finally, it was time to get some proper puzzles to give your dog more mental stimulation (you can do this from the start, of course, there are different levels of difficulty available).
This was a great hit with Dobby, but the one he absolutely loved was the snuffle mat.
The good thing about these interactive puzzles, aside from being cleverly built, is if you don’t place the treats in the same spots, it will challenge him for much longer because he won’t learn where to find them as easily.
As a hunting breed, sniffing around for prizes is what comes natural to him, so when we got him this snuffle mat and filled it with treats, all he needed to do was sniff them out and eat them, he was the happiest boy!
Another challenging interactive toy/puzzle we found that Dobby loves is Bob-A-Lot. We place his favorite treats or kibble inside (small bits of fruit or vegetables work too) and he needs to figure out how to take the food out by playing with it.
There are different levels of difficulty according to the size of the exit hole you open and it’s so much fun watching them work it in order to get to their prize.
Aside from boosting his confidence, puzzles are also a great way to stave off boredom, we highly recommend using them in your dog’s daily routine.
Since then, we’ve been consistent in our work with him, always getting him new challenges and new toys for him to try.
Tip 5 – Make Him Feel Safe
Get him an anti-anxiety vests. It may sound a bit farfetched, but it was actually one of the best tips for Dobby.
When we first adopted him, he avoided going outside at any cost. He would do his business and return as fast as possible.
Being afraid of people as well as other dogs, not to mention noises, Dobby would cower away from any new experience.
We discovered this vest completely by chance and decided to try it, after all we had already tried anything we could think of.
The results were immediate and amazing! As soon as we put the vest on Dobby, his demeanor changed, he was walking tall, his tail raised and a bit of a spring in his step.
It didn’t magically solved his lack of interaction with other dogs and people, that took some time, but we could tell he felt safer, more protected.
Since, we’ve heard about other dogs who tolerated fireworks, thunderstorms and visits to the vet a lot better while wearing these vests.
Who knew something so simple could make such a big difference?
Since those first days, we’ve continued to work with Dobby every day, challenging him and taking him a step further.
We don’t really expect him to ever be as carefree or as confident and Tommy and Coco, we just want him to be comfortable in his own skin and, of course, a happy puppy.
Playing may seem like something dogs naturally know how to do but dogs only know what they’re taught, by humans or other dogs.
Rescued dogs sometimes have such a difficult past they don’t really learn how to be dogs until they enter a safe environment and, when that happens later in their lives, it’s really harder than it looks to teach them ordinary dog behavior and the confidence that comes with that.
Like anything you teach your dog, make sure you have the care and patience to teach him at his pace, in a relaxed, calm way and don’t lose motivation or give up if he takes a bit longer to get to where you want him.
Overall be consistent and incorporate working with him in a fun way into your daily routine.
It may take some time, but it will be totally worth it.
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