We just can’t seem to describe our dogs in terms that are simple, clear, and easily understood.  Some of the descriptions defy reality, some invite us to see our dogs as humans in furry suits, and some are the detritus  of misguided “science”.

I’m talking about terms like, “Hard”, “soft”, “dominant”, “submissive”, “aggressive”, “fearful”, “neurotic”, ” “drivey”, “lacking drive”, and you know even more.  These  attributes are supposedly “inborn”, and only nominally controllable by human intervention.  Let’s talk about that…

Recently, I have personally met four different individuals that have new puppies at home, between 8 and 14 weeks of age. (They all happen to be German Shepherds, but this applies to any breed of dog you may choose too varying degrees.)  I also know that there are many others waiting on new puppies, so it seemed to me that this discussion is timely…

Which quality do you want your new  puppy to have the most?  Obedient? That’s certainly welcome.  Protective?  That can be tremendously comforting.  Driven? For a working dog, that’s the favorite of many.  Affectionate?  Many want a source of warmth and unconditional  love without the burden of mind games…Friendly to everything and everybody?  Playful?  Happy?

Which qualities would you say are unwanted in a dog?  Aggression?  Fear? Nervous?  Unpredictable? Lazy?  Crazy? Neurotic?  All things that we want to not have in our dogs.

The problem with this list, is that we as humans make ALL of these attributes very difficult to achieve successfully.  We couch our “training” and “discipline” in overly complicated methods that please only the Trainer and the human ego.  The dog is overlooked in the process, as long as basic commands are obeyed to some degree. The permissiveness that we produce in these methods is making life difficult for all the involved people and dogs.   We use the unnatural in an attempt to produce natural results, and it starts on the first day we bring our puppies home with us.  The simplicity of the solution is staggering.  The way to achieve success in raising a puppy to be what we most want is equally uncomplicated.  It’s the actual execution that eludes most of us…Follow me here.

What your new puppy, soon to be a full-grown dog, most needs to learn from you, his master, his teacher, his Leader, is CONFIDENCE.  That single quality will deliver you both from years of frustration, anxiety, and stress.  It would also keep dogs from being rejected, abandoned, and even killed as untrainable or aggressive, or neurotic, and unpredictable.  Don’t doubt this somewhat simple assertion that CONFIDENCE is the answer to a happy, fulfilled dog.  There’s evidence galore…

That being asserted, how do you raise a confident dog?

The  most expedient beginning, is to hire  a Good, Reputable, Breeder, meet the breeders breeding stock, and build a relationship.  With dogs AND the breeder.  You’ll be assured that the utmost care has been taken in the genetics and general health of the dog, and that the utmost care has gone into the first 8 to 12 weeks of your puppy’s care.  Believe it or not, research into breeders and their operation is usually overlooked to a great degree by standard issue family-dog owners.  Dog sport people or those who work dogs are usually better at this.  Some of us have more fun researching breeders and dogs than we do any other part of the experience…You meet the most interesting people!  (But I digress…)

Before somebody grouses, I’m not ignoring those nice people that rescue dogs, foster dogs, or otherwise save the unhomed dogs.  I salute you and thank you for your hard work.  It’s just a bit more difficult to judge a dogs temperament and confidence when it’s past is either unknown, or so terrible that the human involved can’t put the past behind them.  Trust me, if you spend your time feeling sorry for the dog, or its past perceived suffering you will never have a confident dog.  The Past is the Past, get out of it Fast…

Just today I saw a blog post that is antithetical to what I’m putting out here, and without directly attacking the viewpoint, I want to correct it.  The blog author asked a simple question.  “Is it possible to reinforce fear in a dog?”   As an attempt at humor, I suppose, the blog entry read only this pithy answer:

“No”     End of Post.

The author did begin a secondary post, with explanation, but it was the same level of nonsense…

These are the people that hug a dog tightly when the Thunder rolls across the sky in July, allowing and “re-inforcing” the fear of loud noises.  These are the same people that create frustrated dogs by their using an approach that tells the dog it’s okay to be fearful, quivering, and weak.  Yes, Virginia, you CAN reinforce FEAR in your dog.  It’s proven everyday.

I’ve digressed somewhat from my original intent, but for good reason.  MOST dog owners have no idea that Self-Confidence is so important, nor do they know where it comes from.  The dog is the victim…So back to where I was headed.

Hopefully, your breeder was the best sort, and raises the pups she oversee’s with her heart, her hands, and her mind.  Her dams are so trusting of her that the breeder is able and welcome to touch each and every pup soon after birth.  Your breeder should be a surrogate thru the entire process, while still allowing the mother to do her job naturally.  The pups will become confidant and trusting towards humans, naturally.  During the first eight weeks of life, I hope you are  able to visit the litter for yourself, sit in the whelping area with them, pet them, allow them to explore you, chase you, and yes, even give you a little bite on the fingers.  (More on puppy biting in the future.  I’ve come to believe that we’ve been fighting this tendency entirely WRONG)   By the time your pup is ready to go home,  it will have had a good start on being confident in new situations.

The trip home is another consideration.  I’m not a fan of bundling a young puppy into the cargo hold of a jet for hours.  I wish we could all drive our car a comfortable distance to collect the little fella ourselves.  My best advice here, is too not reinforce any fear or nervousness by coddling and cooing over a distressed puppy.  What we often consider “comforting”, is telling the dog that it’s just fine to whine and whimper and be afraid.  Your CALM presence and energy output are really enough to comfort an animal thats so plugged into “energy” that you are left in it’s dust psychologically.  Allow the puppy to Cope…Focus his stress as well as you can, by showing the pup a toy, or chatting to it happily,in a cheerful tone of voice.  Make it know that it’s safe by your own feelings of safety.

That takes care of an hour or so…Ready for the rest of the dogs life?  While I don’t want to micro-manage this for you, there are LOT’s of confidence builders that need attention everyday…

When you arrive at home, allow the puppy some supervised “Private Exploration” around the yard, the house, wherever it wants to go.  The pup may decide to find a place for a nap…If so, introduce it to his crate, his private place of comfort, his den.  When introducing the pup to other four-legged housemates, let the process go naturally.  Do be careful, but don’t project fear or nervousness, as this newly forming collection of energies is able to care for itself.  Be watchful, be confident, and watch the dogs work things out themselves.

At night, I personally recommend using a crate.  I guarantee that you’ll lose some sleep listening for a puppy that needs to relieve itself anyway.  But the crate is for the pups safety during it’s puppyhood, and a confident adult dog always has a private place to escape to in need or want.  The crate is a “Good” place, always, not a place of punishment.

Another way to build a confident dog, is “Play”.  Chasing a ball a short distance, playing gentle games of tug with a soft towel, always allowing the puppy to win and give his victory lap.  No, this most assuredly DOES NOT create a dog that is aggressive or prone to bite.  It will, in fact, create the opposite.  The act of biting is fulfillment to a puppy, a way of connecting all the circuits in it’s behavior.  But it IS something you will need to control, and that will be a seperate discussion here.

Another “game” that will build a more confident dog isn’t really a game at all, but a response to the most basic of instincts in your dog.  When it comes time to feed your dog, avoid keeping his dishes in the same place!  Allow your dog to “hunt” for his food, and open up that conduit of energy.  As a puppy, don’t make the hiding too difficult, but do make the pup work a bit.  As he gets older and more experienced, you can make this game more complex, and his success will give him confidence that you will be very surprised to see.  Your puppy, your “dog-to-be”, is above all else a Hunter, a predator.  The only “drive” that matters is the “prey” drive, and this game allows that drive to be opened wide…

The best way to create a confident dog is to never neglect daily training, and walking together.  Your dog needs a Leader, an emotional center of his universe.  This is NOT the traditional “alpha-dog” paradigm, but rather, you being the the dogs central focus.  The social dog wants to be part of the whole, and that collective needs a focal point.  When dogs make up the entire group, they will actually follow the lead of a different member when their energies are the most pronounced.  When you are part of the whole, focus your own energy to feed your Leadership.  You dog will thank you, and repay your efforts by being a well-behaved and confident companion.

I’ve given some basic ways to build a confident dog, starting as a puppy.  This is by no means, a complete program, but essentially,  is a beginning.  Throughout the dogs life, there are many other things that you can do to maintain a dogs confidence.  But the greatest journeys begin with first steps.  Get started on the first day that you meet your new puppy…

confidentdog

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Comments
  1. Therese says:

    I have a rescue German Shepherd who trends fearful, even after two years of confidence building. She has been my most challenging dog to date. Building her confidence and providing calm leadership for her has been the basis of everything we’ve done. She LOVES to play tug-of-war now. We also found activities that she was good at and that build confidence – for her, agility, nosework and bike joring.