A lack of confidence is the cause of most behavioral issues and leads dogs to aggression, separation anxiety, clinginess, and any other behavioral problem you can probably think of.
I always tell people: dog training is either building a dog up a little bit or knocking it down a peg or two (nicely of course). Building up confidence is one of the most important things you can do and here is how:
- Provide structure and direction – In almost all of the dogs that I train, this is what is needed. It isn’t a magic bullet, but it’s the thing that is most likely to change your dog’s life. It's also why dogs are able to thrive here at AWDT so quickly, even when they were struggling for so long at home. The more problems the dog is having, the more direction he needs. If your dog is really a mess, you should remove choice from his brain all-together and provide him with where to walk, where to sit, when to rest, when to eat, etc. With cars zipping by, a leash clipped to his neck, and usually a life behind walls, this is most certainly not a dog’s world. If you let him think about everything all the time, then you are most likely going to make your dog nervous and neurotic. However, if your dog knows it can look to you for direction, then your dog doesn’t have to worry so much. And if you’re not willing to provide structure and direction to your dog, then you need to evaluate whether or not you even want a dog.
- Give your dog new experiences (and make them enjoyable) – Once your dog gets his routine, it’s time to branch out. Take your dog to the store. Bring him along for a car ride to the Starbucks drive-thru. Join a local dog walk with lots of dogs. Plan a play date. A routine makes us comfortable and calm as humans and it does the same with our dogs. New experiences keep us from falling into a rut and that does the same thing for our dogs as well. If your dog is nervous about new situations, bring some high value food or play a game with him when you arrive at the new location. You don’t want the experience to be a neutral one or a bad one, food is usually the easiest way to make sure they remember something positive about the new experience.
- Try new challenges – Most dogs are bred for some type of work, but now they mostly just lay around the house. So much of training is creating an artificial “work” experience, so that dogs feel fulfilled and challenged. One of the dogs that lives with me now, Nala, was a headcase at the shelter and had developed a horribly neurotic behavior of chasing lights and reflections and obsessing over them constantly. Neurotic behaviors like those develop in the brain to fulfill the desire to work. Every so often if she gets extremely stressed or bored you will see this behavior pop up again in Nala. You can avoid similar behavior by offering new challenges, like an agility training class, a Frisbee class, a retrieving class, a swimming/diving class or something new and challenging that makes your dog feel like a contributor to the world. A well-structured walk should be your dog’s normal work, but some dogs need a little extra.