What does building up your dog's confidence have to do with building up your team bond?
If you've spent any time around dogs, you've probably noticed that some dogs are more confident then others. Some of this is genetic and breed specific, for example an Aussie that has great herding instincts might seem confident managing the "herd" or a bloodhound might be confident in a nosework activity. But confidence can also be developed outside of the instincts the dog is born with. In my years of working with rescue dogs, it was very apparent that some dogs need a huge, loving dose of confidence. And many trainers will share various confidence building techniques as there are a ton of activities that can grow your dog's confidence.
First lets examine what makes a confident dog?
We tend to compare dogs to humans in this aspect. A dog who makes new friends with people or dogs is seen as confident. A dog that can excel in an agility or other competition ring is for sure confident. A dog that doesn't startle or get afraid easily seems confident. And there are many other examples. But for me, the most important demonstration of confidence is a dog that is good at making the right choices in day to day life. For example, a dog might have a huge prey drive going after all kinds of small creatures, but if they mess with a skunk or porcupine once then learns their lesson and avoid them in future encounters has made an educated decision or choice based on their best interest. Service Dogs need to be confident in a wide variety of locations, but also need to learn when to use intelligent disobedience to keep their person safe. This is based on having decision making skills and a strong bond to their person.
What can you do to help your dog be more confident?
There is an easy answer that is not so easy! I've found 2 things that always help dogs grow in confidence. First is playing games and doing activities that they are naturally good at. And second is giving them choices in their day to day life. Playing games that encourage them to expand their skill level helps them learn that they can be successful, and having a history of success sure makes us all more confident. And dogs have so little control over their day to day life, so finding ways to provide choices also helps them to feel more successful. Let's face it, we as humans control when and what dogs eat, where they sleep, how frequently we take them outside, train them, etc. What choices can we give them? Well, that all depends on how much you are willing to relinquish control in your dog's life. I'll dive into to control in a future post, but for this post I want to focus on playing games that expand their natural instincts and skills.
What games do you play with your dogs that expands their ability navigate their day to day life?
There are many games that make learning skills fun! I love scent games because all dogs can play them. Some breeds may be able to take scent games to more advanced level, but all dogs can enjoy scent games on a basic level. My favorite scent games include Find It & Hide-n-seek that are both simple searching games. Dog sports are also great at building confidence; agility, disc dog, parkour, etc. Even the AKC recognizes that participating in dog sports is an excellent way to increase the bond between dog & handler. AKC link My favorite dog sport is K9 parkour because it uses skills that I already train my dogs & things that you find in your environment. There is no need to buy any special equipment, take expensive classes, or compete with other dogs to be successful. Dogs will see instant success when they do any of the activities or positions that are developed doing K9 parkour.
Azul has to be one of the most confident dogs I've ever seen! I often use him to help less confident dogs conquer their fears. Several dogs pull strength from Azul while doing a wide variety of activities. But when we started K9 parkour, Azul wasn't real sure he could do some of the challenges. For example: Since he was young he found it easy to walk along narrow ledges such as a balance beam. But balancing on something like a downed tree or jumping up on small surfaces was a bit scary. Thankfully he has a few other friends that love to play on trees and tables using these skills. His friends helped him build the confidence to try out his skills on new objects. And of course he saw instant success when was able to do the fun activities with his friends! Here is video of Azul being successful doing a parkour activity on a recent walk.
Azul's confidence on the log is due to the practice and time we've spent as team doing fun things like this. In K9 parkour, you never force a dog to do a skill but your encouraged to use positive reinforcement to reward a job well done. Also, at a beginning level you start pretty simple with obstacles that are safe for your dog, then build up to more challenging obstacles. Dogs learn skills to help them safely navigate in multiple environments, skills that help a dog decide whether to step of an obstacle or go around an obstacle. K9 parkour skills can help to prepare dogs to expect the unexpected when an obstacle suddenly appears, that obstacle now becomes a chance to have fun instead of something that might be scary. How far you go in the sport of K9 parkour depends on how well you and dog learn to work together as a team. And the greatest chance of attaining the bond we seek with our dogs is developing that working team relationship. I'll have more on creating a working team based relationship with your dog in future posts. You don't have to enjoy K9 parkour as much as Azul and I to have an effective team, but it sure can't hurt.
What other fun activities do you do with your dog? You can find more fun games by doing a search in my Yooper Paws Facebook page & I'll soon be adding a games page to this website.
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