One of the hardest things for me to deal with when working with dogs is ignoring a dog that is scared, nervous, lacks confidence, or has anxiety. Teaching dog owners to learn to ignore this behavior is even harder.
As humans, when we are scared, nervous, frightened, or have anxiety, we seek support to comfort that behavior. That’s normal and how our species operates and feels comforted. If you have anxiety and someone comes and hugs you and tells you it’s going to be okay, then you feel better. For a dog, it’s one of the worst things you can do.
You see, in the animal world, if you nourish insecurities then the animal starts feeling like insecurities are okay, and this isn’t okay. If a dog is fearful and you’re petting the dog, you are showing affection and rewarding a dog that is in a fearful state of mind. This confuses the dog and never helps the dog get better. In fact, it often has reverse effects and causes the dog to become even worse because they become confused as to why someone is rewarding a very insecure state of mind.
The advantage we have as humans is to utilize patience. No dog can stay scared, nervous, frightened, or be anxious forever. Eventually, every dog will calm down and when they do, that is when you reward them. In doing so, you’re teaching the dog that calming down is the correct behavior and this builds confidence for the dog. Just have patience until the dog calms down a little and then reward that behavior.
One of the best things you can do for a dog that lacks confidence is challenge them to cope with it. When a dog is in a stressful situation you have three options. The first is to nourish the behavior, which as explained earlier is terrible for a dog because it’s teaching the dog it’s okay and rewarding to be insecure. The second is to ignore. This means you just ignore a dog until the dog calms down and then you reward them. This teaches the dog when they’re insecure to just calm down and everything will be okay. The third is to challenge the dog. For example, if you have a dog that is scared to go upstairs and is shaking, what is the best solution? Is it having the dog sitting by the stairs and shaking because they are freaked out while you are praising the dog with pets and saying it’s okay? Of course not. The best option is to have patience and challenge the dog. Go up one step at a time and reward the dog each step. This is how you lead and it will build confidence for the dog and build your relationship with the dog even stronger. The dog will see you as a reliable leader because you put them in a stressful situation, helped them overcome it, and now your relationship will be even stronger.
Remember, if you have a dog that is scared, fearful, lacks confidence, or has anxiety, NEVER nourish that behavior! Only reward a behavior or action that helps the dog get over that unbalanced state of mind.
President, Dog Thrive