How to raise a confident dog Part 1

 How to raise a confident dog

 [This article first appeared in Dog’s Life magazine July/August 2004 and is reproduced here by kind permission of the author]

Dogs, like people, display a wide variety of personalities.  Some are robust and outgoing, approaching each new life experience as a wonderful fun adventure.  Others are more reserved, needing frequent reassurance and time to assimilate a situation before jumping in and trying something new.  Your dog’s own genetic makeup will  define the limits of his natural personality however there are many external factors which you can control that will help your dog become the best, most confident, well adjusted dog he can be put simply these are the three  ‘E’s –  Enriched  Environment, Exposure and Education. 

 ENRICHED ENVIRONMENT – The Breeders (0-8 weeks)

Many puppy tests have been developed to try and pick puppies with particular personalities for particular tasks.  This is often a difficult task because within a litter will be a ‘hierarchy’  with some pups consistently dominating other pups.  A puppy that was at the bottom of the litter hierarchy however may blossom into a confident dog when removed from it’s bossier litter mates.  This will particularly be so if the breeder has provided all the pups with an enriched environment  which repeatedly  has been shown to have an enormous influence on the ability of the puppy to develop confidence and social skills later in life.   A good breeder will try to provide an environment rich in:

  • Sounds and smells common to life in a family home such as  – children’s’ screams and voices, vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, thunderstorms, TV and music. Always look for a breeder that has pups in the home rather than isolated far away in a kennel or barn.
  • People – particularly children and men (most dogs seem to be more comfortable with women though it is not known whether this is  a result of more exposure to women breeder/handlers or because of a natural preference).
  • Other puppies (especially if the pup has come from a single litter) and a few adult dogs.
  • Textures and surfaces to explore such as  grass, dirt, concrete, shallow water.
  • A variety of angles and heights to climb and explore such as a slightly raised ‘wobble board’ (uneven surface), an angled slope or one or two shallow steps.  Puppies who are exposed to these mild physical ‘stresses’ have been shown to cope better with new stresses they encounter later in life.

EXPOSURE  – a new world (8-16 weeks)

You bring your beautiful new puppy home to a whole new world away from brothers and sisters and all he has known.  If your dog is from a shelter or pet shop you probably don’t know what sort of early life he has experienced .  If your breeder has been doing all the right things you are off to a great start – in either case however it’s important to continue providing for your pup an enriched environment with increasing amounts of exposure (particularly exposure to people and dogs also known as socialisation).   Even if you do not wish to put your puppy on public ground prior to the completion of his vaccination programme, you can:

  • Continue exposure to all the things listed above.  Particularly children of all ages – babies, toddlers, school age and teenagers. You can carry puppy to schools and playgrounds where they are bound to attract the attention of young kids.  The more your pup is use to the jerky movements and loud noises kids make the more relaxed he will be in their company.
  • Throw a  ‘welcome to the puppy’  party and encourage everyone to treat and play with the puppy when awake. Even when puppy takes a nap, the exposure to party noise and music will be a useful experience.  Your puppy is learning that loud noises and strangers of all kinds are nothing to worry about.
  • Introduce other animals from both within and without the family home such as cats, birds, rabbits and of course other friendly, healthy dogs.
  • Gently handle and restrain your puppy regularly.  Making certain your pup feels safe and relaxed when being handled will  make all health care issues such as nail trimming, grooming, and  veterinary check-ups much less stressful for you and your dog!
  • Take car trips – to accustom your pup to the sounds and smells of traffic as well as the motion of the car.  Make sure to include some fun destinations – not just the vets for vaccinations.
  • Attend a well run puppy pre-school.  A good instructor will provide lots of opportunities for socialisation with people and pups in a clean, safe, fun environment.  Make certain the curriculum is based on positive reinforcement training only and beware of any classes that encourage puppies to wear  choke chains.  To build confidence in a young dog it is important that emphasis should be placed on teaching the puppy what is right rather than punishing mistakes.

 Adolescence and beyond

Although puppy hood is considered the most important period in a dog’s life – a time when he will ‘bounce back’ quickly from any initial fright  that causes no harm – it is important to continue to expose your dog to as many situations as possible throughout his life.  Continued socialisation to people and dogs is particularly important throughout adolescence (6-12 months)  when lessons previously learn’t may be put to the test.


Article courtesy of Karin Larsen Bridge, partner of Get S.M.A.R.T. Dog Training, Sydney.
You can also follow this and other articles at my publishing site publishing site.

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