A confident dog is a dog who is sound in mind and never asserts himself unless he’s being threatened.
Raising a puppy takes time, energy and patience. Early puppy socialization is your first step in building confidence. Yet, there is a proper way to do so that will foster healthy relationships with people, other dogs and animals and their environment.
Let’s talk about a Service Dog for a moment. One of the most important distinctions between a Service Dog and your dog is that the pup was taken into many different kinds of situations, environments, trained in obedience and properly socialized early with people, friendly dogs/puppies, other species and handled properly from the time the pup was 8 wks old until the pup turned between 2-3 years of age which is the age of maturity for dogs. The first 2 years of a puppy’s life are the years in which we as puppy owners can build and instill confidence in our babies. Just because you’re not raising a Service Dog doesn’t mean that your puppy doesn’t need early socialization. All puppies benefit from this. Not doing so can be detrimental.
In fact, the number one reason dogs are relinquished is because of bad behavior. Bad behavior stems from a lack of training and early socialization in the pups first year. When pups hit adolescence without early socialization they can become rowdy and out of control; hence owners getting fed up, giving up on their pup. People forget puppy behavior is normal. It’s not the pups fault, it’s the lack of awareness and education for new puppy owners in how to raise pups so that you can sail through adolescence and keep your beloved friend, which is why you got the puppy in the first place.
Taking your pup to puppy class at 6 months of age and then thinking you’re done is the biggest mistake most puppy owners make. Training a pup for her first 2 years consistently, patiently and diligently is what makes a puppy grow up to be a well-adjusted thriving adult dog. In fact, veterinarians are now on board that it is indeed critical that puppies are properly socialized beginning at 8 wks of age. The American Animal Hospital Association has clearly defined new guidelines for veterinarians to follow for puppies stating the importance of early socialization, not waiting until the puppy is fully vaccinated.
It’s also fun to get creative with training these first two years when everything is so new and exciting. If you want the dog that can go anywhere, be with everyone, likes all dogs, cats, kids, cars, horses, sits quietly while you eat and have guests, you’ve gotta put the time in.
Here are some tips to help build confidence in your puppy:
- Have puppy play dates as soon as you bring your puppy home.
- Take trips to the vet just to get a treat and go home, increasing the time spent there while meeting the staff, getting weighed, going into the exam room, etc. all when you are not there for a check up, vaccine, etc. This kind of early socialization at the vet clinic will decrease stress and anxiety when you do have to go for a routine exam or puppy vaccines, etc.
- Begin to handle your puppy’s ears, feet, nails and entire body, brushing, etc. readying the puppy for handling at the vets office if your when your dog becomes ill needing care. Many vets have jumped on the Fear Free bandwagon which is a new program to help decrease fear, anxiety and stress in dogs, while at the clinic.
- Go for rides in the car often and to fun places. Start with short trips to fun places, like his new best puppy playmate.
- Encourage your pup to explore different environments while you observe how she learns and moves in her world.
- Bring your dog with you whenever you can and introduce her to 100 faces/places in 100 days, moving slowly paying attention to her body language so you know if she’s becoming stressed or enjoying herself.
- Go for hikes in safe places, letting your enjoy being a puppy. Please make sure that you stay away from public places like dog parks until she’s fully vaccinated.
- Sleep with your puppy the first two weeks or at least make sure your pup is in the same room as you, in a crate or ex-pen.
- Create your own agility course in nature or your own backyard. See a downed tree or a small boulder; Teach UP to your pup and then lift her onto the tree and when she feels steady on her feet, ask her to take a few steps until she can jump up all by herself and walk along the trunk of the tree. New textures and surfaces help build confidence.
- Teach obedience at home first and then everywhere you possibly can and make it fun. Make training sessions short and focused with tons of playtime before and after and tons of treats for encouragement. Teaching cues such as the STAY cue is one of the best confidence builders you have. It teaches focus and patience in pups. It’s so easy to teach a young pup to SIT and DOWN while luring with a treat while naming the cue as you do so. By starting early with these cues you are also readying your pup for an easier time at the vet clinic, groomer and everywhere you go with her.
- Expose your pup to other friendly animals, making sure they have been vetted to be friendly, especially with puppies.
- Teach games: fetch, tug-o-war, hide and seek. In teaching these games you are teaching these cues as well: Get It, Drop It, Ready, Hold, Wait, Find It and much more. Games are also great teaching/training sessions that help build confidence as well.
Learn how to read dog body language so you will know when you need to intervene, do more training/exposure and when to stop or take a step back, if you see your pup is too cautious or over excited. Get the Dog Decoder app to help you help your pup. It’s available in iTunes and Google play.
Do all of this until the dog hits her age of maturity and you’ll have one of the happiest and most confident dogs you’ve ever enjoyed.