When it comes to building up your dog’s confidence, it is said the best window of success occurs around 3 to 4 months. Truthfully, you can continue to practice a dog’s social skills throughout his life. This is especially important when adopting or buying a rehomed dog. As with pups, building those positive learning experiences with adult dogs enables them to feel more confident and secure. But with the dog that never had the benefit of early socialization, those negative experiences need to, and can be, alleviated or even reversed.
The first thing to do is to check yourself. Are you giving off some warning vibes to the other end of the leash? If you are reinforcing his fears by being nervous or fearful yourself while maintaining a short death grip on the leash you are unwittingly setting your pooch up for failure. A better approach is to plan ahead. Whether your goal is a walk through the park or around the 400 block in Wausau, visualize success, be aware of your surroundings, and just pay attention to your dog’s body language. Is he walking normally, eagerly moving ahead, with ears, tail and head comfortable and happy? Or are you seeing tucked tail, flattened ears, lip licking…any or all of the signs your dog shows when he is nervous? Check yourself! Breathe. Keep relaxed and calm with the same grip you had on the leash before he started acting nervous.
If your dog does get nervous, anxious, uncomfortable…just take it slow. Simply walk by at a distance where he shows he feels safe again. It may take many walks getting just a little closer each time to build up his sense of security. Baby steps to success are often huge leaps for adult dogs! Another thought is to try the area at times when it is less populated or noisy. If your dog is so inclined and the other players are willing, allow your dog to sniff or make a brief greeting with people or other social dogs. A good rule of thumb for those new encounters is to keep the leash loose and count to three (3) before moving on. Those three seconds are short enough not to disturb anyone, yet long enough to sniff out the information needed to process the “sniff-ee”.
One question we ask interested adopters is if they would be willing to utilize a professional trainer for their dog. It is disheartening how many simply wouldn’t even consider it. A good training class, taken together with your dog truly helps both you and your dog to build self-confidence and trust in each other. I really can’t remember anyone coming back and saying how an obedience class or even agility training simply ruined their dog! Plus you develop a new network of dog lovers to share your journey.
The weather is great and summer is here. It is the perfect time to be outside, build your relationship with your dog, and make positive experiences that will help your dog let his hidden awesomeness finally emerge!