Whether you’re headed to the vet or heading out to sea, a confident pup is a happy pup. Honey’s confidence has grown tremendously since we’ve been living on the boat.
They aren’t making movies about her yet. But I swear that wearing her life jacket, she bears a striking resemblance to Wonder Woman.
How Confident Is Your Dog
Honey has never had any reason to be afraid. From her first day on earth to today, she has always lived with people who only want her to be happy, safe, and comfortable.
As a puppy, she had top-notch socialization and was gently exposed to a variety of people and situations.
Honey has a timid temperament. She will “jump” at the sight of balloons hanging on a sign. She hates when the boat ramp moves under her feet. I can’t even imagine what it would take to get her flying down a teeter on an agility course.
Despite her timidity, Honey is comfortable with conditions most dogs (and many people) would find disconcerting.
We spent time building her confidence before we moved onto our sailboat, Meander. And the hard work has paid off.
How To Build Your Dog’s Confidence
If your dog has a soft side, like Honey, try some of the things we did to build her confidence and see what happens.
Train Your Dog
In truth, this post could only mention training and it would still be worthwhile. Nothing will boost your dog’s confidence like training new skills.
We’re lucky that not all of Honey’s gun dog heritage has been bred out of her. She does not mind loud noises like gunshots, fireworks, and thunder. But we experienced one particularly severe thunderstorm when we lived on land that made Honey uneasy.
She would not settle down and could not sleep through the pyrotechnics.
Luckily, we had worked on training Honey to close a cupboard door. So I took her downstairs, got out my clicker and some yummy treats, and worked with her on closing kitchen cupboard doors on cue. Once her brain entered training mode, Honey lost her fear of the storm outside. And after a few minutes of work, we were both able to return to bed and sleep until morning.
But besides simple behavior and trick training, we worked with a professional trainer to get Honey ready for life on a boat. Honey’s trainer had ideas for building Honey’s confidence that we would never have found on our own.
So if you’re planning to share a big adventure with your dog (like taking a trip, moving house, or even going to the vet), you might find it worthwhile to find a positive, relationship-based trainer to help you.
Besides the biggie of training, there are things you can do every day to build your dog’s confidence.
Let Your Dog Choose
Who made the rule that dogs have to obey our every wish every second of the day? What can it hurt to let your dog make choices as long as they are safe and not being a nuisance?
Besides, a dog who can make choices grows their confidence.
I am not recommending you allow your dog to choose to chase squirrels (I did that once and it didn’t work out well). And if you let your dog choose what time you serve her breakfast, you will definitely regret it.
But what if you let your dog choose their toys? Or the length of their walk? Or their friends?
Now that I’m self-employed my schedule is flexible. So if Honey looks hesitant to return to the boat after a walk, I just keep going.
Honey’s toys are in a bag loose enough that she can get them out as she likes. And if she doesn’t “like” a dog we see on our walk, we keep going no matter how much their person tries to insist the two meet.
Dogs that get to choose grow more confident.
Help Your Dog Succeed
If you want your dog to gain confidence, set them up for success.
We did not train Honey to use a ramp by taking her to a moving dock on a day with twenty mph winds. We started by placing the ramp flat on the ground. When we moved to training on the boat, we braced the ramp so it moved very little. And before we asked her to walk up a ramp at a steep angle, Honey had walked the ramp nearly perfectly horizontal hundreds of times.
Every time Honey used her ramp successfully, she grew in courage. By the time we found ourselves in rough conditions, Honey knew what to do. She had been set up to succeed.
Play Games Your Dog Loves
As an adolescent, Honey took K9 Nose Work classes at the local SPCA. Nose Work developed her confidence more than any other sport we tried.
But we saw even more amazing results watching other dogs in the class.
K9 nose work is a great sport for reactive dogs. Each dog competes alone on the course. And the act of sniffing out a target, closes the brain off from noticing other scary stimuli.
One dog in Honey’s class had recently been adopted from the SPCA. During the first class, she came out with her tail between her legs. Each week, we saw that tail rise higher and higher until she came bouncing out with her tail held high at the thought of sniffing for treats.
Whether your dog loves retrieving, agility, nose work, or something else, play games with your pup if you want to increase her confidence.
Practice, Practice, Practice
No person ever got more confident sitting in the living room watching television. So if you want your dog to gain confidence, you need to go out and do the things you want them to feel confident doing.
Before we moved onto the boat, we slowly exposed Honey to different experiences around water, starting with swimming (she hates it). We moved to kayaking which she liked more. And finally, we took her sailing.
Now that we live on a boat, Honey gets loads of practice on boats. And she gains in confidence every day.
Why You Should Build Your Dog’s Confidence
I know that some of you S’Waggers are total homebodies. You’re as likely to move onto a boat as I am to wear a bra and shoes every day. Which means almost not at all.
But there are several good reasons to build your dog’s confidence even if you don’t have any new adventures planned.
- Just because you’re not planning to have an adventure doesn’t mean you won’t have one. It might be moving house or fleeing a natural disaster or having a family member move in with you. And don’t you want a dog comfortable in his own skin before your adventure finds you?
- A confident dog is easier to train. If your dog is at ease, she won’t be distracted when you’re teaching her good behaviors.
- And finally, as I said before, a confident dog is a happy dog. Don’t you want your dog to be as happy as possible?
Because she grew in confidence, Honey has been able to enjoy deserted beaches, meeting new people, and traveling with us. And it hasn’t been a half bad life.
What do you think Honey? Do you feel like a super hero yet?
Your Turn: Have you had to grow your dog’s confidence? Why?