« Back

Building confidence in dogs and puppies

09/10/2019 - Latest News

Many doggie behavioural problems stem from a lack of confidence. In this article we’re looking at ways to build confidence in dogs and puppies.

What is confidence?
The Cambridge dictionary defines confidence as “the quality of being certain of your abilities or of having trust in people, plans, or the future:”

From a dog’s point of view then, confidence is more than being able to stand on your own four paws, it’s about knowing you have a safe and loving backup system (ie your human family) for when things don’t go as expected.
In the human world, it’s often easy to spot people who lack confidence. They tend to either withdraw a little, avoiding new situations and possibly missing out on fun. OR they overcompensate by being loud and annoying - sometimes even aggressive. 

In the doggy world, lack of confidence can also lead to displays of unwanted behaviour. Separation anxiety, barking, lunging, car sickness, hiding, nervous wee-ing are all signs that confidence is lacking.

A confident dog is happy, relaxed and sociable in any situation. Whether it’s welcoming visitors into the home, meeting new dogs in the park, going to the vets or accompanying the family for a pub meal.

In an ideal world, confidence starts in puppyhood. But sometimes, circumstances may mean that a dog’s confidence needs rebuilding.

Encouraging confidence in puppies

Every puppy has a different character. Some are born bold. Others are shy and need coaxing along. Whatever the personality, every pup needs lots of different (but positive experiences) to help build their confidence. They need to learn that new people, dogs or places are interesting, not scary.

You can teach your puppy how to respond to cues like “sit”, “stay” and “come here” but if they are not confident in a situation, all of that learning will go out of the window. So making sure your pup feels safe in any situation is a crucial part of ensure that they grow into a well behaved and obedient adult.

I can’t stress enough the importance of socialisation in building confidence. Your pup needs to experience as many different situations as possible. So make a point of taking them out and about with you. Think of all the different things and environments a dog might face in a lifetime and try to introduce a really wide range. Don’t just think about sights and sounds, remember that dogs interpret their world mainly through scent and to them, every object, person, machine, tree etc smells different.

What to explore with your puppy

  • School gates where pup will see, hear and smell children, parents, cars etc
  • The high street
  • Train Station
  • Veterinary clinic
  • All weather conditions (wind, rain, thunder, lightning, sunshine, snow)
  • Cats and other pets
  • Farm animals and horses
  • Sand, grass, tarmack, paving stones, cobbles, decking – different surfaces and textures
  • Cars, lorries, bicycles, skateboards, shopping trollies, prams (moving and stationary)
  • Towns and cities
  • Countryside and woodland
  • Runners, walkers, seated people, people of all ages
  • Dogs of all ages, all sizes, genders, neutered and un-neutered

When introducing your pup to new things and environments, don’t overwhelm him or her. Make the introductions natural and relaxed. If pup is uncomfortable, take a few steps back. There’s no rush. Your puppy needs to feel that you (who let’s face it has replaced his mother and littermates) will look after him in any situation.

Help with bringing up a confident pup
I recommend reading IMDT founder Steve Mann’s book “Easy Peasy Puppy Squeezy” as well as coming along to puppy classes at Premier Dog Training

Puppy classes are a great way to help introduce your new family member to new experiences. At Premier dogs, we’re not just about dog obedience, we want to help build your puppy’s confidence so that he or she grows into a well-balanced dog.

Here’s Samba – she thinks she’s playing but actually she’s learning how to feel comfortable in novel situations


Read my article on starting off on the right paw with your puppy

Building confidence in adult dogs
Socialising is important at any stage of a dog’s life but remember that an adult dog who lacks confidence may have had a bad experience in the past.  Dogs learn by association. For example, just as they learn to associate the click of the fridge door with something fabulous, dogs can quickly learn to associate a place, a smell or a sound with something that scares them. When confidence gets knocked, it can often be rebuilt using desensitisation techniques.

The three “d’s” of dog training really come into their own when de-sensitising. That’s distance, distraction, duration.

Let’s look at an example

If a dog is (understandably) afraid of fireworks– one technique that I might use to rebuild their confidence involves using a phone app.  The app plays fireworks sounds to the dog but you get to control the 3 D’s to ensure that the dog gradually builds up tolerance. (Training needs to start well in advance of 5th November though!)

Distraction: Distract the dog with toys, training or games then start to play the app softly in the background whilst you keep Fido’s mind busy. He might seem to ignore the noise but trust me, his subconscious brain will be processing it.

Distance: If you start off by blasting the sound straight in the dog’s ears you’re asking for trouble. Have the app on a very low volume and a good distance away from the dog. Gradually reduce the distance and increase the volume as your dog’s confidence grows.

Duration: Keep your desensitisation sessions short to begin with and slowly increase the duration.

PS: Scentwork is a really useful training tool for building confidence in adult dogs. Click here for more information

Be patient!
It takes time to build a dog’s confidence. It can be frustrating at times too and it’s easy to give up. For your own peace of mind, it’s well worth working with a qualified trainer who will give you lots of pointers that to help the process to run smoothly.

If you’d like to help to resolve your dog’s behavioural problems, please call me for an informal chat and to find out about the services I offer.

Contact Sean at Premier Dog Training

Related Articles
Getting off on the right paw with your puppy
Sniffer dog training – the ultimate confidence builder for dogs
How to train an older dog