Can Dogs Feel Confident?

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Introduction

Like people who strut through life with an air of confidence, so do dogs with nice manners and a positive outlook on life. These fearless pups are well socialized and at peace with their world. 

This could be the Labrador Retriever you see every morning in the park with their enthused owner who seems to mirror their dog's self-assured mantra. Too often we see the complete opposite as mankind shows its merciless side with mutts who are down-trodden and show all the signs of an unhappy pooch. 

There are a few factors that determine a dog’s confidence from the style of breeding program to their owner's attitude. Read on to find out more.

Signs a Dog Can be Confident

Your friend Suzy has a confident Collie and it has always struck you how alike they are. Suzy loves her life and Rex, her Collie, emits the same upbeat vibe. Together, they shine a light of positivity that beams wherever they go. Rex certainly has the life of Riley, but Suzy obtained him from a respected breeder who socializes their puppies knowing the importance of good genes and a non-stress early environment

Rex is the consummate cruiser and is a joy to be around. He greets you with tail wagging and a wiggling backside plus a super-smiley face where his teeth are exposed but there is no threat. Watching Rex hanging out with other dogs is a treat, as he play-bows with mouth open and tongue rolling from side to side.

If confronted by a mutt with lesser self-esteem, Rex will try to appease the other dog by averting his eyes, nose licking, or make a bee-line for his owner sitting on the park bench. Bored with the Retriever’s nonchalant stance, this bully boy will target a nervous pup, their submissive body language an invitation to be intimidated.

This anxious soul will yawn as a clear indication they are stressed. Their furrowed brow and constant lip licking are signs of fear as they start to shake knowing this guy means business. They’ll turn their head away showing the whites of their eyes, whiskers twitching and tail hung low.

Body Language

Signs a dog can feel confidence include:
  • Wag tail
  • Nose licking
  • Wiggling
  • Tongue hanging
  • Exposed teeth
  • Play bowing

Other Signs

Signs a dog is not confident are:
  • Yawning
  • Lip licking
  • Twitching whiskers
  • Whale eye
  • Tail hung low
  • Averting eyes
  • Submissive

History of Confident Dogs

It’s hard to imagine a planet where early man lived alongside wild animals, often hunting for the same prey. Times were tough as humans had a lot to contend with and their weapons were often no match for the mammoth, megalania lizard, and scary-looking ground sloths.

Back then, humans had their work cut out just staying alive and most of the time they must have felt out-numbered. Looks like the local wolves did early-man a favor when they scavenged for food around their campfires. As two very different species converged, evolution got a major wake-up call and taking the best attributes of the wolf created the cool dogs we know today.

Wolves are confident creatures that live in packs and work supremely well together raising their kids and bringing food to the table. Dogs, on the other hand, are generally reliant on us so they can be a stylish representation of a person with high self-esteem or a submissive, scared pup at the hands of a lowly human being. We make our dogs confident - or not.

As our companions, we have molded their characters with some dogs bred for working, friendship, and alas, fighting. In the right hands, a dog will show prowess in the show ring, agility trials, or as a police K9 - respected by all. In the wrong hands, they can be timid or aggressive. This is why the laws need to catch up as we created this species and are responsible for how they walk in this world.

The Science of Confidence in Dogs

Some breeds of dogs are said to be naturally confident, including everyone's favorite - the Labrador Retriever, the precocious Poodle who loves being the center of attention, or the German Shepherd who gets honors as the confident military/police pup.

Researchers who can’t get enough of analyzing dogs have found genetics can play a part as woofers are bred for specific behavioral traits. Nothing is guaranteed in the genetics game as a confident mom and dad can produce a litter of pompous pups with the odd one still being fearful or anxious. You can’t control nature, although the 50-year experiment to make foxes more like floppy-eared pups shows how breeding to alter a behavior can be achieved.

Scientific American told us about Russian researchers breeding foxes in captivity in order to make them friendlier and tamer. Their study highlighted how over time, wolves became dogs with co-operative personalities and unique appearances.

The constant breeder at the puppy mill can instill a lack of confidence into her unborn pups as she navigates life in shameful conditions. Her babies in the womb can be affected by stress hormones and the environment they are born into.

A researcher from the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences asked members of the public to help with a study about how dogs become aggressive. The findings reported by Smithsonian Mag verified dog owners have the most impact on how their pooch turns out.

People under the age of 25 were more likely than those over 40 to wind up with an aggressive dog. Pooches enrolled in puppy school and bought from top breeders were well-behaved mutts, but rescue dogs fared poorly due to some of their past interactions. The same could be said for raising confident dogs, as the choices made by their owners determine a well-adjusted or problematic pup.

Training Tips to Make a Dog Confident

Teaching your dog to be a good citizen requires obedience training and the ability to respond to your cues. A positive style program builds character and trust, while a training regime based on punishment gets you a dog that doesn’t think much of humans.

Experts agree that puppies socialized before the age of 12 weeks will be open to new experiences and are more relaxed than the pup who knows nothing of their world and views everything with fear or suspicion. Those early days are critical and why many adult dogs struggle to fit into their environment.

Introducing junior woofers to car horns, cats, people and the place they call home is the way to create a self-confident adult dog that anticipates life as a good thing - unlike the Jack Russell who has been kept in a cage at the puppy mill and then shipped off to the local pet store. This little guy is in for a shock when their new owners take them out into a world they know nothing about.

Labrador Training HQ suggests starting puppy training around 8 weeks. When your new puppy infant comes home, they will be looking to you for guidance, so it's important to make their introduction to your home and community a good one. You can teach them to sit and stay, but remember, your pup is comparable to a young child that’s impulsive and easily distracted.

The rescue dog that never knew the luxury of a puppy-hood filled with love can be a submissive soul that sees people and places in a scary light. The last thing this dog needs is to be trained with harsh tactics. They are likely to get aggressive or go into complete shutdown as a consequence. This pup has a bruised image of humans and, like a child that has known the same, needs a gentle approach to show them not all people are bad.

This could be a long road as you work to gain trust and make this world-weary woofer feel safe. Find treats you know they like to make training a happy event. Be cautious when you are introducing your rescue to people or other dogs. This pup may have been hit, so be aware how you pet them. Keep them leashed when you go for walks and, once you feel they are ready, get advice from a trainer who uses counter-conditioning methods.

Basically, this style of training changes the way a pooch reacts to something. For example, a rescue mutt may see a leash as something fearful instead of an amazing walk in the park. It’s all about reinventing a negative action from the past into something a dog will love. In time, that shy, fearful pup could be a confident canine.

How to React When Your Dog isn't Confident:

  • Praise them for confident actions.
  • Introduce a timid dog to other pooches and people with caution.
  • Seek the advice of a dog trainer.
  • Share your story - it could help others!
  • Read articles about how to help a dog become confident.
  • Never punish a timid dog.
  • Fill their life with love and security.
  • Work to gain their trust.