Anxiety is not just a problem that humans grapple with. Believe it or not, our four-legged friends have their struggles with the disease, too. And yes, it is just that - a disease. Breeds like sighthounds, who are generally known for their elegance, can often be anxious. And this can cause a unique set of problems for their owners - especially during public outings.
However, there are many tips and tricks pet parents can use to build their dogs’ confidence and cut down on anxiety. We’ve listed some below!
First Things First: Understanding Canine Anxiety
The first step toward building your dog’s confidence is to understand why your little furry friend has issues with separation anxiety and nervousness in general. What is it that brings them such unease? And how do you know if your dog is suffering from anxiety?
Look for observable signs. Symptoms could include trembling, excessive panting, restlessness, pacing, and, at times, avoidant behavior. As a dog owner, you need to be very in tune with your dog's behavior. Recognizing your dog’s emotional cues helps you help them.
Once you understand why your dog reacts the way it does, you can apply some of the following tricks to build their confidence and alleviate some of their anxieties.
1. Positive Reinforcement Training
Positive reinforcement: the most humane way to nurture confidence in anxious dogs. What does this technique entail? Well, it’s just as the name suggests - you reward desirable behavior with praise, treats, or affection. By doing this, you create a positive association, and this, in turn, encourages the repetition of these behaviors.
Not only are you encouraging good behavior, but you are building a deep bond, a deep connection with your pup. You are building trust and comfort.
The trick here is to be consistent. This is especially true for dogs who have anxiety issues and need more time to adjust to new behavior. Patience is a virtue, as they say. You need to reinforce positive actions patiently. By doing so, you can instill in your dog a sense of security, and your anxious pup will know that good behavior brings treats. Besides, you will almost see them smile when they hear “Good dog!”
2. Gradual Exposure to New Environments
Just as new environments can be quite a scary situation for us humans, they may cause anxiety in our canine companions. By gradually exposing them to new places or people, you give them a chance to adapt, to get used to the place or the person.
Start slow. It’s best to begin in quieter, less crowded places. This will allow your dog to explore with a sense of security without being flustered by too many noises or people. You are building a foundation for your dog to be as confident as they can be.
3. Engaging Mental Stimulation
Though anxiety in dogs will manifest in physical behavior, the root of the problem remains mental. Thus, mental stimulation is a massive part of their well-being. Dogs that suffer from anxiety benefit greatly from activities that engage their minds. This will provide both a challenge and a source of accomplishment.
The best way to mentally stimulate your dog is by giving them interactive toys - toys that make them think. Interactive toys that dispense treats are even better! As your dog learns to solve puzzles, he is thinking and strategizing, and once he gets to his treat, he feels a massive sense of accomplishment.
And we all know what accomplishment brings - confidence! Your pup will gain assurance in their abilities, and this will contribute to their overall well-being. Their confidence will grow with every puzzle solved. (Fun fact: dogs aren’t the only animals that enjoy puzzles. Birds and rodents like these activities, too.)
4. Obedience Training
Beyond just the surface level of learning commands, structured training serves to build confidence in your dog, which will, in turn, build their confidence. Obedience training will establish a routine, and routine is your best friend when fighting anxiety. It creates a sense of security - predictability that gives comfort.
Raising an obedient dog free of common behavioral problems makes it easier to control them in unfamiliar situations. If your dog knows to sit when you say sit or to stay when you command it to, then you can better handle them in situations where they may want to run due to an anxious moment.
Structured training also builds a bond between the pet and the owner. Your pup will learn to rely on your guidance and direction - creating a deep bond that is so important for anxious dogs. This bond will be a comfort and will give them the confidence to face their anxieties - they know mom or dad will always be there.
5. Building Positive Social Experiences
Socializing is one of the cornerstones to a well-rounded development in a dog. And for a dog to be confident, he needs to develop in all aspects of his canine life. Positive social experiences involve interactions with other dogs and people - in a secure and controlled manner. Your pup should always feel safe during these interactions and should never appear afraid.
This is also something that needs to be done gradually, but you need to start at a young age. Start exposing your dog to different sights, sounds, textures, and environments during their formative years, but realize that this is an ongoing process and something that you have to keep doing for the duration of the dog’s life.
By teaching your dog socialization skills, you are giving them every opportunity to build their confidence and resilience. Each new experience with a new place, person, or texture will teach your dog that there is very little to be afraid of and will add to their general well-being.
Patience Can Build Your Dog’s Confidence
Dogs with anxieties may need a bit of special attention, but these dogs can become confident canines in their own right. They just need a bit of love, care, and a safe space. They need an owner with compassion and one who is willing to work with the dog to alleviate their anxieties and get them confident and ready for the big world out there.