Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On building confidence

It's hard to balance confidence and common sense sometimes. As humans we face that dilemma on the start line, in class, when training and in life. Our dogs (especially when young) face the same challenges. Loud noises and sudden movement are biologically frightening. Allowing a puppy some distance to regroup just makes sense to me. Pairing loud predictable noises with yummy food creates a classical association that hopefully creates confidence around the noise. (In agility the bang game with the sound of the teeter is a classic example of this and this is an ultimate bang game video which goes further than I have seen before - actually not sure of the need for this extreme version - but the dog seems to be enjoying the work!)

Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” James Stephens
Theorique is a cautious puppy. She is not over the top fearful but it's obvious her time on the streets (yup, she was STRAY- people make me crazy) induced a sense of caution. She is however also very curious and we have been able to use that to benefit her.  Brody's food dispenser rattles as it spins around and quite alarmed Rique the first time she heard and saw it. It took one casual introduction in about 15 seconds (I dropped half of one meal into it|)  for her to recover quite completely and she now stands on top of it hoping somebody will spin it for her! I ignore a fearful response - as her fearful response is to boot it to under one of us and sit and watch whatever is scary. When her nose pokes out we tell her she's fabulous. It takes mere seconds for her to recover from a fright now. We treat Thea exactly the same way. Coddling only happens around here if there is a physical trauma - and the only reason that happens is I simply can't stop my mother hen reflex! If I could I would!

“If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together... there is something you must always remember. you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart... I'll always be with you.”   A.A. Milne

Dogs learn confidence from other dogs and the people around them. They learn more than confidence of course - they learn recalls (or not!) they learn things like "settle down" and house training but I really appreciate my bold dogs teaching the more cautious dogs that new things are INTERESTING and FUN and just may pay handsomely! Swimming is a good example of this. When dogs are obviously having a wonderful time in the water other dogs get interested and curious and perhaps paddle or even swim thanks to the evidence of a good time.

“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”   Carlos Castaneda

I have found it important to give a cautious dog space to think on their own. Throwing them into a situation can actually escalate fear rapidly. In the picture above Sampson is giving himself plenty of space to watch Rique. He is actually braver and happier playing with her than we've ever seen him with a puppy. This is partly due to previous low pressure exposure, partly due to Rique's own laid back nature and partly because we don't pressure him to engage with something he's afraid of. When he chooses to engage the puppy appropriately we reward him or tell him he's a good boy. When he's stressed by puppy antics we deflect the puppy away from him onto something else fun for her and less pressure for Sampson.

The biological imperative of fear is life saving. It takes a brave human to let a dog work through natural fears without intereference but at the end of the process you end up with a more confident dog than any pressure could create.


Elf said...

My border collie (came to me at 3 months) has been the spookiest dog of the 6 I've had, but only the 2nd puppy, so I don't have a lot of experience with younger dogs. My response when she'd tuck tail and stand 20 feet back barking was always to say calmly, "Oh, what did you find? Let's go look.", walk over to the rock/chair/branch/fence/door/clothing and look at it and put my hand on it (and move it if possible) and say, "oh, it's a rock! (chair, branch, etc.)" and then usually she'd approach slowly and streeeeetttttch way out to cautiously sniff at it and then watch it for a while to be sure it didn't do something evil. She's gotten more confident through the years, and I hope I did the right thing. I've never had a dog be afraid of thunder or fireworks (even though I hate the noise of the latter); when they jump up and bark at the sound, I always say cheerfully, "Oh, how cool is that, thunder! Isn't it nice to have thunder this evening?" So I don't know whether I've just been lucky with my 6 dogs and someday I'm going to get an over-the-top fearful fluffy that I can't do anything with. Thank you for the posts on working with puppies and for doing fostering.

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Sounds like a good plan!