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It All Starts with Confidence

This issue’s training tip is brought to us by Valerie Dietz of O’Fallon, IL. Valerie has learned through experience the importance of building confidence in her dogs. 

She has enjoyed much success with her two All-Americans, Sally & Shani, in several sports. Sally, 10, has earned eight MACH titles in agility, qualified for several AKC National Agility Championships, and was ranked fifth top All-American in agility in 2015. Shani, 7, has earned three MACH titles, a Utility Dog title in obedience, Trick Dog Intermediate, and is competing in AKC Rally Excellent. Shani qualified for the 2019 AKC Obedience Classic. 

There are so many elements to training a dog: developing a connection and bond and learning to communicate and trust each other.

One element that I’ve learned is important while training is maintaining a dog’s confidence. It impacts that connection and trust. Whether you want a stable and reliable family member or a team mate in dog sports, maintaining the dog’s confidence can contribute to a willing dog who is happy and excited to learn and engage in any activity.

Some dogs are naturally confident; some require more effort to build them up and keep their confidence up.  What we are trying to achieve with the dog and how we want the dog to respond is important. Of course, consistent training and clear expectations are foundational.

But how we respond when things don’t go well is also key. Our body language and reactions communicate significant information to a dog. When it comes to sports, like agility, do you want a dog that is willing to work with motivation and doesn’t shut down when things go wrong? I want my dogs to enjoy learning and happily engage in activities with me.

They are very aware of our body language. If you stop and slump your shoulders when something goes wrong, your dog is aware. Even if you are just frustrated with yourself, your dog doesn’t know that, they just know you aren’t happy.

Resetting a specific activity after a mistake does not need to be negative and can be done in a way that is confidence building. For example, reattempting a missed weave entry can be corrected with a positive attitude and energy – “Good Try! Atta Boy! Let’s do that again!” Keeping the dog’s confidence high while correcting the action allows the dog to enjoy learning and keeps the joy in the activity.

Maintaining a dog’s confidence while we are learning new skills ourselves can be extra challenging. Some good tips to keep your dog happy and loving to work with you include:

  • Practice handling skills without the dog
  • Limit the dog’s repetitions
  • Watch your body language
  • Keep it fun!
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