Pet Tips

Dogs that Lack Confidence – Pet tip 209

Dogs are social creatures and they normally like to be around other people and other dogs. Even though they are generally social, they are also pack animals and every animal knows its place in the pack from the leader down to the most submissive member. A dog whose place is low in rank can live a perfectly happy life with its human family and can have fun with other dogs as well. Problems can arise though when these ‘low ranking dogs’ lack confidence. They can become too timid to the point where normal events (like a stranger entering the house) become overly traumatic. Why does this happen? Why do some dogs lack confidence to the point that their quality of life is diminished and what can we do to help them?

There are many possible answers as to why some dogs lack confidence to the point that it handicaps them. This type of behaviour is frequently seen in dogs that have had an abusive past. The abuse could have been physical or the abuse could have been based on neglect. Neglect is a serious form of abuse since dogs are meant to live in groups. Poor socialization is another reason for this lack of confidence or excess timidness. Socialization refers to the first year in a puppy’s life when it should have been exposed to all kinds of people places and things so that it accepts different people, places and events as normal and not something to be feared.

There are several behavioural signs that indicate a lack of confidence and one of the classics is submissive urination. This happens when a fearful dog urinates upon seeing other dogs or humans. Since urine contains information about a dog’s rank, what the dog is basically doing is saying “please don’t hurt me, I’m just a harmless dog”. It’s important to know that submissive urination has nothing to do with housebreaking. Building up a dog’s confidence will help solve this problem. Other signs of a lack of confidence include hiding, shivering, refusing to go outside and fear-biting where a dog may bite or nip when it is afraid of a situation that is not really threatening.

Building up a dog’s confidence is a slow process but it can be done, normally within a few weeks. All your dog needs to learn is that the things it fears won’t harm it. Rewarding your dog for good behaviour and ignoring bad behaviour is a good place to start. If your dog is afraid of strangers, start slow. Let your dog see a stranger from far and reward the dog only when it calms down. Have the stranger SLOWLY come closer and closer and reward your dog for its good quiet behaviour. In the case of submissive urination avoid eye contact and exciting the dog, as this can trigger the urination. Instead, take the dog outside and lavish tremendous praise on the dog when it urinates outside. If the urination happens with another person that comes to your door, give the dog an obedience command like ‘Sit’ and offer the dog a toy or treat as a reward. This may distract the dog into playing with a toy and its level of anxiety will likely diminish when new people come over. Obedience training in general or a consult with a trainer is an excellent idea if you cannot slowly build up a dog’s confidence yourself.

Just like some people lack confidence to the point where it can affect their daily lives, dogs too can suffer the same fate. The difference is, is that it is SO much easier to correct this problem with dogs. Ask your vet for suggestions or trainer referrals if lack of confidence is a problem for your dog.

2 Responses to this Article, So Far

  1. Avatar Stephanie says:

    My husband & I have 3 teenagers 13, 15 & 16. Last week we adopted a 14 month old, male, neutered german shepherd, the couple were first time parents & didn’t have enough time for his energetic needs, he is therapy certified & after meeting him we felt his temperament was good, but he lacked manners. This I felt would just take time, patience & repetition, however… He becomes VERY aggressive with other dogs, but only through the fence & he seems to lack confidence. If someone is walking out of the room he is following them & this afternoon my 15 year old daughter startled him when she walked into the room… He ran across the room away from her, faced her & with hair bristling down his back he began barking at her & wouldn’t stop, I had to put him outside & he still turned & continued to bark at her through the door. I closed the curtains & gave him a few minutes.. Had my daughter change her clothes & pull back her hair, then had her meet him outside where he greeted her fine. I then had her walk him on a leash for a bit… But I am now VERY worried. Please Help me.

    • Avatar Marko says:

      Hi Stephanie – This is much too complicated for a blog post and I encourage you to post this on our forum.
      My advice, this dog needs obedience training from someone recommended by someone you trust and someone that has experience with aggression.
      Good luck.

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