Everyone wants to have it. Everyone else seems to have the secret to it. Every day we are bombarded with picture perfect social media posts of dogs posing, running, doing tricks, having fun and generally winning at life. Or we see owners out and about with dogs off lead who are trotting happily at their side. And we feel a bit broken inside because our dog doesn’t listen to a word we say and we know they would dive head first into that picnic basket rather than take an Insta-worthy pic with their paws placed on it.
Sometimes, when the going is good, you think you’ve nailed it. You are almost at the stage where you can contemplate a post with #dogtrainingwin then life happens and your newfound confidence disappears completely.
Confidence is something that can evaporate. Instantly. That is why it is so important to safeguard your optimism and confidence while working with your dog. One incident – and we’ve all had them – can turn your confidence from boom to doom in a heartbeat.
Incidents such as:
- getting into an unpleasant situation with your dog, perhaps where they have barked and lunged at another dog, where they’ve reacted vocally in a busy environment, where they have greeted another dog inappropriately to the chagrin of the other dog’s owner
- where they have lost focus on you in a training class and gone off to do their own thing
- where they’ve chosen to run off rather than recall
- where your dog has tuned you out, ignored you, or shut down completely
Furthermore, if you are a dog trainer, this feeling is tenfold! Life as a dog trainer can sometimes feel like one constant assault on your confidence.
Not only do you have the practical reality of everyday dog training and the ups and downs that come with that – some days you feel like you and your dog are on top of the world, the next they won’t even sit on cue – but you also have those gremlins in your head whispering, “that dog’s not trained! Call yourself a dog trainer?”
The Confidence Crisis & Its Effects On Your Dog
And the worst part of a confidence crisis is that you know it impacts on your dog. You can see it. You can tell from the way they respond to you (or don’t!), from the way they are not as sure in your relationship, in your cues.
You feel it in the hesitation in your voice when you cue and you praise, in the way your timing is slightly off when you mark and reward. You know they feel your lack of confidence going down the lead as you walk together and your tension when that dog appears in the distance.
And so they try to help you in the best way they know how by “coping” just as you currently are. But, your dog’s coping strategy probably looks a little more like this – barking, lunging, running away, pulling on lead, you name it. In their eyes, they are coping just as you are. In your eyes, you’ve just had another barking and lunging incident. You feel guilty because you couldn’t deal with it appropriately and your confidence plummets further.
It is a vicious cycle that makes huge withdrawals from your Relationship Bank Account, leaves you feeling drained, leaves your dog with a full stress bucket, and leaves you wondering where on earth you go from here!
Turn that Struggle into a Strength
So how do we turn around confidence? Well, just as you can build confidence in your dog, you can build confidence in yourself. If you work to boost your optimism and set yourself up for success so you can achieve a few wins, then your confidence will start to build and you will start to believe in yourself.
Follow our top five tips to transform your confidence from drag to swag:
1. Arm yourself with the right tools. The time for thinking of solutions is not when you are in the situation. Your brain will trip into fight, flight or freeze and you’ll find yourself rooted to the spot with a barking, lunging dervish at the end of the lead. You want to have a selection of tools in your toolbox that you’ve practised in a low-pressure environment and can just roll out without thinking if the going gets tough. A to B is our top favourite tool for getting out of a sticky spot! Dog coming towards you? Make your attention noise to get your dog focussed on you, run your hand down the lead, turn around, gently guiding your dog with your lead as you go, and walk smartly in the opposite direction.
This is just one of the “Naughty but Nice” tools we use for dogs that bark and lunge to give you the confidence to have stress-free walks and the freedom you wanted when you got a dog in the first place. You can grab the Naughty but Nice DVD of strategies and games by clicking here.
Keep your voice calm but upbeat – there is nothing to be afraid of or worried about here, you are simply changing direction. Your dog will be too busy wondering where you are off to next to be thinking about reacting to the other dog.
2. Be your dog’s guardian. Don’t be afraid to use your voice. Be comfortable communicating your dog’s needs to other humans. Yellow “need space” vests are great but folk don’t always notice them (I know! Bright yellow – how can you miss them – but a sad fact) – so don’t be shy to say, “my dog isn’t friendly” or to call out and ask someone to recall their approaching dog.
And if they trot out the immortal line, “It is ok, my dog is friendly”, simply respond with,
“My dog isn’t going to enjoy that experience, thank you”.
You do not owe anyone a lengthy explanation as to why. You and your dog are enjoying a walk together and you are under no obligation to allow anyone else to join that party. Hold your head up, speak clearly, and be polite but firm.
This will massively pay into your Relationship Bank Account and your dog will see you as a team mate in life who really does have their back!
3. Play Games! There is always a game for that. Confidence crushers can really suck the joy out of life. The good news is however that games are amazing for building confidence. They build confidence in your dog, and they also build your confidence as you work with your dog and see them achieving real life results and having such a great time.
Taking your dog’s lead off can be a major challenge to your confidence. We’ve all had that, “what if they don’t come back” fear!
In our Leash Off Game On DVD, you will find 10 awesome games to build your confidence in taking off your dog’s lead. Play these games and we promise, you will be sure that your dog won’t want to be anywhere other than beside you because you will be the centre of all that is FUN in the world! You can grab a copy here from our DVD store!
4. Be your Dog’s Advisor. Your dog doesn’t always know best. Your dog may be desperate to get out for that daily walk, but you can see that they are not in the right place for that to be of benefit to them. Watch their stress bucket. How full is it? Do they need a chill day? And as always, you are a Gamechanger so you are turning a struggle into a strength – you are not saying “no”, you are saying “not today – let’s do something different today” and then breaking out some fun games to play instead or doing some calming work, or whatever is the appropriate tool in your Gamechanger toolbox for what your dog needs that day.
There is no better confidence builder than knowing you have done what is right for your dog.
5. Show your dog that there is another way – we can’t always avoid situations. Life happens. When it does, it can be tempting to retreat into our shells, thinking of the if-onlys. But we can practice for such situations before they ever arise. Show your dog that there is an alternative to the behaviour they would usually choose. Impulse control games are great for this. They really create a dog that can think, rather than waiting to be told what to do.
Our Boundary Games DVD (you can find it here) is jam packed full of fabulous games to get your dog making great choices. Maintaining a boundary? Piece of cake. Impulse control in the presence of a distraction? Not a problem. Through playing these games, you will teach your dog to make great choices – how cool is that? And if you know your dog can make great choices, your confidence as a trainer and as a team mate is going to improve no end.
Let your confidence shine!
You guys have got this. You are Gamechangers, doing the absolute best you can for your dogs. Enjoy the good days and let them fuel your confidence. And when the not so good days appear, turn those struggles into strengths. And remember, there is always a game for that!