BARKS from the Guild July 2018

Page 18


Setting a Course to Confidence Diane Garrod discusses ways of building confidence in fearful dogs and presents a


suggested course curriculum sample for trainers and instructors

Photo © Diane Garrod, Canine Transformations

Duncan was fearful at the beginning of his confidence course: Fear in dogs can be debilitating, stressful, and cause them to act out, react and even aggress

bichon leaping and snarling at the end of a leash every time another dog appears; a corgi/border collie rescue who bites several times before a professional is called to help; a Vizsla who fears men; a Labrador/pit bull mix who escapes to a room lunging and snarling to keep people away; a pointer mix who was kicked so severely a rib was broken and depression the result; a rescue golden retriever who has trouble going through doorways and walking on floors… The list goes on. A lack of confidence is seen internationally in dogs by professionals on a daily basis. Can confidence be built in dogs? If so, how and what does a confident dog look like versus one that isn’t confident? Confidence building requires helping a dog to feel safe, to trust again, and to change habits, while guardians may be changing attitudes, tweaking their home environments and also changing life-long habits. A dog who is not confident portrays this in a way that looks very much like fear. Fear in dogs can be debilitating, stressful, and cause them to act out, react and even aggress. All of this expends energy and builds stress allowing reactions to get stronger if nothing is done. A confident dog, on the other hand, is curious, happy, interactive, attentive, responsive and eager. A confident dog can handle a leash walk with distractions, interact civilly with other dogs and people, and communicate with his guardians because he has built up a trust account with them. A confident dog feels safe, trusts and habituates confident 18

BARKS from the Guild/July 2018

behaviors causing him to make good decisions. Let’s try an analogy. Let’s compare the emotion of fear to walking down a large pathway you have shoveled during a terrible blizzard. It becomes your only means of movement. You just keep going down this path again and again. The snow is too heavy to make more than one pathway. In the same way, a dog that is not confident simply continues going down the same pathway of fear again and again. Eventually the snow starts to melt a bit. You can clear new pathways and start to take different routes, leaving the old pathway behind. The familiar path is no longer the only one available. There are now other options too, and new decisions to make. The main pathway might still be there to take again if needed, but more efficient movements through the snow are visible and even better choices. This is what we want to do with fear: create new choices and new memories to replace the old pathway, which builds confidence. Pulling back the layers of fear takes patience, and if we look to another analogy, the one of the onion and its many layers, the journey can also mean tears flow. Seeing the results often doesn’t leave a dry eye in the room, as it is a step-by-step emotional roller coaster.

A Story and Observation

A client’s comment after an in-home confidence course presented by instructor Patricia Calderone of Clicker Canines in Homer Glen-

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