January 4, 2015 – It’s the fourth and final day of our four days off and we have a lovely two-year-old dog with us for a sleepover. I have to say, when I ended up booking-up our days off with pet sits, I felt a little sad. I was ready for a break. Of course it’s turned out wonderfully and we’ve enjoyed seeing every one of the cats and dogs we’ve seen. Now it’s back to a regular schedule tomorrow.

When I was thinking of the young dog we have here today, I thought about how some dogs, just like people, are more confident than others, and how can we as pet sitters can help.

It starts when they’re young and how they’re raised…if they are constantly being admonished for doing things wrong. If they’re left outside when they’d like to join the fun inside with the family and don’t know what they did wrong, or if they’re so over-trained they’ve just lost their identity. There’s just no self confidence left and we can see it when we’re out with them.

Recognizing Low Self-Confidence

First off…let me say I have no accreditation in animal behavior at all. My only claim is what I’ve seen, and that’s often the iconic hang-dog look, no spark, or a quick recoil into submission if they hear a sharper or louder voice. They look to you before making any decision so as not to make the wrong one.

There’s no teasing on their part. A confident dog might come back with the ball to give it to you, only to snatch it back up and take off, fully expecting you to chase him or at least laugh. The low confidence dog will not be certain he should even pick the thrown ball up in case it isn’t for him.

So what do you do?

Praise everything. We’re not his family and sometimes that’s tough on us. We have no business telling people how to raise their dog. But when it’s just the two of you, give him extra hugs and smiles. Tell him it’s great when he runs for the ball. That’s all that matters. Tell him he’s brilliant for staying at your side if he heels well…or be interested in the weed that attracted his attention if he stops to sniff. Show him he can trust you by keeping your promises. If you say you’ll play ball with him tomorrow…bring a ball with you tomorrow. If you promise a treat…come through with it.

Please DO use any commands or rules the family instills of course. A little fun is great but if the dog is not allowed on the furniture and you suddenly have him up on the sofa with you one rainy afternoon…you’re just setting him up for more failure when he shows his family what he’s learned.

Use positive wording…which I talk about in the Animal Communication post, Choose Your Words Carefully, Pet Sitter.

Most of all, show him how much you love him and he’ll feel it. He’ll cherish his time with you and he’ll feel good about himself when he’s with you. It might instill confidence in him in life, or it might just show him he has the capacity to do things well. We can only do our best.

I’ve been watching the little one we have here now grow up over the past year over her four or five visits. She was a gangly over-excited pup who now has a set of manners in place that she strays from much less often (and 99% of the time it’s because we’ve led her astray and got her excited.) Still, she tends to be naturally timid, so it’s been lovely to watch how her family’s hard work has brought out more confidence in her.

Until tomorrow…have fun out there!