Friday, June 10, 2011

What does a confident dog look like?

There are many words used today that have either lost their meaning completely, come to mean something else or are misused. Confidence is one of those words.

What does a confident dog look like?

The reason this is on my mind is due to a poll on Helium where the question is asked "Is dominance in dogs a popular myth or reality?" The reality side was ahead at 282 vote and holding, the myth side had only 78 votes. How could that be? What evidence did the articles show that so compellingly tip the balance to the reality of dominance in dogs?

In a matter of two days myth side rose to 392 and is still climbing at this writing, and the reality side picked up a few votes at 296.

This exercise inspired colleagues to add their own thoughts to the evidence of why dominance IS a myth. Kevin Myers wrote a part one article on Dog Lover's Digest titled "A question of dominance: the vending machine" and Rise VanFleet wrote "The trouble with labels" through her dog Kirrie's eyes inspired by a comment from a fellow trainer, the same esteemed colleague who inspired this blog.

Leonard Cecil was inspired to develop a "Proof Positive" website to SHOW the effects of positive training through categorical videos.

Passion inspires.

As a behavior trainer, I am passionate about positive reward-based, results-oriented training and I do not buy into what appears to be a popular belief that dominance is reality. There is much more scientific evidence to the contrary, to dominance in dogs as myth. So that led to my inspiration to write this blog.

The terms confidence and dominance seem to be used interchangeably by some. A comment by Pawsitive Solutions, Jerry Ingram, ABCDT, stated "....dominant personalit(ies) have no fear. They are very confident dogs." Thanks to Jerry, his comment made me think.

I'll be running a Learning Lab on "Building confidence through obstacle coursework". So, I'm obviously seeing a confident dog quite differently because the lab is not on building a "dominant dog through obstacle coursework."

This led me to ask what does a confident dog really look like? I just couldn't wrap my head around confidence as dominance, because it seemed like an oxymoron to me. These terms are two very different terms with two very different outcomes.

To me a confident dog has no need to be dominant. A truly confident dog wouldn't have to challenge and they would be calmly sure of the world around them.

To me a confused, tense dog would have a reason to issue a challenge, or have what people would call an aura of being dominant. This dog would not be at all sure of the world around them. A lack of social understanding, object familiarity and jumpiness would stand out as a descriptor.

What would the body language of a confident dog look like?

Stacy Braslau-Schneck, CPDT describes a confident dog's body language as "erect stance (standing tall), tail up, tail wagging in a slower sweep, ears pricked up or relaxed, direct look; relaxed, smaller pupils. The words throughout Stacy's WagN'Train, Talking Dog: Body Language website to describe confidence is "relaxed" "standing tall" and "tail up".

A three-part series on "Dog Behavior and You" describes a confident dog as "secure in their surroundings and comfortable with other people and animals." Again, references to relaxed, standing tall, tail up are given. In addition, the confident dog's mouth "is relaxed, with lips covering teeth."

A confident dog will put one at ease, not make a person fear that dog. The stance is happy, not stressed, confused or tense.

Confidence and dominance seem to be confused to represent each other when they are in reality totally different. Dominance is to gain power, while confidence is full trust, reliability; belief in one's powers or abilities, self-confidence, self-reliance, certitude, assurance.

To put that to work for the dog means they know what they are doing and exude self-confidence through relaxed, positively alert body language, whether that is meeting people or doing agility at a trial. Self-assured, relaxed, focused in a good manner, and happy is quite different from trying to gain power, as in resources, or keep a person away by intense barking or growling or acting out-of-control.To me, dominance doesn't exude confidence, and a confident dog does not have to be a dominant dog. Further, I'm not so sure those behaviors described even represent dominance. To me they represent fear, worry, confusion, environmental insecurity.

Confidence is reliable behavior, relaxed, calm body language. When working with a challenging dog, an aggressive dog, or any level of reactive dog, as a behavior trainer, I am always looking to unwrap the confident dog. This dog enjoys life, isn't constantly stressed and has clear direction. Transforming challenging behaviors into confidence is all in the life of a behavior trainer.

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