This weekend, Why did his very first Elite trial. Why is my naturally low confidence dog who at 11.5 years old has turned into a different dog! We were far from perfect but my goals for him were (1) keep him happy and confident, and (2) keep my points. I have happy to say that we were successful on both of those fronts! He is VERY different from my confident Labradors and requires a different handling strategy. Today we talk about some strategies that you can try in training to see if they will carry over to your trialing (always try things in training before trying them at a trial!).
These are handling strategies that I personally use with Why. They may or may not work for you however I can definitely tell you that for the teams and students who have adopted these strategies, they have seen significant success.
Low Confidence Dogs need to Search Independently to Search Effectively
You may find that INCREASING your distance from your dog will increase your dog’s confidence. This is a little counter-intuitive because we love our dogs and often feel that if we are closer, our dogs will get confidence from us. In reality, when we are closer, our low confidence dogs tend to defer to us. When they defer to us, they no longer search with initiative. This becomes a downward spiral that can actually lead to the dog trying less and less over time.
When your dog seems to lack confidence, try to step back and give them room to work more independently. Most of the time, their hunt drive will kick in and you will see a big uptick in effectiveness.
Avoid Off Leash unless the Search Area is Small and Enclosed
You may find that off leash makes your dog feel too disconnected. Low confidence dogs often worry more when they are no longer connected to you and they may start to devote some of their focus on looking for an escape rather than searching. In a small and enclosed search area, I MIGHT go off leash. Larger search areas are a bit too wide open for my dog to feel comfortable in.
A Light Flexi might help your dog to Feel Connected, yet also Feel Off Leash
When I am searching in an area where I CAN manage a Flexi, I will use one. A lightweight Flexi (cord, not tape Flexi), allows my dog to take the line and search uninhibited. Using a Flexi allows me to emphasize independence and search as if off leash while maintaining connection.
When I train Why, I reward EXCESSIVELY. He gets a ton of social reinforcement in addition to food reinforcement. I do this at EVERY HIDE in training. Then when I trial, I can lower the duration of the reinforcement a little but still retain the power. I talk about the role of emotion in training in my blog: “The Role of Emotion in Learning: Train Happy!“
Working with a Low Confidence dog can be challenging but I have found that these handling strategies make a huge difference for me. Give them a shot!