Confident and Fearful Dogs

(From my ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology coursework assessments):

How do you know when a dog is confident or fearful? Give examples of dogs you have observed.


A confident dog appears open and friendly, and will come up to you happily, even exuberantly. A fearful dog will cower in a corner, with its tail tucked between its legs, and avert its gaze. A dog’s body language speaks volumes about how it feels, or what type of personality it has.

Otto the mixed breed dog at the Refuge I’m involved in is an example of a confident dog. The minute he sees me near his kennel, he comes right over, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and sticks his nose out the opening of the door. If I put my hand in, he’ll give it a snuffle and a lick. If he’s feeling super happy, he’ll jump up and down at the door and may even bark excitedly. When I do get into his enclosure, I sometimes have to turn my back to Otto, to get him to stop jumping up on me. He’s not trying to dominate me, he just wants to lick my face in greeting.

Otto will do anything for treats. He’ll sit, shake paw and roll over, again and again, and his body language just screams Joy and Excitement. When people pass by his kennel and the other dogs start up, barking and yelping with excitement, Otto may join in, jumping off the walls of his kennel with sheer exuberance. He’s a really confident dog.

Trevor, a new arrival at the Refuge, is a fearful dog. He’s like a little miniature Rottweiler, with black and tan markings. His body is long and low, like a Jack Russell’s. Trevor is a Pound Special, having been picked up by the Ranger and brought to the Refuge.

When I first saw Trevor, he was crouched down on the floor in a corner, and his whole body was trembling. When I called his name, he gave me a sideways look, showing the whites of his eyes, but did not move from his position. I crouched down in front of his kennel and avoided looking directly at him, occasionally throwing chicken pieces in front of him. After a couple of minutes, I sensed that Trevor had been brave enough to emerge from his corner to eat the chicken, and that he was now standing quite near me.

Keeping my voice low and soft, I spoke to Trevor. At first he startled, and backed away a step or two. I threw more chicken to him, speaking to him all the time. He ate the chicken. His tense body began to relax more, and he came up to the fence on his own accord. I put my hand against the fence, palm facing him, and Trevor had a sniff and then a lick. He could smell the chicken, and clearly wanted more. I withdrew my hand slowly, took some more chicken from my treat pouch, and this time I shifted my body so it was turned towards him. Trevor didn’t run away, but waited for his treat. I gave him the chicken, then slowly stood up and opened the door of his enclosure.

Trevor seemed uncertain, but not as fearful as before. He backed away, but gave me a few appeasing, low tail wags. I closed the door behind me, and slowly sat myself down in his kennel. I held out some more chicken, and he came up to me on his own accord. I gave him the treat, then slowly brushed my fingers on the side of his face. He wagged his tail again. I brushed the side of his shoulders. He did not pull away. I hazarded a stroke of the length of his body. Trevor actually leaned into me then. By now he’d had a sniff of my hands and had made direct eye contact with me, he’d let me pat him, and he knew I wasn’t going to hurt him. I’d gained Trevor’s trust.


One thought on “Confident and Fearful Dogs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s