Its an age old dog owners problem and its only getting worse. I'll spare you the statisitcs, but mental health problems and the behavioral issues that acompany them are on the rise, and not just with Fido and Fluffy, but in children too. In pets, this means anything from anti-social, agressive, and harmful behavior, to destruction of property and quirky if not harmful OCD like behaviors (twirling, licking, chasing tail...) and sadly most pets that exhibit extreme behaviors are euthanized. In children, the issues can also lead to anti-social, agressive, and harmful behavior, to destruction of property and quirky if not harmful OCD like behaviors, but at least they are not euthinized for it! They are usually heavily medicated and rarely cured.
So in a world where this epidemic is on the rise, how does one raise a confident, comfortable pet (or child)? How do you instill in them inner strengths and social and interpersonal supports so that confidance and problem solving skills are created and mastered?
A dog that feels no faith in his masters leadership will step in as lead role, and in doing so he is then in a position of power in a world he doesn't understand or control. This kind of stress can be crippling and the dog will suffer from the stress. He will be "on gaurd" against the world since he is "leader" of the pack. This means anything from pacing the property and loosing it over the mail man's daily visits, or fearfully reacting to every little change. Living with such a pet can be a nightmare too. I've seen clients bring me photos of dog bites, or half eaten furniture, and I've even euthanized several pets that got too agressive after being the "pack leader" of a family too long.
For me, I believe instilling confidence and a sence of "I can over come anything and therefore I am a happy individual" comes in a three part stratagy for life weither you are a canine or a human.
Know who you are. First, acknolwedge that you are disadvantaged in some way or another, and learn from it, but do not use it as an excuss. Every one is disadvantaged. Too tall, too young, born little, into a poor family, with a learning disability, with a physical handycap... We are all different and we are all disadvantaged in some ways. But the key to your own limitations is to know them (not deny they exsist) and then overcome them if posible or harness them into a strength. If quadriplegics can be functioning members of society, then so can you. If a three legged dog can become a seeing eye dog, then you can grow up to be what ever you want, Sure you will have to work harder for things, but thats part of overcoming disadvantages. And that overcoming will help you grow your sence of self, the first part of becoming more resilient.
For a dog, knowing who they are is where they are in the pecking order of things, and being at the bottom is the best for a dog. It frees them up to be a dog, and not a power struggled member of the clan. If you aren't burdened to protect, provide, or rule the pack, then you are free to relax, and just be. Let your dog be a dog! Let them always know food is being provided (they do not need to provide for themselves) and that you are in charge. And its the same with kids. If my child has no faith in my providing for him, he will hored food, maybe even steal from me in order to provide for himself. But a child free of that burden will be happier, and healthier.
I have a friend who temporilly watched a set of foster children, and the oldest one was constantly doing a head count to make sure all of his siblings were accounted for. A young child burdened with the responsibilty of keeping an eye on his siblings, this little guy had a hard time just enjoying play time or family time at the park. He was always "on". Sad.
Know what you can do. Problem solving skills are what sets apart sucessful people. We all face diversity. Its how we overcome it that makes you stronger, smarter, and better equipted for the next challenge. A dog that can ackomplish a task has a better sence of self. Teach any dog a few tricks and you've just shown a mammal hard wired for pleasing humans how to do just that. Have a working dog breed? Then its critical that your little pooch has a job to do. Even if it is fetching all the balls in the backyard every night, a working dog needs a job to be fulfilled. And talk about a confidence builder. Everytime Fido sits or shakes hands, or rolls over. He is praised! And don't we do the same for babies. We clap and say "Yaaaayyyy!" when they first learn how to roll over, you stand a few steps away and cheer them on as they first learn to toddle over to you, we stand on the sidelines every weekend and cheer ourselves horse at our kids ackomplishments on the sports field. Because we give our kids the oportunity to grow in their abilities and in doing so we equipt them for adulthood. Did you become a professional boy scout or soccer athlete? No, but the lessons you learned and the expereinces you had as a boy scout or AYSO soccer kid taught you teamwork, commitment, not to give up, and maybe even a few specific skill sets like rope tying or tent pitching.
Know you are not alone. This world was not designed around a pets psychy, or a kids for that matter. And sometimes when fears or problems are big it is a huge comfort to know that there is a person or people who have your safty, happiness, and best interests in mind. That is why a dog that is otherwise terified will willingly go with their master into the vets office and even step on the scale and allow the nurse to touch him. That is why a fearful child will take comfort in a loving parent. A child that knows that he has people around him that loves him no matter what and will show him how to do things will be better prepared for life. Having people in a childs life that want to see him do things on his own, but will help him when its needed, means that child can try new things and grow in confiendce by doing so.
Its not a perfect three part theory, because I think you can do two out of the three and be ok, or maybe just have one part mastered but have a really confident child and still be good. I guess its less of an equation and more of a fluid process of human behavior and feelings.