Dogs don’t feel safe when they sense weakness. I know it is like l am stating the obvious but l like to talk about this because l feel that a lot of people may not really understand what is considered “weakness” to a dog.
A dog is not a human. They look at things differently because they are a different species.
Weakness, to a dog, is not necessarily about showing nervousness or fearfulness, although those would also be considered as such by a dog.
Weakness, to a dog, could just be a lack of self control. It could just simply be a constant display of unstable energy. It could be a life style consisting of cause-effect that does not make much sense to the dog.
Very soft and emotional energy that is displayed constantly can be perceived as unstable energy. Excessive unearned affection and obsessive physical “togetherness” can be perceived as a lack of self control. Giving the dog lots of reward even when the dog is exhibiting lots of inappropriate attitude can be perceived as a structure that “does not making any sense” to the dog. When a human needs to constantly look to the dog for emotional support, it can be perceived as weakness by the dog, too.
I am not talking about “love”. I am talking about “trust and respect”.
A dog can love a human but not trust such a human at all. A dog can be obsessed about being together with this human but not respect this human even a tiny bit.
A relationship that is seriously lacking trust and respect is usually one in which the dog will struggle with a lot of issues. Such a relationship often involves a human that the dog considers as being weak.
If they can’t feel safe around you — once they are nervous, they will follow their instinct, and we will see lots of undesirable and inappropriate behaviours.
You can be very tall, muscular, wealthy, famous, and highly successful but your dog may still not feel safe around you because dogs don’t look at weakness the way we do.
That is why understanding what constitute “weakness” to a dog is very important.
“Weakness” to a dog can be something that is very “kind” in nature from our point of view.
For example, if a dog is showing a lot of fear getting out of a car even though the car is very low to the ground, and we feel so bad we start baby talking to the dog, petting the dog, and then we hug the dog and put him down on the ground — what we are doing, although is done out of a position of love and kindness, is actually telling the dog that his fear is well founded and that we share and agree with his feeling.
When the human cannot offer the dog proper guidance in how to become better and stronger, when the human is always validating and encouraging the dog’s fear — the dog will not learn how to stay confidently by the human in a trusting manner around triggering circumstances. To the dog, as loving and kind as this human may be, this human is not someone whom the dog can work with to overcome obstacles in life. In other words, this human is not someone the dog wants to trust and follow.
A strong leader is one whom the dog is motivated to work with and one whom the dog will willingly follow because the dog is convinced that it is in his best interest to do so. A strong leader is one whom the dog will trust instinctively.
In order for the dog to feel safe around us, we should strive to stay in control of our emotions and implement a structure that is fair and consistent so our dog is convinced that our first priorities are always about respecting the dog’s innate needs and empowering the dog to be the best he can be. And that is how we can gain the trust of our dog naturally and holistically.
Hope this helps.