When our dogs are presented with new and/or ambiguous situations they will either view it in a positive or negative way. An optimist will approach these situations as if there is nothing to worry about and will demonstrate curiosity and an eagerness to check things out and explore. On the other hand, a pessimist will view these same situations as being something to be afraid of.
From an evolutionary perspective, being a dog with a pessimistic personality is advantageous. In the wild, pessimism keeps species safe and away from danger and predators. Being cautious in the environment means you’re more likely to get away from that predator in the bushes because your optimistic counterpart is the one heading over to check it out! Pessimism in ingrained in our dogs and although it once served them a great purpose in the wild, for domesticated dogs living in busy city centers it can be detrimental to their mental and physical well-being.
A dog’s level of optimism can determine how they react to other dogs, new and strange objects (such as opening umbrellas) or a certain type of person (has your dog ever barked at someone wearing an odd hat, or carrying a child on their shoulders?). Everything in your dog’s world could be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, friendly or scary, depending on their level of optimism. The pessimist is going to potentially worry about anything and everything and they may deal with that by attacking it, barking, lunging or totally shutting down, turning away, freezing or trying to escape.
While our dogs are born with a certain level of optimism and pessimism, the good news is that we can work directly to change, develop and grow optimism by playing games at home in a safe environment and better prepare our dogs for everything that they will encounter out in the real world. This is training *for* the situation, not *in* the situation. Too often we want to directly expose our dogs to the very things that frighten them. Instead, we can work at home within their comfort zone to expose them to novelty in a controlled environment and build their optimism so that when they are out in the real world, they are better able to cope.
Check out the Optimism Rocks E-Book at the link below for some concept training games to help boost your dog’s optimism!