Training Tips: How to Tell Your Dog Everything's Okay
Updated: Apr 26, 2019
By Emily Schultze
If you have ever looked down to realize your dog has suddenly become decided to become your third leg, or tripped over them (again) when walking to the bathroom half-asleep in the middle of the night, you know that momentary flash of panic and desire to make sure that they are okay. But should you reach down to comfort your dog? How should you do it? Are there some situations where you should comfort them and others where you shouldn’t? In this Training Tip Tuesday video, New Life K9 members Rosa and Courtney dive into how to help your dog deal with feelings of stress, anxiety and fear.
One common misconception that many trainers even still hold is the idea that you should not comfort your dog when they are exhibiting signs that they are fearful, such as defensive barking or cowering, because it will reinforce this behavior. However, what this line of thinking fails to recognize is that these feelings of fear or stress that a dog is experiencing fall into a very different category than the type of training tasks which can be supported by positive reinforcement like treats. In the video, Rosa and Courtney mention a study conducted about dogs’ stress levels when their owners dropped them off at daycare. It found that dogs who were comforted through petting or talking before their owners left had a lower heart rate after the experience than those whose owners left without providing any sort of reassurance. Just like us, it is helpful for dogs to have support when facing a new or scary situation.
Rosa and Courtney made a comparison to people who are scared of clowns. If they opened their door and found a clown standing there, they might be inclined to run away, and, if the clown did not chase them, they would feel better after escaping that threat. However, if they had a loved one with them when they opened that door who helped them realize that this clown was actually a pretty nice guy, they would be able to better handle their fear.
You can take the role of the “loved one” from this scenario for your dog. Say that there is a particular statue on your daily walk that your dog seems to be convinced is ready to jump out and attack. Instead of getting frustrated and pulling your dog out from behind your legs, you can help them realize that they don’t need to be afraid. Allowing your dog to check out a scary situation from a place they feel comfortable (in this case, being attached to your legs) will help them manage their fear. You can then slowly walk over by yourself and check out the thing that is scaring them. Once you prove that everything is okay, your dog will be more willing to get closer and check it out too.
One thing to always keep in mind when considering how to comfort you dog is, just like humans, every dog is different. Whether it is petting or comforting words, some dogs will respond better to certain methods than others—what is most important is for you to learn what your dog needs. You can check out this video or our article on reading body language to find out more information on how to better understand your dog's particular way of communicating!
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