It’s OK to Comfort Your Dog!

U.S. folks and Canadians, get ready for the fireworks!

Summer, a sable colored dog, is photographed in profile looking scared and worried

Summer back when she was more afraid of thunder, fireworks, and other loud noises

People in the U.S. and Canada are getting ready for national holidays that often include all sorts of loud pops and booms from fireworks and firecrackers, even cannons and guns.

These kinds of noises scare some dogs very badly, and during these holidays the noises are unpredictable and can go on for a long time period.

A lot of folks worry about comforting their dogs when they are afraid, and are concerned that they will reinforce their dogs’ fears.

That is incorrect.

  1. Behaviors can be reinforced.
  2. Emotions can’t.
  3. Fear is an emotion.
  4. If you comfort your fearful dog, it doesn’t somehow “reinforce” the fear and make them more scared next time.

But don’t take my word for it.

Take Dr. Patricia McConnell’s: You Can’t Reinforce Fear; Dogs and Thunderstorms

Or Suzanne Clothier’s: Calming the Fearful Dog

A sable colored dog (fur is brown with black on the tips) is sitting under a kitchen table. She looks (and is) frightened.

Summer hiding under the table during a thunderstorm

Everybody’s dog is different. Maybe your dog profits from just hanging out with you. Or maybe you make her more nervous and she’d rather get in a crate. If she isn’t too scared to eat, maybe she would like a food toy. You can judge what helps the most.

At my house, whenever possible during fireworks or thunder, we all troop to the bedroom. Summer gets on the bed with me and cuddles. I give everybody spray cheese every time it booms. Clara and Zani consequently LOVE thunderstorms. And Summer feels better being near me and profits from the routine.

If you want to get really nitpicky, it is possible to reinforce fearful behaviors. But during a noisy holiday is not the time to worry about that!

Other Resources for Getting Through the Fireworks

Fireworks: Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

Fireworks: Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

Here are some very practical tips for getting your dog through events with loud noises. Some are short term helps, and some are long term solutions. I hope you find something that will help in your own situation.

Keep your gates locked and your dogs’ identification items on.

Thanks for reading! You can go cuddle your dog, if she likes it!

Coming Up:

  • The Girl with the Paper Hat Part 2: The Matching Law
  • Sniffing for Joy
  • Punishment is not a Feeling
  • Why Counterconditioning Didn’t “Work”
  • What if Respondent Learning Didn’t Work?

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About eileenanddogs

Passionate amateur dog trainer, writer, and learning theory geek. Eileen Anderson on Google+
This entry was posted in Desensitization and Counterconditioning, Fear, Reactivity, Sound sensitivity and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to It’s OK to Comfort Your Dog!

  1. Pollyb says:

    I am so happy to that i knew this ‘he was always better in my arms or in a blanket close to me ‘ i always comforted him no matter what others said!!yaaaaaaay makes me feel a lot better that i did look after him properly!!thank you so much!!

  2. Nicola says:

    Great post, as ever Eileen. So much better than the old advice of ignoring the dog. I had tried that with my old GSD and as he got no better, I did comfort him and glad I did. That was years ago and I still feel bad for his first few years of fear.

    Thankfully, we know better now. Just this afternoon, we had a thunderstorm. I was out shopping and hubby was home with the dogs. He said the first clap of thunder was follwed by George, our GSD, calmly walking into the kitchen and looking at the ‘fridge, as if to tell him where the squeezy cheese is kept. So much better this way.

    I hope your 4th July goes well and not like our 5th Nov, which seems to begin a week before and carry on for another week.

    • eileenanddogs says:

      That’s so cool what George did! My Summer takes a look at me and “leads” me down the hall to the bedroom a la Lassie. I haven’t heard any fireworks yet but we’ve been having tons of thunderstorms. She does so much better now though. Thanks for writing!

  3. Eileen Fletcher says:

    I’ve shared this ad nauseum 🙂 let’s hope peeps pick up

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  5. kimberlygauthier says:

    I can’t agree or disagree, because I’m not a dog trainer. But I do believe that I have encouraged one of our dogs to be more fearful, because he picked up on my energy. I never ignore my dogs and if they want to be next to me on the Fourth, I’m happy to have them there. But I’ve learned to stop reacting to the fireworks. My problem is that I would react before they would react. I did this with fireworks, coyotes, brooms, vacuum cleaners – everything.

    Once I stopped doing that, once I stopped creating this fearful atmosphere and just acting like it’s no big deal (because it is – except the coyotes – but our dogs are safely indoors so what was I thinking?), Rodrigo stopped being so freaked out by things. So I may not have been reinforcing an emotion, but I definitely was reinforcing a behavior and I’m thankful to the dog trainer who pointed this out to me.


    • eileenanddogs says:

      Good points, Kimberly. It was kind of like reverse classical conditioning: your reaction predicted scary stuff. Take away your reaction, and one of the triggers is gone. I’m glad you figured out what worked best for your dogs.

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