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 generally incorrect.
- Behaviors can be reinforced with operant conditioning.
- Emotions can’t.
- Fear is an emotion.
- If you comfort your fearful dog, it is not likely to “reinforce” the fear and make them more scared next time.
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! You need to get through the holiday, keeping your dog feeling as safe as possible.
But don’t take my word for it.
Take Dr. Patricia McConnell’s: You Can’t Reinforce Fear; Dogs and Thunderstorms
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 or hiding place. 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.
Resources for Helping Your Dog Get Through Scary Times
Here are some resources for getting your dog through events with loud noises and some general tips about dealing with fear in dogs. Some are short term helps, and some are long term solutions. I hope you find something that will help in your own situation.
- Storm and Sound Phobias—Debbie Jacobs of Fearfuldogs.com
- My Dog’s Safe Place—eileenanddogs
- Helping a Fearful Dog Feel Safe—eileenanddogs
- Canine Thunder Phobia: The Bunker Protocol—John Visconti
- What Happened to Summer’s Thunderstorm Phobia?—eileenanddogs
- Sound Masking for Reactive Dogs—eileenanddogs
- Can You Reinforce Fear?—Debbie Jacobs of Fearfuldogs.com
- My Dog Fears Fireworks and Thunderstorms: What Should I Do To Help?—Val Hughes
Keep your gates locked and your dogs’ identification items on.
Thanks for reading!
© Eileen Anderson 2015 eileenanddogs.com