Hand’s up whose heard this one - always ignore your dog if they are acting fearful or anxious
. The concern, some say, is that if you reassure your scared dog they will become even more scared. The sad truth is that while this myth has now almost evolved into ‘fact’, it has absolutely no grounding in learning theory or scientific fact. Dog’s look to us for reassurance in scary situations and being ignored can make that situation even more terrifying.
Imagine you are a nervous flyer. Sitting in your seat on take off you grip the arm rests, squeeze your eyes shut and feel the sweat trickle down your face...
Now ponder these two scenarios:
The person seated next to you sees your reaction and immediately turns their back on you, ignoring you for the whole flight. You are alone in your panic…..
The person seated next to you sees your reaction, turns to face you with a calm smile and pats your hand reassuringly. They talk quietly to you, explaining that all those scary noises are perfectly normal to hear on take off. You feel yourself begin to relax….
Surely we would all prefer scenario 2 so why wouldn’t this be the same for Fido? If your dog is truly in a fearful state the learning area of their brain is temporarily switched off so reassurance will not reinforce their behaviour
. Just as for humans, a brain in ‘fight or flight’ mode can not be in learning mode at the same time, it’s physiologically impossible! Here’s the catch - when reassuring a scared dog be sure that you aren’t scared yourself – imagine getting on that plane and being seated next to another nervous flyer! It would do you no good if they clutched your hand while screaming ‘We’re going down….!’ You mustn’t let your own anxiety feed through to your dog so remain calm, relaxed, breath slowly and talk in a quiet soothing voice.
Next time you find Fido cowering away from the thunder don’t be afraid to quietly and calmly reassure them. Most importantly of all, if you have a truly fearful dog then seek help from a qualified behaviourist who can help you to modify their behaviour and live a happier, more contented life!