Go Ahead Comfort That Scared Dog!
I’m not sure why it is people are so reluctant to accept that you can comfort, or reward a dog when it is afraid and NOT be telling the dog it’s ok to be afraid. Doctors give little kids lollipops, we hug people who are nervous, we hold the hand of someone who is afraid and we are not causing them to become more afraid. If we are we should rethink what we’re doing!
Some owners will say, “When I pet my dog, or comfort my dog when she’s afraid it doesn’t help, she gets worse.”
The conclusion they come to is that comforting doesn’t work. How about the conclusion that what they’re doing is not in fact comforting the dog, regardless of their intentions. If indeed they were actually doing something that did provide the dog with comfort or a reward that mattered to them, they would likely see an improvement in the dogs behavior. Why? Because anything that you can do to lessen a dog’s fear or anxiety is going to help them behave more appropriately, or learn how to behave more appropriately.
Studies dating back to the 1940’s proved that you do not reinforce fear by ‘rewarding’ it. It just doesn’t happen, our brains don’t work that way, and there’s a difference between how behaviors are learned and how fear is experienced.