Archive for the ‘scared’ Tag

High Risk Activities

puppy being dragged into the ocean

“I’d rather not.” “So?”

One of the primary goals I have for this blog, the seminars and webinars, and consults I do for folks living or working with fearful dogs is to help them understand how to think about fear based behaviors. When I am contracted to help someone train their dog I can directly and specifically tell them what to do. But that’s just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the number of dogs out there that need someone to help them. If people have good information to use to come up with reasonable ways to respond to their dog, they are more likely to do so, and that is what needs to happen–dogs need to be responded to appropriately.

Risk management is an important consideration in many industries. It should be in the dog training industry as well. The most obvious reason is that when people get bitten, dogs get put down. But there are other risks. A dog’s quality of life is at risk when they are not handled properly. One of the most high risk activities we engage in is when we expose dogs to objects or events that scare them. This tactic is fueled by a variety of notions espoused by trainers; dogs need to be exposed to things or else they’ll never learn to not be afraid of them, dogs are empowered by being able to choose to investigate something, if something doesn’t hurt them a dog will learn that it’s not something they need to be afraid of, dogs won’t be afraid if you are the pack leader. Each of these, among others not mentioned, can lead people to making high risk decisions about how to manage their dog.

I am not saying that exposing a dog to things, or allowing them to roam around and make choices as to how they will respond to something that might scare them doesn’t ever work. I am suggesting that it is a high risk approach to take with a fearful, shy, anxious or reactive dog. Existing fears can become worse and new ones can be added. We can and should minimize and manage the risks we are willing to take when a dog’s life and the lives of those around that dog are at stake.

  1. Keep the dog feeling safe.
  2. Be prepared to make anything that already scares, or might scare, the dog a predictor of something fabulous. Use food. Fabulous food.
  3. Train the dog to do exactly what you’d like them to do when in the presence of something that does or might scare them. When we use high rates of positive reinforcement to train appropriate behaviors we don’t need to worry about them making bad choices.

Summertime

boy in chair surrounded by dogs he is training

The neighbor kid has enjoyed learning how to train dogs

For the past two summers I’ve been staying with my mum near Cape Cod. I know that having her youngest, and least fastidious daughter come and stay along with her four dogs is a challenge for her, but it’s a trade-off she’s had to make. Despite needing to spray the couch with Febreeze every day (Sunny’s preferred sleeping spot) I think she actually enjoys having them around. There’s no need to worry about whether she’s locked the doors at night. There’s not an icicle’s chance in hell that anyone would be able to so much as walk to the door, let alone actually open it without a chorus of barking. That chorus is another issue, but it’s getting easier for the dogs to end them when asked. Having a new home for the summer requires some adjustments for them as well.

Overall it’s been good. I have been able to see the skills they’ve developed and which need more work. There are more people coming and going and not only does that require more effort on my part to manage them it actually gives me the opportunity to practice the behaviors I want with them. Both Nibbles and Annie have learned to cut down on their initial barking and Nibbles has also learned that yapping and snapping after someone who gets up or walks by is not a good choice to make. I started by using lots of treats for recalls and sits and then added in a brief time-out (about 5 seconds alone in the bathroom) for infractions. Nibbles was a quick study but Annie has a more difficult time not voicing her opinion on things. Sunny is put in a place where he feels safe and where he cannot move toward people arriving.

A time-out is a form of punishment. We take away the dog’s opportunity for reinforcement (barking is very reinforcing for many dogs) by removing them from the situation and then returning them so they have the chance to behave the way we want them to for some other form of reinforcement, in our case it’s food. It can take a few trials for the dog to figure out why they are being walked off to the bathroom (or wherever you choose to put them) so don’t get frustrated or upset when you have to repeat the process. With Annie it’s a tricky one because if left there too long she’ll start barking to be let out, and I don’t want to have to deal with getting that to stop because I’m doing this when we have guests (which is why they are barking) so I’m juggling welcoming people into my home while I’m picking up leashes and leaving the room. But I would prefer to do this rather than shout at the dogs to shut up, which can also work. One reason is that I don’t like to yell and another is that I don’t want to make the association between guests and being yelled at for my dogs. So long as they don’t bark they are welcome to stay, maybe even get a treat or two from me or a dog-loving guest.

I hadn’t planned on writing a training post this morning. I wanted to share the photo of me in my rowboat (which we’ve had since I was a kid) along with rowboat in lake with 2 people and 2 dogs in itsome friends. Even Sunny managed to climb in for the ride. I also wanted to invite those of you who may not know about it to like the Fearfuldogs.com Face book page. I try to post something fearful dog related there every day for education and inspiration.

I will also be traveling this fall offering full-day seminars on fear-based behaviors in dogs and the most humane and effective ways to help them.

For my friends in the northern hemisphere I hope you are enjoying your summer and the living really is easier.

The Beautiful Flow of Experimentation

marbles of different sizes and colorsWhen we are living with any dog, but especially a fearful dog, we need to be prepared, at any moment, to reinforce behaviors we like. This is what behavior modification is all about.

If you sat two children down, one with a pile of marbles, the other with a bucket of tennis balls and gave each the task to put these objects into a milk jug, what do you think is likely to happen? Start off with- which child is more likely to be successful? Assuming that the marbles are all small enough to fit into the jug and the child has the dexterity and hand/eye coordination, the child with the marbles will be. What about the child with the tennis balls? Even if they have the ability to try to perform the task, how many attempts do you think they will make before they give up altogether when they discover that tennis balls don’t fit into milk jugs? I’m going to guess, not many. Why bother?

If we were to bring in another child and give them a variety of different sized marbles, some which will fit, some just barely, others not at all, how many attempts do you think they will make before they stop? Let’s assume that putting marbles in jugs is fun for the child or that we’ve promised them their special treat for doing it, and I’m guessing that they will keep trying until they have put all the marbles that fit into the jug and have a pile of those that don’t. If we asked them to do this a second time they might even do it more quickly if there were easy ways for them to differentiate between the sizes of the marbles; all the red ones fit, blue ones don’t.

When our dogs are interacting with us and their environment there is a continuous flow of experimentation of behavior. Each behavior provides the dog with information as to whether they should do it again or not based on what outcome the behavior produces. Does the behavior fit? If we always provide our dogs with information that tells them that a behavior is the right one, they can be prepared to use that behavior again in the future. If we resort to punishment too often, which for a fearful dog may be just once, they may, like the child with the tennis balls, stop bothering to experiment to come up with the behavior that fits.

We don’t need to hit them over the head to let them know that a behavior isn’t fitting. If they have learned a variety of ways that tell them that a behavior does fit; food treats, praise, smiles, cheers of approval, a click, the word YES, when one of these does not occur, they are prepared to experiment with another response until they are successful.

In life, on rivers, or when training a dog, there are advantages to going with the flow.

Guest Blogger Roxanne Hawn

Fearfuldogs: Tell me about your dog Lilly.

Roxanne: Lilly is a nearly 5-year-old smooth coat border collie, adopted at 6 months old from a progressive humane society in Boulder, CO. She came in as a transfer. So, she lived in two shelters and a foster home before we adopted her. She passed all temperament testing with better-than-average scores even though she did show some shyness/fear. She lives with us and a nearly 9-year-old Lab/Greyhound mix named Ginko.

Lilly has always been fearful, which we’ve always worked on, but at around 2 1/2 years old (social maturity), she developed an extreme intolerance of other dogs. She decided that a good offense was the best defense. We’ve been working on that ever since … along with severe generalized anxiety/fear that I have only fully understood in the last year or so.

Our behaviorist says that if you combine genetics, a deprived puppyhood (poor socialization), and numerous illnesses (including parvo), you’ll get dogs just like Lilly again and again.

Our blog, Champion of My Heart, tells the tale of this once promising agility dog who is too afraid to run a course in front of other dogs. At home, she’s great.

I talk about nearly accepting we’ll never be good at agility, but the real story is what else I’ve learned along the way. Our working goal is a book deal, but having each other is what matters. Lilly is the most important canine relationship of my life.

Fearfuldogs: Was there a time when you thought twice about keeping your dog? If so why, and why did you decide to keep her?

Roxanne:
Never. When I first looked into getting help from a behaviorist, that’s one of the first questions they ask, and it made me think our situation wasn’t so bad, if my answer was no.

I’m a big believer in “Dog-girl, know thyself,” and as difficult as Lilly’s fears can be, it’s nowhere near my breaking point. I know from experience that one thing I cannot live with is a dog I don’t trust — a dog that shows aggression toward me.

I trust Lilly with my life. She is an amazing dog — smart, funny, loving, active. Do I wish she didn’t worry so much? Sure. Would I trade this experience for anything? Nope. She makes me a better person and an infinitely better dog trainer.

Fearfuldogs:
Have you had to modify or change your lifestyle because of your dog?

Roxanne: Before Lilly, my dog training experience was of the Petsmart variety (no offense). Now, I joke that I’m earning a Ph.D. in dog behavior from the University of Dogs with Issues, so in that way, she is a major undertaking. I spend a lot of time and money on consults, training, medications and such. Even with some financial shifts, like giving up weekly yoga classes (after 10+ years of study) to pay for dog classes, Lilly feels more like an improvement, not a sacrifice.

That said, until I find a boarding kennel equipped to handle a sensitive dog like Lilly, I do not travel.

The only other thing is that I cannot open the window over the sink in the kitchen. We had some windows replaced a couple years ago, and Lilly is afraid of them. I’ve successfully desensitized her to the ones that go up and down, but the one over the sink slides side to side and squeaks ever so slightly, even though we’ve oiled it, etc. If that window stays closed for another 10 years, I’m OK with that.

I’m sure there are other things that have become so normal I can’t think of them.

Fearfuldogs: During the time you’ve had your dog what has been the most exciting improvement in her behavior you’ve witnessed?

Roxanne: We took a long break from weekly group classes (advanced pet dog training), when we began working with a behaviorist from Colorado State University in July 2008. After avoiding drugs and trying all manner of holistic options, our current plan includes medications (clomipramine & alprazolam) and detailed, regimented behavior modification work, mostly in the classical conditioning model.

I learned I had been doing far too much operant conditioning (trying to get Lilly to act her way out of being afraid), rather than trying to change how she feels first.

We attend a group class, outdoors in various locations, about once a month now. A couple of times recently, other dogs accidentally challenged her, but Lilly handled it beautifully and with restraint.

The first one, a young, rambunctious lab, who lives with a training pal of ours, came flying toward Lilly flapping a weasel toy. Lilly was working off leash at the time. When she glanced up and saw him running toward her, I said, “Leave it.” And, she did, going back to work.

 Funny enough, after she headed toward me as the second part of the exercise, the pup came racing back the other direction. He would have bowled her over, but she waited for him to run past and then continued toward me, stopping perfectly into a down … just as I’d asked before the encounter began. 

It was the cutest thing. Lilly had this look on her face like, “Look at this goofy pup.”

The key was that he was more interested in the toy, than Lilly. I always tell people that Lilly doesn’t mind other dogs as long as they don’t pay attention to her.

Then, a few weeks later, a young, pushy German Shepherd got loose from her owner and came flying at us at class. This dog arrived wearing a shock collar, which our trainer won’t allow and which, I believe, is telling.

I was giving Lilly a break when the dog ran up, so Lilly was up on a big rock at the time. Lilly shot off one warning bark, dropped her head, and offered a convincing show of teeth. The dog did not relent. So, Lilly jumped down and offered another stiff-bodied warning, where she gave her best Border Collie Eye (intense stare). The dog did not relent.

So, even though I think Lilly was justified in her correction, I stepped between them, and Lilly and I walked away. The dog followed, but we kept moving away. Eventually, someone got her, but I kept Lilly far away from the group for several minutes to give her recovery time. She was upset, but bounced back.

After class, our longtime trainer (the only one who didn’t give up on us) said she felt like it was a huge breakthrough for Lilly to handle a challenge like that with such poise. Even weeks earlier, she felt the encounter would have been awful.

Other classmates, who’ve known us for years, also say Lilly seems like a different dog. So, while it’s hard for me to see the change day to day, others notice.

It’s a long story, but Lilly has a best-best dog friend named Katie (a young, wild Borzoi), who nearly became our third dog recently. Katie has amazing dog-dog savvy and helps Lilly practice her dog-relationship skills.

30-SEC VIDEO of LILLY & KATIE

We blog at least five days a week. On Fridays, we always post a training update, for those following our saga.

Fearfuldogs: If anything was to happen to you, what are your plans for your dog?

Roxanne: I’m married, so my husband would take care of Lilly if something happened to me. While he doesn’t do the hands-on training, he knows enough about the methods to keep her happy and safe.

Fearfuldogs: Where does your dog spend most of her time?

Roxanne: At my side. As a professional, freelance writer, I have the luxury of working at home. So, we’re pretty much together all day, every day. She usually stays in my office with me, either on a bed under my desk or on her doggie sofa near the windows. We often let both dogs snuggle with us for a few hours at night, before they head to their crates to sleep.

My husband works at home too, so especially in the summer, we work outside and hangout with the dogs.

You might think this means Lilly is a prime case for separation anxiety, but I’m happy to report that’s one fear she does not have. She’s completely fine being left alone in the house or in the car (when weather allows).

Fearfuldogs: Thanks Roxanne! Be sure to check out Lilly’s updates at http://www.championofmyheart.com/

Energy Wise

Pep talkWhile I agree that our own energy has an affect on our dogs, I do find the focus on an owner’s energy to be at times confusing or just plain useless when it comes to training dogs. In Cesar’s Way owners are encouraged to imitate people like Cleopatra, John Wayne and Oprah. Huh? Now while some people out there might think they know what Millan means, how does someone really know what he means? You’ve got a self-absorbed Egyptian despot, a swaggering, gun-slinging film star and Oprah!

If you have spent a lot of time with dogs and are comfortable with them, the idea that your ‘energy’ affects their behavior may not seem so foreign, but for someone who is struggling to live with a dog with aggression or fear issues, who does not have a lot of experience with dogs, channeling Cleopatra is probably not the most helpful advice. Since each of us may have a different interpretation of what a good leader looks and acts like, the recommendation to ‘be’ the leader is not only not good enough, it’s dangerous. When some leaders don’t get what they want from their followers they can feel challenged and angry. Why set dog owners up for this kind of energy?

If you are working with a fearful dog there are actual training skills and techniques that you can use to help your dog understand what you want from it. Patience is probably more important than confidence when it comes to animal training, so don’t worry too much if you don’t feel like puffing out your chest and having your brother murdered so he doesn’t compete with your for the throne. If you are moved to channel anyone consider Mary Poppins, she was on the right track with that ‘spoonful of sugar’ idea.

My last post on Cesar Millan

I say this is my last post about Cesar Millan because this blog is not about him, regardless of the benefit of the additional hits it may get me from the Dog Whisperer Ambassadors out there. It is not about trying to convince his loyal converts that he is wrong or bad. I agree with him that many dogs in America have less than stellar lives, as do many people and I’m sure there is a connection. Just giving a dog a life, as he advocates with his focus on exercise is a gift to dogs and owners. I would like to thank all the folks who commented on my last post, your care and concern for the dogs in your lives is obvious. I also appreciate it since the journalist who produced the news clip about Cesar that I included in that post told me that he has received hate mail from many of Cesar’s fans. Your calm assertiveness is appreciated.

In his book, Cesar’s Way, on page 13 Cesar mentions briefly a frightened German Shepherd named Beauty who in “..order to attach a leash to her collar, I have to chase after her, tire her out, and then wait until she submits. I may have to repeat this process a thousand times until she realizes that when I put my hand out, the best solution is for her to come to me.” Now imagine if you will, for just a moment, this scene. The dog is terrified, adrenalin is coursing through her body, she’s running, her body low, tail tucked, ears down and back, glancing behind her as she tries to escape her own personal demon. Then physically exhausted she gives up, perhaps pressing herself to the floor or into a corner as her worst nightmare comes true. Perhaps you can imagine how you’d feel, your mouth going dry, the tightening of your stomach as you experienced fear- heart racing, bowel loosening fear. Or maybe it’s easier to see a dog you care about fleeing in horror, over and over, the act repeated on a daily basis for weeks. This is not humanizing a dog, it is empathizing with the experience of an animal with which we share the same parts of the brain that allows us to feel fear in the same ways.

You may argue that I am taking him too literally that he does not mean 1ooo times. Would you feel better about it if it was only 100 times or a dozen times? But I don’t think it’s off track to take him literally. Dogs do not generalize behaviors easily and fearful dogs are even less proficient at it so his description of needing to repeat this scene a thousand times before the dog learns that her efforts to protect herself are of no use and ‘submits’, is likely accurate. Now I’ll ask you to visit the fearfuldogs.com site and have a look at the videos in which I use targeting to teach Sunny to approach me and other people. It is a simple exercise and what you are seeing is the result of hundreds of opportunities that Sunny had to practice this behavior, maybe even a thousand. Look at him, you can still see his fear, his wariness, his caution but he was never forced to run panicked, until exhaustion, to learn to ‘submit’ to the request to approach my hand. Not once was he forced to ‘submit’ to his demons. Looking at his body language you will still see concern, but you will also see the beginning of a cheerful willingness to be around people.

These behaviors take time and repetition because for many dogs, as Cesar is well aware of, their brains are damaged and for some dogs they will never be repaired, no matter how many time they are chased while they flee in horror, or how many times they are asked to target a hand. And if I were to ask myself the question as to which technique I would choose to test out their learning potential, you probably don’t need me to tell you that I would choose the targeting with positive reinforcement every time.

I am NOT pointing out these videos to show what a good trainer I am, far from it. I am a novice, a novice who has followed the lead of great trainers, many who are familiar names in the world of dog training and others, not so familiar but no less skilled or insightful. Compared to good trainers I could even be called a hack. I point them out for the owners of fearful dogs who are struggling and searching for ways to help their dogs, ways which do not include the risk of being bitten or continually terrifying their dogs, and to realize that neither do they need to subject themselves to being bitten in order to teach their dog that biting is not the best solution to their problem. This is a technique commonly used by Cesar with small dogs who when they do give up, I suspect are feeling something far from relief at finding a leader, unless you also believe that a deer feels relief when it can finally stop running after the wolves have her by the throat.

I will not try to describe what happens in a dog’s brain when it is so afraid it runs or fights for its life. Not only am I not qualified to do so, if I go down that route it will lead to a conversation about how dogs learn new behaviors and how they change how they feel about the things that scare them. It will lead to how positive reinforcement works, not the bribing or luring with treats the critics of PR often mistakenly believe it to be, or inexperienced handlers practice and call it PR, but operant and classical conditioning. I will not go there because then I will be talking about training and Cesar himself admits he’s not a trainer.

You are welcome to comment and share your admiration for Cesar Milan, it is still, as we like to say and believe, a free country (even if it is ‘my’ blog 😉 and we all have something to learn from each other. And like Cesar Milan I also believe that it is the relationship that we have with our dogs that creates the best foundation for any training or rehabilitation success we have with them. I have never been, nor will I ever be the ‘alpha dog’ or ‘pack leader’ I am quite sure that my dogs do not believe me to be a very unfortunate looking dog. I am a human and by virtue of some additional brain matter and thumbs, I control all the resources my dogs need, but do not allow this to lead me to inaccurate interpretations of dominance hierarchies among them.

But I won’t go on any further, I would much prefer to grab my snowshoes and head up the mountain with my dogs, fearful one included. This will occur after they

Sunny my fearful dog in the foreground learning about rivers.

Sunny my fearful dog in the foreground learning about rivers.

go out the door first and run up the trail ahead of me, but bless their hearts, whether they keep checking up on my progress because they think I’m the pack leader, because I call them or out of pity because I can’t keep up, it is the indescribable pleasure I get being with them and watching them, my fearful dog Sunny in particular, which will keep me advocating that no one, no one, causes any scared dog to run for any reason other than the sheer joy of it.

Yours in the adoration of dogs,

Debbie Jacobs

http://www.fearfuldogs.com

Training to flee

We want our scared dogs to be comfortable with the things that frighten them. Counter conditioning and desensitization are all about making that happen. But we don’t just want them comfortable with the things that frighten them, we want them to be perfectly giddy with joy about them. Until that happens they are at risk of becoming aggressive. Don’t think that because a dog has not bitten anyone or anything, that it won’t at some time in the future. When people ask me if my scared dog bites I usually respond by saying, “He does have teeth.” And the reality for many scared dogs is that they may never be giddy with joy about the things that scare them, despite our best efforts.

My scared dog’s first and preferred reaction when faced with people is to flee. It’s a response that makes a lot of sense and ultimately is a win/win situation unless the person he’s fleeing from is trying to get a hold of him (namely me). My dog gets to move away from what scares him and the person doesn’t get bit. If I take away his option to flee, my dog typically shuts down, except if he’s aroused.

When we get scared enough our hearts start racing and the faster they race the less ability we have to make well thought out decisions. Our actions become controlled by different parts of our brain. The same is true for dogs. Research has shown that at that point our actions are more likely to be based on what we’ve practiced in the past and what our beliefs are regarding the options we have. It’s the major downside of racial profiling. Teach law enforcement personnel that a certain type of person is likely to be dangerous compared to another type of person and when forced to make split second decisions the person who looks like the one that fits the description of ‘more dangerous’ stands a better chance of getting shot than the one who doesn’t. What is tragically played out all too often is that the person shot was not a threat at all. It also happens that we are more likely to behave aggressively when we reach a certain point of arousal, even if the situation does not warrant it. Think about this in regard to the stereotypes your dog has regarding the things he’s afraid of. Some dogs are very specific in regard to who and what they believe to be ‘most dangerous’.

In our efforts to help our dogs become more comfortable around people or other dogs we decrease the distance between them, which decreases the amount of time a dog has to make a decision as to how to react. This is not a problem unless the dog becomes so aroused that it switches into reaction mode. At that point you want the dog to have practiced a behavior that is going to be safe for everyone involved and the simplest is ‘move away’. Practicing this behavior repeatedly when a dog is not afraid is important. Athletes practice a move over and over again until they can perform it well without thinking, especially when under pressure. Musicians and actors do the same thing. Helping your dog practice moving away from what scares it makes it more likely that you’ll get that response when the dog has to make a snap judgment about what to do when he’s afraid.

How Realistic Are Your Goals For Your Scared Dog

Sunny pauses for reflection

Sunny pauses for reflection

If you’re an owner of a fearful dog you’ve heard it all before-
“He just needs love.”
“Give her some time.”
“Lots of dogs are shy at first.”
But you’ve probably discovered that it takes more than time and love to help a fearful dog.

If your dog is just afraid of some stuff, you may, with the understanding of counter conditioning and desensitization, end up with a dog that can overcome its particular fears. A dog that scurries away from the vacuum may decide it’s not all that horrible when it also means that cheese treats are doled out. Or a dog that believes that toddlers are some sort of alien beast (and some do seem to be) might be able to learn to see them as cookie dropping, ball throwing creatures they can enjoy.

But a dog that is easily startled and appears afraid of more things that it is not afraid of, is not going to ‘fix’ easily, or at all. It is possible to help a dog like this become more comfortable in its world, but owners and rescuers should remain cautiously optimistic for them. It matters because if the expectations you have for your dog are not realistic you not only risk disappointment you also risk losing valuable insight into the dog’s actual needs and abilities in your rush to find a cure for the dog’s behavior.

Fearful dogs like Sunny can have good lives. Sunny has many moments of sheer joy, if my ability to assess the emotions of a dog romping and rolling in the snow is accurate. I want to continue to help him increase his comfort level around people, since the world is full of them, but on a daily basis he is not required to face his personal demons so much that he is in a constant state of stress or arousal. My dog is a great companion to me and other dogs. He may never be a therapy dog or take home ribbons in agility, but he can come into the house when I ask him to, and even better still, wag his tail while he’s doing it.

Medications for Fearful Dogs

Whether or not to use behavioral medications to help your dog is a personal decision, but one which is often based on incomplete information. One comment often made by dog owners is, “I don’t like to drug my dog.” Fair enough. I don’t like to ‘drug’ my dogs either, but I’m sure glad that my dog with no thyroid function has a medication to help with that, and that my old cocker with heart problems has medications that have help improve the quality and hopefully the length of her life.

There are owners who will use herbs, supplements, and remedies without hesitation, yet balk when the suggestion of a tested behavioral medication is made. If we believe that a particular ‘alternative’ treatment is powerful enough to change our dog’s behavior why then do we not also believe that they are powerful enough to do harm to our dogs? Few of the products available to dog owners today have not been tested for their safety, whereas there are behavioral medications that have been.

Another misconception about the behavioral medications available today is that they are used to sedate dogs. While sedation may be a side effect of some of these medications, the reason for using them is not to sedate your dog. In many cases this effect decreases over time.

We know that behavioral medications can help with depression and anxiety in people, and many of these same medications are what are used with dogs. Their use in dogs is recommended along with a behavior modification program and enough of us have had success with this combination approach that it makes sense, to me, for owners to consider their dog’s behavioral issues and whether or not the addition of a medication to their program to help their dog may be beneficial.

We know that dogs get better at any behavior they repeat, inappropriate as well as appropriate ones. If the use of medications makes it easier for a dog to practice and repeat appropriate behaviors then it stands to reason that in the long run the dog will benefit by their use.

While it is wise to question the use of medications to help fearful dogs, it also is wise not to disregard them based on misinformation or the lack of information about them or a long held prejudice against them.

Just my thoughts.

Go Ahead Comfort That Scared Dog!

Sunny my fearful dog

Sunny my fearful 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.