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By Published On: July 6th, 2011
hands of drowning person reaching above water

Don't help them, you'll only reinforce their fear of water!

When I read many of the blogs, forums or other posts regarding dog training I get the impression that the writer is well intentioned but the information they are sharing is either wrong or misleading.

Words are loaded. They come with meanings we may agree with, or don’t. I have a list of words I hate. Or at least strongly dislike. I dislike them, and try to avoid using them because unless they are clearly defined they are open to interpretation by the reader. Words like; pack leader, coddle and alpha. We should be specific as to what we mean by the use of words. Someone’s- calm, assertive leader, may be my- bully who doesn’t know how to read dogs. Telling someone not to ‘coddle’ their dog may be interpreted as- don’t protect your dog from things that scare them- advice that can be very, very dangerous. Alpha, well, alpha just needs to go away.

I have had to bite my tongue on a forum in which someone with a fearful dog is being told to ‘wait for non-fearful behavior and then reward it’. We know that dogs repeat behavior they are rewarded for but seriously, this is how dog trainers are working with fear-based behaviors? Imagine telling a parent to drop their kid who is afraid of the water into the deep end where they’ll be over their head and only come to their aid when they start offering non-drowning behaviors. If they do pull the kid out right away they will only be reinforcing their fear of water. Huh?

Why are dogs afraid to begin with? There may be underlying medical conditions that need to be addressed. They may not have been exposed to the things that scare them either when they needed to be exposed in order to develop the ability to deal with them appropriately, or how they needed to be exposed to feel safe around them. Bottomline is the dog doesn’t have the skills to deal with the situation. Waiting for them to develop those skills while they are terrified makes no sense.

Dogs are not choosing to be afraid and they are also not choosing their response to their terror. All of the ‘nothing in life is free’, or ‘earn to learn’ training techniques fall on deaf ears when one is dealing with the more immediate concern of saving one’s life.


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