Tis the season for bad advice. It seems no matter where I turn-blog posts, website, forums, chats- someone is putting ‘don’t comfort your dog when they are scared’ messages out. The last I read, provided by someone who by choice or certification, is identified as a ‘behaviorist’, was a list of tips for dealing with fireworks and storm phobias included; no cooing or baby talk because it will only be telling the dog that they are right to be afraid. Really? Where I come from the way we let someone know that they are right to be afraid is to shriek, “LOOK OUT IT’S GOING TO KILL YOU!”
I suppose if we’ve paired cooing and baby talk with enough negative experiences then it might reaffirm a dog’s concern. I imagine the scene from a bad crime drama in which the killer calmly looks at his victim, knife glinting in his hands and says, “Don’t be afraid, it won’t hurt…..for long.” Hopefully we have not done this, and instead our cooing and baby talk has been used to get a tail wag and to let our dogs know who is “the cutest, fluffiest, most handsomest, doggie on the planet.”
And let’s face it, if you’re really terrified no amount of, ‘don’t worry darling it’s going to be alright’, is likely to help. Often we seem to be either unaware, or unwilling to acknowledge how scared our dogs are. So why, if comforting a dog may not help do I get my knickers in twist when someone advises against it? Because sometimes comforting helps, because if you believe that being kind and gentle with a scared dog is going to reinforce their fear you might take that line of thought, as many do, and assume that making a dog deal, on their own, with what scares them, is the thing to do. And it is not. But more importantly it’s because it’s wrong. And it doesn’t take much deep thinking to see why that is.
It would appear that when it comes to dogs we have adopted a ‘fast food’ way of thinking. All it takes is for someone to assert that; dogs need leaders, that they live in the moment (This one tickles me particularly because it implies that every moment in a dog’s life their brain is a clean slate, that what they experienced yesterday had no effect on them in which case I wonder-how do they remember their name?), that they will try to dominate their owners if given the chance, that their noses should be rubbed in their poop, that a smack with a rolled-up newspaper is an appropriate thing to do-for whatever reason, that every single dog on the planet must be spayed or neutered, that breed is destiny, and you shouldn’t comfort scared creatures.
The next time you read something about dogs and how to handle or train them, after you’ve bitten through the crunchy sugar coating, take some time to mull the information over. You may find that that first bite leaves you with a toothache.