Myth buster! Can comforting my dog reinforce fear?

Published on:
June 1, 2021

The short of it is, no, it can’t. Why? Fear is an emotional response, not a behavior such as sitting. When your dog is fearful he is not choosing to be fearful, he simply can’t help it. Of course, there’s a caveat. You can make your dog’s fear worse by acting in a way that makes him feel he is being punished or by adding more stress. There are the obvious ways of punishing your dog, like yelling or hitting, but what about frantically repeating “it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay…” while you aggressively pet your pup in an effort to calm him down? Think about a time you were hurt and someone frantically repeated “it’s okay, it’s okay!”.... probably didn’t make you feel any better..in fact, you were probably thinking “oh no! It’s worse than I thought!”. What about completely ignoring your pup when he asks for reassurance in an effort to “not reinforce his fear”? Don’t feel bad for calmly giving your dog a few words of encouragement or allowing them to snuggle up to you during a thunderstorm. Don’t ignore them when they reach out to you for reassurance. You being there for them or giving them a comfortable safe place to hide is more than likely going to make them feel better. Be your dog’s safe place. If you have an anxious or fearful dog, contact a certified professional trainer or behaviorist for help.

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