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There is a common belief that comforting a dog that is scared, anxious or stressed will just reinforce or encourage them to feel this way.  This belief is incorrect.  Fear is an emotional response and one that a dog does not choose or makes a decision to experience.  We cannot reinforce something that is an involuntary, uncontrolled response.

Imagine an intruder broke into your home, tied you up and took off with your belongings.  After freeing yourself and getting help, a close friend arrives to see how you are.  Your friend tells you that she can see that you’re really anxious and scared but she’s just going to completely ignore you, is not going to attempt to comfort you, sit with you or give you a hug because by doing that she will cause you to feel even more afraid and upset. Does that reaction make any sense?  Dogs experience a range of emotions and the same principle applies to them. Why then is it still believed that you should ignore your dog?  Probably because there is confusion or misunderstanding about the difference between an emotional response - which is an involuntary response and a learned response - which has varying degrees of conscious control.

If we acknowledge that providing comfort and support to a dog that is experiencing these emotions will not reinforce them, do we know that providing comfort will reduce these emotions? Research on this subject is showing evidence that providing comfort and support in stressful situations decreases a dog’s heart rate, salivary cortisol levels, reduces stress responses and increases calm behaviour. Ignoring a dog’s emotions because of misinformed advice that this will change the behaviour is not helpful.    Recognise the emotions for what they really are and be there for your dog.

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