When our canine friends are scared or sad it is our natural inclination to soothe them, and to reassure them that everything is going to be okay. We will pet them, make calming noises, and maybe even give them a treat to distract them. I mean, only a monster would let their furry family member cower in fear, right?
While this may be true, there is a school of thought that is gaining traction that calming your dog when it is acting fearful may actually be harmful. The reason for this is that by soothing them, or giving them a treat to calm them, you are potentially reinforcing that fearful behavior. Your dog may see your soothing as a reward for acting scared and go on believing that acting fearful is what they should be doing.
As the Humane Society of the United States advises:
“Do not attempt to reassure your dog when she is afraid. This may only reinforce her fearful behavior. If you pet, soothe, or give treats to her when she’s behaving fearfully, she may interpret this as a reward for her fearful behavior. Instead, try to behave normally, as if you don’t notice her fearfulness.”
It’s a difficult situation. No one wants to ignore their dog when it appears in need, but at the same time, no one wants to reinforce a behavior that could be harmful in the long run.
In the end, you know your dog best. If your dog has come to you for comfort, you comfort the heck out of that dog. If your dog has gone off to hide under the bed, don’t coax her out with treats, let her ride out the fear on her own.