Whenever a dog goes home…
from our board and train program, I feel the need to have a talk with owners about affection. I get it. We love our dogs and petting them is one way to show it. That being said, I’m not sure most people understand how much power their affection has on a dog.
For example: Dog is shaking from the thunderstorm. I want to console my her and help her feel better, so I walk over and pet her sweet little head. “It’s okay Lucy. It will all be okay.” What I don’t realize in the moment is I am REINFORCING her fear. My affection is saying, “You know this shaking thing you’re doing? Keep it up! Momma loves it!”
Another very common example:
My dog is reactive on leash. As soon as he gets all worked up from the sight of a new dog, I start petting him and try to make him feel better. “No Jackson! That dog is friendly!” As I pet him, I’m sending a big message…Keep reacting on leash! It gets you all the affection you could ever need!
It’s human nature to want to console others when in distress. I totally get it! I know I’ve done it before. But, I would love all of us to be much more aware of when we are giving affection out like candy. It is a powerful reward that can have a drastic impact on our dogs behavior.