Comforting Doesn’t Reinforce Fear In Your Dog

I’ve tried all sorts of things to reassure Saffron during thunder or fireworks even though I’d heard doing so could increase her fear. Good news—you can’t reinforce fear by petting or comforting your dog. The bad news is comforting your dog may not lessen her fear.  Tests showed cortisol levels didn’t drop when dogs were petted by their owners during thunder storms.  The company of other dogs appears to be the most important things in lowering cortisol levels.  However, in another study, oxytocin, prolactin and beta-endorphin levels did increase when people interacted with their dogs.  And since these substances are connected with a sense of well-being and social connection, you may still be helping your dog by comforting her.

I’ve tried ignoring what’s going on, but not completely ignoring Saffron.  I’ve tried calming signals. I swear her eyes got rounder and her reaction was like, “Oh no!  She has no idea we’re in danger—she’s not going to be ANY help!!”  And I’ve tried distracting her. Nothing really seemed to work.   What does seem to work best for us, is if Saffron finds a place to sit near me and I keep contact with her with my leg or hand, depending on where she is.  One of the phrases we use with Saffron to try to communicate that whatever startled her isn’t dangerous is “Wow, that was noisy.”  We say it in a happy, kind of chuckling voice so she at least hears we aren’t worried by it.  It may take a while, but she eventually calms enough to stop panting, tremoring, vocalizing, and drooling.

One thought on “Comforting Doesn’t Reinforce Fear In Your Dog

  1. Touch is akin to swaddling, one thing that works excellently for dogs with fear, especially sound-phobic dogs like Saffron. Simple swaddling using readily available items like t-shirts, towels, or ace bandages can be very effective. I’ve also found a product called the Thunder Shirt works well and, unlike some of the swaddling products, is easy to figure out and put on.

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