(Posted May 2014)
Have the Memorial Day weekend fireworks and celebrations started in your neighborhood yet? They started here several nights ago, and none of the animals were pleased, to say the least. As their guardian, it’s my job to take the time to help them cope with the onslaught of noise, and change they way they feel about those sounds.
Unfortunately, a lot of people believe this common myth: Don’t comfort an animal when he/she is afraid; you’re only reinforcing their fears.
Here’s my science-based response to that myth: Always Comfort the animal. You cannot reinforce Fear. Ignoring their fear and terror is borderline neglect.
Fear is an emotion, not a behavior. Comforting a fearful animal will not make the animal more afraid, and it will not “reinforce fear” (unless this is the only interaction the animal ever receives). Petting, cuddling, or comforting an animal when they are afraid can help them — worse case, it may not do anything. However, comforting them will not reinforce their fear.
Fact: Animals in a constant state of fear or stress are more susceptible to diseases, and their immune systems are not as effective (cited) .
Because of this, fearful animals must be helped. That’s where we, as their guardians come in. In the video below Suzanne Clothier explains how and why:
So when the pops, cracks, booms and bangs begin, and you see that the dog/cat/bird, etc. is clearly frightened, remember to remain calm and comfort them. You are their guardian and protector. You can help them. Providing comfort and a sense of safety is the sensible, loving thing to offer to anyone in need, especially our animal companions.
Learn more about why You Cannot Reinforce Fear in these links:
- The Myth of reinforcing fear
- Why You Can’t Reinforce Fear
- Can You Reinforce Fear?
- You Can’t Reinforce Fear; Dogs and Thunderstorms
- Can you Reinforce Your Dog’s Fear?
TRAINING TIP: A better approach than comforting alone, is investing some time on counterconditioning, a behavior modification technique meant to change the animal’s emotional response toward a feared stimulus by encouraging an emotion incompatible with fear. In Counterconditioning we use food to change the animal’s underlying emotional response to the perceived threat so that he/she learns that “scary things” are now good things. To “condition” means to teach, and to “counter” means to change.
—> If you would like to learn how to do this, check out my tips on how to help your pets cope during fireworks, HERE!
Don’t worry about rewarding a scared dog who is behaving ‘inappropriately’. You wouldn’t wait for someone who was drowning to stop screaming before you pulled them out of the water. – Debbie Jacobs, author of “A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dogs”
Do you have any tips for helping your animals when they are afraid? Please share below!