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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Give Me A break!

I recently read an article that I completely disagree with and maybe the person writing it was trying to get something else across to the public but what I got from  it and what many more people will take away from it is that it is okay to coddle your dog during a storm or fearful act.  This below link is the article in which I speak and quite possibly I have pointed out the quick take away that I got from it so maybe you will read it a bit more carefully and realize the person is talking about emotion, not behavior. Read it and feel free to comment in the comment section of my blog as to what you took from the article and then please continue to  give me your ear on why I disagree .
article link here 

Regarding the above article:

 I think this person is missing the boat.  It depends on what the dog is doing at the time the dog is frightened.  There are dogs that bark, chew, nudge, shake, dig, and whine when they are frightened.  So to give them this attention of petting, talking to, coddling at a time the dog is doing any of the above behaviors is in fact rewarding that ‘behavior’. We are talking about behavior not human emotion which humans tend to put upon their animals in every aspect. I do believe that dogs have emotions, but I also believe that humans at times interpret their own emotions to what the dog may be feeling.   

 The focus is a 'fear behavior'. If the dog barks continuously because it is fearful (and many do bark in more fearful situations than thunderstorms), does one want to reward that behavior or give the dog the tools to succeed and act differently?

There are many things that dogs and humans have in common and learning is one of them. If I took a young child that was afraid of storms and gave them something else to do instead of worry, such as an explanation regarding why thunder happens ( cold air  meeting  warm air)  so they could understand, they are likely to behave slightly different during the next storm. From there, one builds onto the explanation and gradually gives ideas of things to do during a storm so it is not seen as a horrible thing.  If I were to allow the child to continuously scream out of fear what is the child getting out of it? What are they learning from it?  Seemingly they just put themselves into more of a panic.    Did you ever read the book ‘Thunder Cakes’ which is a true story of a child’s fear of thunder?  If not, it may help some of you humans that wish to coddle and give the dog attention when they are acting fearful.  

When we ask a dog to sit and it does not sit what happens?  We wait.  We may ask the dog again to  sit , but the dog still does not sit, what do we do?  Some may lightly push on the rear quarters to show the dog what sit means, others may hold a reward over its head so that it has to sit. The dog sits, we reward with praise, sometimes petting, upbeat voices, or with treats.  The next time the dog comes to us and we ask for a sit, the dog sits. It has been taught to the dog that if I sit I get something.   

In a thunderstorm situation the dog comes to you shaking, whining, pawing at you, jumping in your lap, etc. Yes it may be frightened or anxious, but  could the dog also have learned that shaking, pawing, jumping in the lap, at this particular time (associated with a storm) gets it what it wants which is human attention and instant reward?

If  we reward a dog when it sits upon command, we have trained the dog a  'reaction to an action'  The dog sits, 'action', we reward 'reaction'

I think human feelings have to be put aside and the situation looked at logically.  I had a dog that barked with every storm, I talked to him softly the first few times because where I lived the storms seemed to always come in the middle of the night and for me sleep was first priority especially during a work week. I thought that by talking softly to him and  giving him a pet as he ran around the bed that he would calm down. But what happened was that his barking began to escalate and start a bit earlier the next time. The next time he was barking due to the rainfall because the rain in his mind  was now associated with the storm. The barking then became worse as he began barking with just the smell of rain in the air. The  smell of rain in the air was associated with rainfall and rainfall associated with the storm. It got to the point that even a threat of rain, or a few drops of rain, even though no storm was coming , elicited an action from the dog which in turn made him anxious, overheated, and barking continuously until everything was over.  

     Is that how you want your dog to live? Would it not be better to take some of that fear away by giving the dog something else to do to be talked to, praised , petted about?  Or does one feel it is okay to allow the dog to feel so out of control that even the smell of rain puts fear in them?   When should you stop a dog from being thunder fearful?  Perhaps after it has jumped out of the window because the fear was so bad they thought they could not get away from it? 

It’s ludicrous to think that with all our knowledge in general about how to help fearful dogs succeed so they no longer fear that person walking  down the street or that child riding their bike, or the loud thunderous noise of a motorcycle, but yet we expect they should not be helped through a storm fear why?    Why do we not want to bother to give them the tools to earn rewards for a better actions?  Why do we not train them what to do so they succeed in their actions/behaviors during a thunderstorm?

 I have to admit that due to my human emotions getting involved  during those first few thunderstorms when my dog was barking  that I soft talked him, and gave him a pet here when he came to the side of the bed. I actually allowed this fear to build up over time rather than nipping it in the bud as I should have. I was the one in charge of my home, yet I allowed his anxiousness to get so out of hand for him that within fifteen minutes of running on a hot summer day due to the smell of rain in the air, he got heat stroke and from being overheated  he had an intake of water so fast that it turned into gastric dilatation-Volvulus (AKA BLOAT) which is a killer.

I had allowed his actions first to the thunderstorm, then to the rain and finally to the smell of rain  get out of hand, and because of this his nearly died.  I should have taken the fear away from him from the onset instead of reacting to an action in which he got what he wanted from me.   

  Because storms and fireworks are so far and few between and there is nothing to duplicate the storm activity for training purposes  it took me nearly two  years to retrain him and give him the tools and commands he needed to be calmer during the next storm and every other storm after that.   

 If the dog is shaking and hiding and not a nuisance to the neighbors, and you are home all day with them,   then by all means, coddle until you heart desires, but once you see that dog’s reactions changing and it is  becoming fearful of the next little thing and the next little thing as my dog did you then have a long haul on your hands and possibly a dangerous situation. I was fortunate, I was home when my dog got overheated and started to bloat and I knew the signs. Had I not been home to rush my dog to the Vet he would have died a painful death within an hours time. 

I have to ask this because I am really trying to make sense of the human thought process, if you as a human were so frightened of something it made you shake uncontrollably, would you want to live like that forever and hope that someone would be around to stoke your head or hold you? What if you were alone in the home when this fear hit? How would you handle it?  

Or, would you want to seek out a professional to help so that you would not fear it anymore and have the tools to work through it?

Why then is it so wrong to want to help our dogs do the same? We all have fear of something whether it be a disease or a thunderstorm, the fears may always be there in the back of our minds, but to simply say  do nothing to help the mind is in my opinion very poor judgment and bad advice to put out there. 

In my opinion, the person in the above article seems to be saying that the reinforcement of an emotion is something that cannot happen and that simply is not true.

If you were frightened every night because your little brother hid under the bed and grabbed your leg as you were hopping under the covers in the dark, he is reinforcing that fear for you, so that soon there comes a time that in the back of your mind you will think someone is under the bed waiting. Fear can be reinforced and it can be turned  into a positive  or a negative depending on how you handle it. It is an emotion and the definition of emotion is:
A natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.

So what is your dog getting out of the relationship with you during a storm? 

I would hope that common sense if nothing else would steer you in a way to help your dog through the variety of tools and medications out there , rather than to let your dog's mind suffer with every boom of thunder.