So, in many dog behavior trainer courses you may come across a similar test question to this:
Question: 3. A friend of yours has a nervous dog. Your friend tries to reassure her dog whenever it demonstrates fearful behaviour by giving the dog affection and attention. Why might this be a bad idea and what terms within operant and classical conditioning might help explain your answer?
And there you have what can only be described as one of the many seriously divisive questions in dog training.
So, thought about this for a while over the past few days and I think (please remember I do not know everything, I learn more every day, and trends and methodologies in dog training advance and change daily) I finally have a better explanation of where the thought process behind this training maybe came from:
I remember that “don’t comfort the dog!” was one of the first things I was actively taught about dog behavior in the 90s and I remember being completely flummoxed by the theory then, but I think I (kinda sorta) understand the kinds of situations from which this training theory arose.
So, you may not know this, but Dr. Ian Dunbar in the ’80s was considered extremely radical with his (forgive the exteme oversimplification), “maybe we don’t need to literally choke and beat our dogs to train them, let’s try not doing that, shall we [with a solidly implied, “ya idiots?!” at the end there]”. Okay, so like all great ideas, the world of dog training began (for the most part) following that solid and sound teaching advice. Unfortunately, it rather stopped following and sort of caught up with and then ran right over Dr. Dunbar’s methodology and now some trainings have gone so far down the path of poor communication and too much food that it is now rather unrecognizable from good training.
So, here’s my mental example of where the original “don’t comfort the dog” mentality may have come from:
Picture an over-reactive human handler, completely freaking out that their dog is freaking out – to the point that they are on the floor with the dog, smelling of fear and stress and a little panic, because Mr. Fliffernoodle growled or barked at them while they were shaking out a new trash bag and now the undereducated-in-canine-behavior human is *sure* Mr. Fliffernoodle is becoming aggressive.
And Mr. Fliffernoodle is like, “holy crap, look at how upset human is because of that trash bag! That *IS* the scariest worstest most deadliestest thing in our house and we will defend against it TOGETHER! “Fluffinators!, mount up!”
Or something like that (forgive me, I live a rich internal life 🤓).
So, I don’t think the original intent of “don’t comfort the dog” was meant to encourage dogs to be freaked out and force them to deal with what scared them while the human just ignores the dog (at least I freaking hope not!), but it probably should have been phrased more towards encouraging the human in the equation to keep it together and provide a calming and comforting presence for anything that requires a calm and comforting presence.
That way, you save the mounting up of said Fluffinators for appropriate things, such as axe murderers breaking in.
So, what do you do if Mr. Fliffernoodle is reacting in fear and horror to something like a garbage bag?
- Finish putting the bag in the bin while talking happily to the dog.
- Take out a new bag, all the while talking happily to Mr. Fliffernoodle, do not shake it open but grab yourself some treats. Sit on the floor and feed teeny tiny pieces of treats whenever the dog shows interest in the bag. Keep with the happy verbal encouragement and keep going until you determine the dog is either relaxed around the non moving bag or that he has been pushed as far as he can go for that session. Then you get to do it again a few hours later, and at least daily over the next few days and weeks, slowly taking them to the edge of their comfort zone and eventually getting them all the way to being completely confident and comfy while you shake out those garbage bags.
Um, but wait, FoodLady?! you *just* said too much food is bad, right? These days dog treats *are* being overused during normal activities and fun dog training. But in this case you are using classical conditioning to reduce an emotional (fear) reaction, and when doing that with a dog you will *always* use extra value rewards.
I sincerely hope that was was in my head managed to translate into words that other people can understand. ☺
If not, message me. ❤❤❤