Today’s dog trainers are taking different approaches to rehabilitating fearful dogs. How to deal with fear is a debatable issue in the dog world, with most of the argument going between what to do when a dog is scared of something. Thunderstorms are probably the most common scenario in which dogs get scared. How should the dog’s guardian react? Human instinct might be to huge and pet the dog to provide comfort; however, some trainers advocate that this reinforces negative behavior in a dog. On the other hand, some trainers feel that cuddling and providing comfort is a positive message, as it tells the dog that they are safe.
One downside to cuddling a dog when it is scared is that the dog may learn to always fear what it is scared of, instead of being desensitized to it. Giving a dog something distracting while they are scared, like a meaty bone or treat, is one way to take the attention away from the fear (this of course depends on the fearful situation). Sometimes a treat and just sitting by the dog will help the fear subside. This is one way to provide comfort without coddling.
Another option is to help the dog face their fears. If a dog is adopted from an animal shelter and is terrified of car rides, taking the dog on multiple car trips will help him get used to the idea, and the fear may go away completely, lessen, or at least diminish slightly. The more the dog is exposed to the situation they are afraid of, the better, at least in some instances. The same can be applied for new experiences like swimming, trips to the veterinarian’s office, or walking in the neighborhood.
At the same time, some dogs will never get over being afraid of fireworks, thunderstorms, or other loud noises, and providing comfort in this situation may let the dog know that they are safe. Dogs can hear much better than humans can, so those big booms are a lot bigger in their ears. They will also not be in a situation to “face their fears”, as thunderstorms and fireworks aren’t things that can be confronted head-on.
Ultimately, this dilemma may boil down to what the situation is and whether or not it will impact the dog’s social behavior. Coddling a dog that is afraid of leaves blowing outside might be detrimental, but for loud noises, like thunderstorms and fireworks, comfort isn’t always bad, nor will it encourage more fearful behaviors.