Some dog owners love to pick up their dogs or pet their dogs when their dog barks or acts fearful.
Trust me, if your dog is acting aggressive, fearful, or actually any behaviour that you don’t want, then remember that when they act that way, it is not the time to pet or touch your dog.
Here’s what I’ve told some clients that may help shed some light. Petting or touching your dog is praise. So, what message are you sending your dog when you pet and touch them when they are barking and you want them to stop?
I see it happen all the time:
Dog: “BARK! BARK!”
Owner picks up their dog and says: “Oh, Fido. It’s okay, it’s okay. Shhh, shhh, it’s okay” … while petting it.
Goodness! Don’t do that! Why not? Because if your dog barks and you pet / touch them, you are encouraging them to do it more because petting or touching your dog means praise to them.
If they are in a moment of fear, you are not comforting them by touching them. In fact, you are actually making it worse since petting them only heightens the feeling that they aren’t going to be “okay”. You are praising them to be fearful and anxious.
So, what do I do, Lilli? What can I do to make Fido not be fearful in those situations?
Okay, try this:
Dog: “BARK! BARK!”
In a firm voice, say: “Hey! Cut it out. It’s nothing, let’s go!” Don’t touch or pet your dog. If your dog is on a leash, walk him or her away from the situation and praise him with your words (“good boy/girl/dog”) when they are calm and not acting scared anymore.
Oh, but Lilli, dogs are dogs and they are meant to bark at stuff. Hrmmm…okay, if this is your thought, I have to say, yes, dogs are dogs and they are meant to bark at stuff, but there’s a time, place and a limit to barking, isn’t there?
Ask yourself why your dog is barking. If it is an alert bark, sure, thank him for barking. But there’s no need for a long drawn out barking session and if you pet or touch him while he’s at it, he will learn to keep doing it because that’s how he gets praise from you.
If your dog is scared and barks non-stop, let’s say at a person or another dog, this is definitely a training opportunity to tell him to cut it out. It’s not necessary to bark and it’s not polite.
If you were to pick him up to remove him from the situation or start petting him, saying, “It’s okay, Fido. This man / woman / child / dog is not going to harm you. It’s okay, calm down”, you are only encouraging his state of fearfulness to increase.
And just think about that for a second. You obviously don’t want your dog to be scared. That’s why you picked him up — but to … what? Comfort him, right? But it’s actually not comforting in dog language. So, please stop it. 😛
When can you “comfort him” with petting? You can’t. Touch means praise and “good boy”. If he’s scared, why would you praise him for being scared? Cesar Millan would say that you are putting your dog’s mental state in a worse state and the dog will need rehab one day.
Be his pack leader, be confident about situations, brush off scary encounters to show your dog that you are in control and he has nothing to fear. Pet and touch your dog when he’s done something to earn it — you know, when he’s been good, as in calm and quiet.
I’ve met people who are first-time dog owners and they tell me that their dog doesn’t listen to them and they don’t know why. One question I ask is, “How often and for how long do you pet your dog?”
If it’s a puppy, oh, it’s a tough one. Everyone loves to cuddle and pet their puppy for hours. I give them my opinion, that endless petting without the dog earning it as a reward is super harmful for the relationship.
Check out my post on Cesar Millan in a nutshell to see why petting without earning it is incredibly counter productive. Remember: exercise, discipline, then affection. It’s Cesar’s way and it’s my way. It’s also dog language that you should use to communicate with your dog if you want him / her to make sense of this world.