Howdy friends! It’s Al the Dog Trainer, welcome to Al’s Dog Training Tips. The topic today is, “did you make it too safe?”
I got the opportunity to meet with a dog by the name of Rory, a one and a half-year-old lab mix. This particular dog is pretty nervous, very timid, and obviously needs to build some confidence. The backstory is that he was roaming with another dog, and unfortunately, the other dog was shot and didn’t survive, sending Rory into a downward spiral.
Luckily, some great people got involved and Rory was able to be rescued. He is now living in a home with a wonderful, caring family who is really trying to do the best for him. Since he is so timid, the family wants to be very gentle with him and they really just want him to be a normal dog. One of the problems they have created is that every time the dog gets a little afraid, they allow it to run away into a dark room where there’s a bunch of soft pillows. They then follow him and reassure Rory that everything is safe.
When folks unwittingly do this, especially with fearful dogs, you end up building a reinforcement mechanism for the fear. Let me explain something, if you become afraid, then you run away, and the thing you’re afraid of doesn’t get you, that is a form of reinforcement. So, if you’re able to run away, you become safe, then the people you care about come surround and make you feel good about yourself, which can actually build even more weaknesses. That just reaffirms that you’re running away and not dealing with the problem is a good thing.
Sometimes it can be useful to run away because there are things that can be dangerous for dogs and for us. But, in this particular case, the thing the dog is running away from are his humans who have his best interest at heart. So how do you actually prevent this? The answer is fairly simple, you have a leash on the dog (one that won’t slip off over top of the dogs head if they try to run), and then begin to invite the dog into normal human circumstances or social situations such as sitting in the living room watching TV, or cooking breakfast, maybe just sitting and having a cup of coffee. Every time the dog tries to run away, you prevent it using the leash, then you get the dog to become comfortable again in your presence and allow them to go through that.
So, you can make it too safe for the dog, especially dogs like Rory who are very soft and afraid, and you can begin to reinforce their weakness instead of challenging them to become the better version of themselves, the version that can actually enjoy being around humans and other dogs or hearing loud noises without being afraid.
I hope this was useful for you. If you ever need any help, don’t hesitate to reach out to me on my tip line, Text (832)734-5189