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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Please explain. I read/hear this as advice but don't get it.
I had a dog that was terrified of thunderstorms, saying there there or petting didn't cut it. We took her on canoe trips, and she would spend the duration of the storm (all night) straddling my husband, standing, sitting, lying on his chest. Would not have a clue what comfort we had to offer in the scant shelter of a tent.
Sonic had to endure scary bunches of coyotes howling nearby (& wow, they did sound numerous & close) but I couldn't give him what he most wanted (which I'm sure was freedom to run home very fast down a narrow street with traffic & blind spots).
Mostly, I think, dogs just want space when scared, which sometimes I can offer and sometimes not. So I still "ignore" the behaviour because I feel doing more may be crowding, confining, or overbearing. Petting doesn't seem very comforting, so what exactly is meant when the advice is "comfort" the dog.
When I say "ignore" I mean carry on, be cheerful and calm and available--if said dog wants a cuddle, then sure, but if they want to run like stink home, erm, then what?
Just curious about the term, because what I think of is people getting all over their scared dogs and the dogs wishing they were elsewhere--it can't possibly mean that, right?
 

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If my dog becomes scared or nervous of something (Levi still has his moments of those terrifying sewer grates/manhole covers), I give him a nice "It's okay, it's fine, I gotcha" and a little pat. Heidi is less affectionate, so for loud noises, I give her a cheerful "Heidi-roo that was looooud". For my dogs, me addressing that I heard it is usually enough for them to recognize everything is alright.
For some dogs, it might be a serious cuddle, for some (like mine) it might just be a friendly voice, and for others, they just like to be left alone. I also use distraction, nose touches are my favourite because it is an easy behavior my guys like.
 

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Guess it varies from dog to dog. Samantha, if there is a loud thunderclap, or an earthquake, will look at either my wife or me. If we say its ok, she will just roll over and go back to sleep. I think dogs are very good at reading our emotions at any given moment.
 

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I had a dog that was bomb-proof, aside from thunder/gunshots. She also wanted her space during those times; usually just me being there and acting like nothing was wrong was enough to chill her out.

I now have a dog that is super-fearful. He takes a great deal of comfort in my presence. When he's scared he hides behind me. Often I will have him sit and gently massage his chest as that seems to calm him down quite a bit, depending on the situation.

I had a woman tell me that I was "rewarding" his fear by doing this. BS. As someone who suffers from anxiety myself, it's not that simple. Once you get to that point of panic, you're not really paying a whole lot of attention to what is reinforcing, therefore you just can't reinforce it. On top of which, you can try to change the way a dog feels about something but you can only really reinforce behavior, not mental state.

So if my dog needs to have his chest scratched to calm him down, more power to him. I'm happy to oblige.

However, I do agree that it totally depends upon the dog.
 

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I really think it depends on the dog. Trucker needs comfort, I have been told not to do it and I will always take this "advice" with a grain of salt. When he sees something scary he hides behind me and places his head under my hand, if that is not "asking" for comfort I am not sure what is. I do maintain the same tone of voice no matter what the situation is.

I don't think I really "ignore" when he needs to hides, I talk to him as I walk past but I don't make special trips to go comfort him unless he seeks the comfort out.

When Trucker feels like he needs to run home I let us go home (at our regular pace) if it is on a walk or go inside if we are in the backyard (but I take my time letting him back in). I resit giving in to his frantic nature when he is scared. The only time I don't "give in" is when we are at the park and that is because as so as we are 2 foot from the car he gets over it.
 
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I've had two dogs that were fearful of thunderstorms and fireworks.

The first was Jersey, she became velcro dog during storms and would stay glued to my side wanting to be as close to me as possible. During storms I'd pet her, talk softly to her, then stop and play with my other dog before repeating the process. Slowly her fear of storms lessened and she got to where she could lay away from me if the thunder was off in the distance.

Zody, the dog I have now, is also fearful of thunderstorms and fireworks, but, unlike Jersey, he wants to hide during storms. Trying to hold and comfort him just causes him to feel trapped. I tried talking to him and saying things like "What'd ya hear?" but then I noticed that he was taking it as a cue to really worry and go hide. He does seem to take comfort being near me and I've noticed that he'll hide in whatever room I am in so I've made his choosen hiding places as comfortable as possible and just leave him be.

What I've learned is that each dog is unique in what may work to lessen fear and it's up to us humans to figure out what works for our dog.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I don't dissagree with any of the above. But it does make me think that telling people that "not comforting a fearful dog is cruel" could guilt people into getting all grabby or putting on that OMG You poor baby" face and making things worse.
Your answers are sound common sense, and if that is "comforting the dog" then, yep, I do that to.
Little annecdote. When my mom-in-law was in ICU on a respirator, the nurse who made us feel most at ease was the guy who walked in with a cheerful ordinary day smile. He was pleasant, chatty, calm, sometimes funny and when he was in the room I could feel myself calm down and for a moment feel like everything's going to be all right.
I would like to be like that for my dog when things get scary.
 
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Just to add-sometimes 'comforting' your dog is about just ignoring them and being around. Koda is also not great with the worse thunderstorms or fireworks, and she'll hide under the desk, ignore treats and not want me to touch her or anything until its over and she starts feeling better. It REALLY depends on your dog and what they find rewarding and calm in the presence of a trigger.
 

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I think it depends on the nature of the comforting as well. Shrieking "it's okay" and acting frantic yourself probably won't do any good for really any dog. A calm attitude, voice, and reassuring touch is better - or ignoring and acting like everything is fine. Whatever works best for your dog.
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If your dogs seeks your comfort, offer it. If your dog seeks a safe place, let it go there. You can not reinforce fear by comforting a dog. That is what old timers used to believe. I know because I'm an old timer and used to believe it too. We used to believe if we comforted a frightened dog we'd be reinforcing the fear. It's not possible to reinforce fear by offering comfort.

Disclaimer because someone will chime in and say, you can make a fearful dog more fearful if you offer over the top, inappropriate type comfort. That's not comfort that's unbalanced behavior on the part of the human. Remain calm, speak quietly, stroke gently. That's comfort.

Fear is an emotion. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away. Comforting may help the dog get through the fearful experience. If you were frightened and wanted the physical closeness and security of someone you trusted, would you want to be ignored when you sought them out? If you wanted to hide in a closet would you want to be dragged out and forced to endure comforting you did not seek out?

If you want help with your fearful dog to help her overcome her fears (yes, it's very doable) go to fearfuldogs.com You're welcome. :)
 

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You wouldn't ignore a fearful child in a scary situation so why would anyone do it to a dog? I think Grabby made a great point, it's about following your dogs lead, they'll let you know what they need from you and in my opinion it's up to us, as responsible owners, to listen and react accordingly. X
 

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Please explain. I read/hear this as advice but don't get it.
I had a dog that was terrified of thunderstorms, saying there there or petting didn't cut it. We took her on canoe trips, and she would spend the duration of the storm (all night) straddling my husband, standing, sitting, lying on his chest. Would not have a clue what comfort we had to offer in the scant shelter of a tent.
Sonic had to endure scary bunches of coyotes howling nearby (& wow, they did sound numerous & close) but I couldn't give him what he most wanted (which I'm sure was freedom to run home very fast down a narrow street with traffic & blind spots).
Mostly, I think, dogs just want space when scared, which sometimes I can offer and sometimes not. So I still "ignore" the behaviour because I feel doing more may be crowding, confining, or overbearing. Petting doesn't seem very comforting, so what exactly is meant when the advice is "comfort" the dog.
When I say "ignore" I mean carry on, be cheerful and calm and available--if said dog wants a cuddle, then sure, but if they want to run like stink home, erm, then what?
Just curious about the term, because what I think of is people getting all over their scared dogs and the dogs wishing they were elsewhere--it can't possibly mean that, right?
I try not to make a big deal about it, it seems to work with my pup but my other two dogs were inconsolable when they got older for thunder or firecrackers. Nothing helped them, so we just had to ride it out. Very stressful when you can't get them to understand that it's ok.
 
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