Sometimes when working with our dogs I think we should just go with our gut. Forget what you’re “supposed” to do and do what feels right. There have been numerous studies, books and articles written in the past few years on dog’s emotions. As a “science-based” trainer I try not to anthropomorphize my dog however I don’t know how anyone can live with a dog for any period of time and believe that they do not have emotions.
Over 17 years ago when I brought my first dog to an obedience class I was taught to do a standard leash “correction.” You know, the old snap of the leash to get her to comply. She was a sweet, sensitive Shepherd mix and I just could NOT bring myself to do it. I had never trained another dog but this just didn’t feel right. I went with my gut on that and now many years later we (well, some of us) have wised up on our training techniques and, I believe, have much richer and stronger relationships with our dogs because of it.
When my son was an infant I was told that I needed to “sleep train” him and let him “cry it out.” Well, I couldn’t bring myself to do that either. Call me weak, but it just didn’t feel right to me. I had to go with my gut here as well. I carried my baby in a pouch attached to my body not because I was committed to “attachment parenting” but because frankly, it was easier to walk my two dogs with him attached to me and because it just felt right.
Not that long ago I, and other trainers like me, told our clients not to pet, touch, or talk soothingly to a dog who was showing signs of fear because we would be reinforcing their fear. And even though I suggested (and did) it, never felt right to me. Pia Silvani wrote an article in the ADPT Chronicle in the May/June 2009 issue that “allowed” me change my ways and gave me validation for going with my gut. She suggested we use classical counterconditioning (food, play, attention) to help fearful dogs. Studies have now been done that prove that you cannot “reinforce fear” because we cannot reinforce involuntary responses – emotions. If letting your dog on your bed for a cuddle and a scratch behind the ears when the fireworks scare him makes him feel just a tiny bit better, go with your gut. I bet you will feel better too.