This past Halloween and holiday season I’ve seen a rash of social media posts, usually videos, of clearly scared dogs and people laughing at them. Dogs startling at lawn inflatables. Dogs backing away from people in costumes. Dogs barking at toys or decorations that move or make sounds. Dogs barking at or giving Santa the side eye. And people laughing at them or worse, pulling on the leash to force the dog to have an interaction with the scary thing. People trying to get the dog to sit next to the scary thing and then getting frustrated when the dog won’t sit. All I can think (and hope) is that these people must not have a clear understanding of dog body language and are not recognizing that their dog is afraid, because why would they be laughing if they did? (Download my free Dog Communication handout here.) Fear is not disobedience. Fearful dogs don’t need corrections – they need help feeling safe. Dogs don’t understand intent. You trying to “show” the dog that the scary inflatable isn’t scary by marching them up to it, isn’t going to help your dog be less afraid.
Let’s reduce dog bites this holiday season by being thoughtful and understanding of our dog’s fears and what they’re communicating.
Dogs understand safe and unsafe, and they get to decide which is which. You may not think holiday decorations that weren’t there last week are not scary, but many dogs do. Some dogs are particularly fearful of novelty so any change to their environment, inside or walking route, may make them afraid. The dog’s learning history, socialization and experiences will all contribute to their response but it is your job as their guardian to help them feel safe, not laugh at them. My post Dogs don’t bite unprovoked has a list of many scenarios dogs might find scary that we don’t think are scary.
Also important to remember, No, Is Not A Behavior. Trying to scold or stop your dog from communicating can cause more damage in the long run. If your dog is showing signs of fear, help them, don’t punish them by scolding or “correcting” them. There is a big difference between Behavior Suppression Versus Behavior Modification.
Need ideas for helping your dog be safe during holiday gatherings? Read my post here.
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