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Why it is Impossible to Reinforce Your Dog’s Fear

Anxious Dogs

Why it is Impossible to Reinforce Your Dog’s Fear

The #1 talk I give to my clients is this: Stop correcting  your dog for growling, lunging, barking. You cannot punish what is not a voluntary behavior. Start giving him treats. Because you also cannot reward an involuntary behavior.
Don’t actually worry about changing what your dog DOES at all, but what your dog FEELS.

Let’s take a step back. The English language fails to distinguish between voluntary behaviors (sit, down, begging for food, walking well on leash etc.) and involuntary behaviors/reflexes (such as blinking, sneezing, vomiting, panting). All feelings are involuntary behaviors. Dogs cannot make themselves “feel” a certain way.

Try to make yourself feel surprised for a second – doesn’t work, does it. We need an external event or stimulus of some kind to produce this emotion.

Sneezing is an involuntary behavior. If someone promised you $500 if you sneezed right now, could you do it? No. If you were slapped each time you sneezed, would that make you never sneeze again? No. Rules of training as we know them change as soon as we are working with involuntary actions.

When your dog gets scared by a trigger, and reacts with growling, barking and such, he is simply exhibiting the emotion he is feeling. This is not a voluntary behavior that can be manipulated by rewards or punishments.
We cannot decrease his emotion by using punishment, just like we cannot increase it by using rewards. But we can reprogram his brain to link a new emotion to the trigger.
This new emotion should be calm. Positive. Relaxed. Happy. Content. SAFE.

So this is the setting we need to produce: Calm. Positive. No corrections, no reprimands, no leash pops, no time-outs (this actually increases your dog’s state of anxiety – linking corrections to the trigger will not make the trigger, and you, seem more appealing).
Instead, high-value treats, high-value toys, touch (if your dog responds to that), safety. If your dogs feels safe instead of threatened, he will not react anxious and unpredictable.

If you change his emotional state, you don’t need to worry about his actions. Any actions he will carry out in a calm, content mindset will be appropriate: sniffing, wandering about, lying down. A content dog won’t growl and lunge.
Try to change involuntary actions and you will lose (just like you lost the $500 because you couldn’t sneeze on the spot). Instead, alter emotions and watch your dog’s actions also fall into place.

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