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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Reinforcing Fear?

This is an article I started writing awhile ago, but just got around to finishing ...

Reinforcing Fear?

There’s an ongoing debate as to whether it’s possible to reinforce your dog’s fear or not. It has long been suggested that people don’t coddle and make a fuss over a dog that is afraid of something or someone. The thought behind that is the dog will enjoy the attention and will think that we want it to be afraid. That the attention we are paying to the dog may be interpreted as praise or reinforcement.

Fear is an emotion, not a behavior. Your dog can choose to perform certain behaviors. She cannot consciously choose to be afraid or not afraid of something. I have a very fearful dog I am fostering right now. She is very afraid of me. I can feed her the best treats in the world, but it does not erase her fear of me. In fact, she is often very conflicted when trying to overcome her fear to come take the food from somewhere near me. Over time, her fear is lessening. If the food was reinforcing her fear, I should be seeing her fear of me increase, not decrease.

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