Treats can reassure your scared dog
July 26, 2013:
Treats can be a useful tool for dog owners.
Giving Rover a well-timed treat may help him overcome his fears.
Q: Our dog is afraid of the vacuum. He will run and hide when we bring it out. Someone suggested that we give him treats, but we don’t want to reward his fear by giving him food when he acts scared. How do we get him to stop being afraid?
A: Food treats do not reward fear. This is a myth. Owners can reward things like sit and down. Dogs don’t act scared, they feel scared. Just like people are scared of flying.
Think how it would feel to be on a plane, afraid. Sitting next to you is someone who smiles, offering reassurance and gum. These things are calming.
Giving treats and reassurance to a dog does not reward fear either.
While we cannot talk our dog through frightening situations, dogs are extremely good at reading human facial expressions. A calm attitude and smile can convey that all is well. Avoid tense, nervous body language. This includes fussing and coddling.
Going back to the flying example, realize that having someone grabbing, hugging and muttering, “It’s okay, it’s okay,” would not be very reassuring at all. Seeing fear in the eyes of others can make you more afraid.
When fear is intense, divide the task into manageable steps. Teach the dog that an unplugged vacuum is safe. Scatter treats on the floor around the machine. Smile, and let the dog proceed at its own pace.
You will probably see the dog darting to grab a treat, then running off. This is the dog pacing itself. As its confidence grows, it will stop running away. When this happens, you can put the treats on the vacuum, thereby encouraging the animal face more of its fear.
With a little practice, you can try running the machine in another room, with the door closed. While the vacuum is running, give the dog some special treats. Have some fun and try incorporating play as well. Gradually bring the vacuum closer. Take your cues from the dog. You want them facing their fear without feeling overwhelmed.
Q: We taught our dog to sit and stay before going outside. However, when we release her, she charges out of the sit and flies through to the other side of the door. How do I get her to slow down and wait for me on the other side?
A: There is an effective, albeit unusual, technique for this problem. If you reward a dog consistently in the same location, they will start to freeze and stop in that spot. This works even if the dog is initially rushing ahead.
Dogs first need to learn that a certain word or sound means they have earned a treat. Some people use the word “yes.” By repeatedly pairing the word with treats, it comes to mean, “you have earned a reward.” Others use a clicker — a tool that makes a sharp clicking sound. Similar to the word yes, click means that the dog has earned a reward.
Set up practice drills where you work on walking through the door. Click when the dog steps on the threshold. Then give the dog a treat. Place the treat on the ground, right by the door.
With repetition, the dog’s behaviour will change. Anticipating the click, the dog will freeze and wait. Owners should reward this until a habit forms. Owners can similarly reward the dog as it steps to the other side of the doorway. This way the dog learns to slow down while walking through a door. It also learns to stop and wait on the other side while owners lock up.
Content Source: Yvette Van Veen Pets Reporter