Jimmy jumps out of bed in the middle of the night, runs down the hallway and rushes into his parents arms. His heart is racing and he can barely catch his breath to speak. In an attempt to provide comfort his parents embrace him and rub his back in a smoothing manner as they softly explain, “It’s ok. It was just a dream…Monsters are not real.” They guide him back to his room and show him the foolishness of his fear and he falls asleep feeling safe and secure.
Jimmy is a child. All too often we treat our dogs as children, so lets take a look at how this plays out when we attempt to comfort a dog in the same way. Fido cowers at the foot of the bed after hearing the loud BOOM! of the fireworks on the Fourth of July. His owner begins to pet him and shower him with affection while speaking in a soft voice. She says, “It’s ok Fido. It’s ok baby. You’re fine…it’s just fireworks.” Although she’s attempting to comfort him, she’s just reinforcing his fearful mindset. Basically what she is communicating to Fido (without knowing) is “Yes. Good. This is what I want.”
Even though we may have the best of intentions, remember that we are communicating with another species. So when we try to communicate with dogs as if they are human our message gets twisted and the one that is delivered is extremely different than the one that was sent. It’s like playing a game of telephone. By the time the message gets to the last person it doesn’t even resemble the original. So the best way to communicate with your dog is to deliver a clear message that they can understand but the only way to do that is to treat them like a dog. 🙂