There’s no question that people love their pets, however, there is a major issue in when some owners show their dog affection. What many people do not realize is that when you touch a dog who is fearful, anxious, possessive, dominant, hyper, begging, barking, shaking, or whining, you are actually rewarding an unwanted state of mind or behaviour. Touch to humans is comforting, whereas touch to dogs is a reward. Typically, if we see a dog who is behaving in a way that pulls on our emotional heartstrings, then we are inclined to hug and kiss them to make them feel better as we would a human. However this does not work with animals. Instead you are communicating to the dog that this is how they should be acting. What you are saying is, “I like what you are doing. Keep it up.” At the same time, owners also throw in the verbal “it’s OK” in a high pitched voice while petting their fragile dog in an unstable state, which further indicates that the dog is in fact doing the right behaviour. Unfortunately for owners, as much as we would like it to be the case, you can not hug, kiss, and love the fear, anxiety, aggression or bad behaviour out of a dog.
When you give affection to a dog you reinforce the behaviour that came before it.
So when is the right time to show affection? Affection should only be shared when a dog is in a calm submissive state. A great time for this is after you and your dog have gone on a long walk, so he is already tired and in the right state of mind. This also follows the rule that affection comes after exercise and discipline. You can also use affection to reinforce positive behaviours as a training method. If you ask your dog to sit before putting on the leash and they wait calmly and quietly, giving them a pet on the head says “good job.” Again using touch as a reward is a fantastic way to let a dog know when they are doing what is expected of them.
Sharing affection with your dog at the right or wrong time can have a huge affect in how they behave throughout their life. It’s important to always be mindful that when you give affection to a dog you reinforce the behaviour that came before it.