Why you should never pick up a frightened dog | TeamDogs

Why you should never pick up a frightened dog

Ellen Manning speaks to the experts

Ella Walker

Posted 27d ago

As a dog owner, your number one priority is protecting your pet. The last thing you want is to put them in danger, or to see them at risk.


It’s a natural human reaction to want to protect the people - and animals - that we love, so it’s no surprise that if we see a threat to our dogs, we try to protect them too.


That’s why, when you’re met with an aggressive dog, or some other kind of risk, it’s natural to want to pick them up, especially if the threat is bigger and you know your dog’s frightened. But here’s why that’s exactly what you shouldn’t do.

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“Picking up a dog who is showing fear will reinforce the fear,” says Julie Aspinall, associate member of the British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers. “They may assume there is actually something to be scared of.”


Julie, who holds several diplomas in dog behaviour and training as well as running a dog security business, says there are other ways to deal with situations when your dog’s frightened.

(Image Getty)


First, it’s best to retreat to a distance where your dog feels comfortable - whilst letting it keep all four paws on the floor. Or alternatively, positively encourage it to move forward, being careful not to worsen its fear by forcing it into a situation where it’s frightened.


However, the long-term solution might require a bit more work, she adds. “For long term solutions the fear has to be addressed and you need to understand the signs of anxiety and fear in dogs and start small and gradually build up the confidence.”

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She isn’t the only one who advises not to reward your dog when they’re afraid, in case you run the risk of encouraging their behaviour.


Writing in Psychology Today, Stanley Coren, author of books including: ‘Born to Bark’ and ‘How to Speak Dog’, says: “The most natural response of most dog owners is to treat dogs much the way we would treat young children who were acting fearful— namely, to comfort them.


“With dogs, however, this is exactly the wrong thing to do. Petting a dog when he's acting in a fearful manner actually serves as a reward for the behavior; it's almost as if we're telling the dog that being afraid in this situation is the right thing to do.


“Such treatment actually makes the dog more likely to be afraid the next time.”

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