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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 9:48 pm | Fair 50º


Inquisitive Canine: Can Affection Confuse Family Pet?

Hugs and kisses aside, just be sure to reward the good behavior — not all the behavior

Dear Inquisitive Canine:

My husband and I smother our dog with affection on a daily basis. How can we tell when or if too much affection confuses her about her position in the pack?

–– Sophie’s Mom

Dear Sophie’s Mom:

Hmm. When she throws you out of your house, changes the locks and asks her boyfriend to move in? Sorry ... I couldn’t resist.

Joan Mayer and her sidekick, Poncho
Joan Mayer and her sidekick, Poncho

Let’s talk about you and your husband’s behavior first: You “smother” Sophie with affection on a daily basis. Does she ask for this? Is it about providing what she wants? Or is it more about satisfying your own human needs? After a long day at work, it is being away from her all day, dealing with the human race and any other stressors that may cause you to behave in this manner? It’s a lovely way to de-stress. They don’t call it “pet therapy” for nothin’!

If Sophie’s actions are causing you to believe she is “confused,” then I’d suggest you look at which behaviors you and your hubby are rewarding — keep in mind, attention is a “reward.” If Sophie is behaving in a certain way, then that behavior is being reinforced somewhere — by something or someone. For example, if you come home, she jumps up to greet you because that’s how dogs say “hello,’’ and you “smother” her, you’ve just rewarded jumping. Guess what? She’s going to start jumping up more often.

As a dog trainer, I explain to my clients that dogs, like all animals (including us humans) do “what works.” They do all they can to get more of what they want and avoid anything unpleasant. If you and your hubby smother Sophie, and she enjoys it, then she’s going to do whatever she can to get more of it. This includes behaving in such ways that may lead you to believe she wants to “change her position in the pack.” Allow me to remind you, she’s just doing what she can to fulfill biological needs and urges, including love, attention and feeling safe.

If you’re consistent with what you’re rewarding her for, and when you’re rewarding it, then there shouldn’t be any confusion. Keep in mind that rewarding behaviors on an inconsistent basis can make the behavior even stronger (think “Vegas” and gambling).

As for “too much affection”? Well, let me ask you this: if your hubby shows you too much affection (because he loves you, not because he wants something or has done something you don’t approve of), does this cause you to be confused about your position in your family? Or does it just make you love him more?

— Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. Joan is a certified pet dog trainer and dog behavior counselor. Her column is known for its simple common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog. Joan is also the founder of The Inquisitive Canine, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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