Why Coddling Your Dog is Stressing Him Out
My dogs are spoiled!
I will admit it and I am not ashamed of it.
My dogs have dozens upon dozens of toys in their toy box.
I have numerous crates throughout my house because they like sleeping in crates.
I have more leashes than you can shake a stick at (I admit to a tiny addiction here).
And the training toys my dogs enjoy overflow containers in my house and in my van.
As a matter of fact, my friends LOVE when I come for training because they know I have just about anything they or their dogs could need!
My dogs also have memory foam dog beds.
And, my dog “Fury” is allowed to sleep on my bed. When my family watches her, she is allowed in their bed, even though they don’t allow their own dogs upstairs.
I reward good behavior ALL THE TIME! I use dog biscuits, cheese, elk antlers, pigs ears, rawhides and other yummy treats.
But, I Don’t Coddle Them!
What is the difference?
I mean, some reading the above description would assume that I coddle my dogs.
Heck, I even call them my kids or my “furry” kids (which I know drives some dog trainers crazy ha ha ha).
Spoiling and Coddling are NOT Synonymous
You see, in my opinion spoiling and coddling are not synonymous.
Spoil means to treat with excessive kindness, consideration or generosity.
Coddle means to treat in an indulgent or overprotective way.
Okay, okay…I will acquiesce that some of you think they are synonymous, or the same.
But, to me, the difference is that I have expectations of my dogs.
My dogs have to meet a certain level of puppy obedience training in order to have access to the things that I mentioned above.
And, I expect my dogs to be confident and deal with the things they don’t like in their environment.
In essence, I am a parental figure with strict rules and regulations, and if you adhere to my rules and regulations, you have access to all that is mine and all that you deserve.
If, however, you do not adhere to my rules and regulations, you don’t have access to those things that you want.
This is very much like a regular child/parent relationship.
You may give your kids a lot of “things” like phones, or an X-Box, but when they make mistakes, a good parent takes those things away.
What Does It Mean To Coddle Your Dog?
Coddling, in my opinion, means that you are more permissive.
Permissive means to allow excessive freedom of behavior. To be indulgent and lax.
I find that people who coddle either their dogs or their children have very few rules. And, even when rules are broken, there is no punishment or follow through for said broken rules.
The dog or child gets everything for nothing.
It is bad enough to treat your child this way!
And, I believe this kind of treatment is why we live in a world where children expect the world to be given to them with no work or effort.
This is also why so many children are so poorly behaved in public.
They are used to throwing a fit and getting their way.
Why Does This Create Stress for Your Dog?
I mean, I like someone else to cook for me and do my laundry on occasion, but I don’t want to not be allowed to take care of myself!
Imagine if you weren’t allowed to drive your car anymore because I offered to take you wherever you want to go. Not fun, right?
As trite as it sounds, dogs want an authority figure.
No, dogs actually NEED a good parent or authority figure.
Your 5 year old may not decide to take your car keys and go for a joy ride, or to hit a salesman in the back of the head with a wrench because he might be a threat.
But, your dog will begin to assume the parental, or dominant, role if you aren’t “man enough” to do it yourself.
This is why “alpha theory” has been so blown out of proportion.
No, your dog doesn’t need an “alpha”; he is not planning to take over the world if you feed him first or if he scoots out the door before you.
But, dogs like and need structure.
And, if you don’t provide it, they will reluctantly take the role.
Yes, I am sure some of them want a shot at the top rule-maker.
But, most dogs don’t want the stress.
Being an Adult
Being an adult is stressful.
You have bills, jobs, family, and life just gets overwhelming.
I remember being a kid and being so excited about having the opportunity to be an adult and not have to listen to anyone.
Now that I am an adult, I would give anything to go back.
Being an adult and having all these responsibilities is stressful, at best.
I Think Dogs Feel the Same
They may feel like they want to be in charge of who comes in the house and what people can or can’t do in the home.
Your dog doesn’t want to be an adult!
But, the truth is that these responsibilities are stressful.
Dogs with no rules, dog obedience, or regulations often feel as if they have to resort to aggression.
And, for the most part and for the large percentage of dogs, being pushed to aggression creates some panic.
Have You Ever Had a Panic Attack?
I have, unfortunately.
You literally feel like your heart will beat out of your chest.
In some cases, it feels like you are dying.
Nothing you do makes it better.
And, even if you know you are being unrealistic, you can’t get your mind and body to cooperate.
This is why so many dogs bite and then release and run away.
He doesn’t want to have to bite, but his panic makes him feel like it is the only way to control the situation.
You Are Reinforcing His Panic
And, the worst thing that you can do when a dog is having a panic attack or is fearful, is to pick him up, pet him, or coo to him.
In a sense you are reinforcing his fear.
And, reinforcing his fear is the last thing that you want to do!
You want a confident dog!
But saying things like “It’s okay, it’s okay” when he is scared makes his unrealistic fears worse.
He is not a child that you can have a rational discussion with, so he sees your words and behavior as approval of his behavior.
They have studies with dogs like this and just saying those words without any trigger can make the dog panic.
Because, after all, you are adding a cue to his fear. Why is it so hard to believe that you wouldn’t have control over his emotions and feelings in a negative way, just like you can in a positive way?
Break Your Habits
Give your dog rules!
It doesn’t have to be “BOOT CAMP”, but he should have some basic rules and regulations and commands that are a daily occurrence.
Don’t allow him to be in charge or your home and who comes and goes.
Don’t allow him to be spoiled without good behavior! When he is good and he listens to your obedience commands, you can spoil him all you want.
Don’t coo to him or reward him when he is scared!
Ignore his unrealistic fears; calmly and quietly show him that his fears are not realistic.
I have gotten into the habit of laughing and talking to my dog normally when he shows a fear.
I want him to see that I am calm and confident and acting normally.
Instead of “it’s okay”, I laugh and say “You’re silly! Let’s go check that out”, and let him figure out his world in his own time.
I won’t always be there when he is scared. I want to give him the confidence and the tools he needs to deal with life!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.