Encouragement vs. discouragement: Your pet will love you either way

  • Published
  • By Dr. Jemma Pipkin, DVM
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs

Whenever a menacing animal appears on TV my little pug goes into alert mode. Her hair stands on end, she starts huffing and puffing, and lets out a pathetic fury of barks and growls. In her mind, those animals should not be in the small box in her living room. The issue is her attitude as it can be an annoyance if the family misses the life changing dialogue on ‘The Masked Singer’, or whatever we’re watching. My usual response, before she completely losses it, is to tap her on the back and say “stop.” Although this works, the action needs to be repeated for subsequent scenes. One day she was on my daughter’s lap when a horse came on screen and the pug blew up like a pufferfish. My daughter’s response was to sooth her saying, “it’s okay,” while petting her. This just made the pug more excitable and louder.

There is a misconception that dogs are like people in the way they translate our actions, so I would like to share some small advice that could make a big difference. Don’t worry, even my moody, teenage daughter caught on after practicing what she learned. Now her and our smashed-face alien dog have an even better bond and can watch television together in somewhat peaceful tranquility. 

Whenever dogs go on alert, whether it’s when a cat is in sight, the post person drops something off, or the veterinarian approaches, don’t pet them and say sheepishly, “it’s okay.” Dogs interpret this response as praise and encouragement. They think, “Wow, my person is petting me and talking sweetly to me, they like what I’m doing right now.” Instead, get their attention such as a lite tap and tell them in your stern voice no or stop. Then they know that you don’t like what they are doing. 

Easy, right?  No, it is not always that easy.  Just like teaching them to sit or play dead wasn’t straight forward, repetition, patience and rewarding at the right times are the fundamentals of dog training, so you’re going to have to practice. Remember, your dog loves you and they want you to be happy. Don’t be afraid to be stern with them when they do something you don’t like, and don’t pet them or touch them affectionately until the unwanted behavior completely stops. If you can incorporate this mentality with your pooch in everyday life I guarantee your relationship will strengthen and blossom.

January is ‘Train Your Dog’, ‘Walk Your Pet’ and ‘One Health Awareness’ Month. Please observe responsibly.

Dr. Jemma Pipkin is a veterinarian working for the Offutt AFB Veterinary Treatment Facility. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this article, or if you would like to schedule an appointment for your pet, please call the clinic at 402-294-6141. The clinic is open Monday-Friday from 0800-1600 (closed from 1200-1300 for lunch). Appointments are available for any active duty or retired military personnel.

We hope to see you and your furry friend soon!