Dog Fear Displacement

Deborah S
by Deborah S
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QuestionMy kitchen doesn't have a fan, and sometimes, when i am cooking, the smoke alarm goes off in the living room. Jacob totally freaks out, which is understandable, i guess. But now every time i turn on the stove, he is there, terrified and quivering even tho the alarm hasn't gone off for weeks. I reassure him, hold him etc., but it's getting worse. His food is in the kitchen, but he will not enter until i have stopped cookin and turned off the stove. what else can i do? at this point even turning off the alarm won't make a difference as he is so programmed. (elailn genser - Canada)

Answer

This is a classic example of fear “displacement”. A scary event happened (the smoke alarm went off) and now Jacob associates that bad event with the stove. It is okay to keep his food in the kitchen as you will need to work hard re-teaching him that the stove is not a bad thing. Consider turning off the alarm while you cook, as any further “scary” event will un-do any training you try.

  • Start feeding him meals in the morning and the afternoon if you normally just leave the food down all day. If he is hungry and ready for his meal, this will work to your advantage.
  • Keep him leashed while you do this exercise. This will prevent him from running away, but do use your good judgement if he gets into a panic.
  • When you first put down the food in the morning put him on a leash and bring him over to the stove. Position his food bowl near the stove, empty, with his ration on top of the stove. Don’t say anything to him but maintain a positive energy. Turn on the stove (if there is a stove/hood fan or light that comes on or that you normally use while cooking be sure to turn that on as well). Right before and after you turn on the stove, give him lots of praise and several pieces of a favorite treat. Then put his food into his bowl.
  • Turn on the stove at a weird time of the day when you normally don’t cook. Then go find him if he is somewhere else in the house, put on the leash and give lots of treats. Take him over to the stove (leashed, so he can’t run away) and continue to give treats and give lots of verbal praise.
These exercises need to be done frequently until he associates the stove with good things (treats and praise). If he is not responding at all to these suggestions, or if you need additional guidance from the beginning, I always recommend talking to his veterinarian who can recommend a trusted local trainer or behaviorist to help. Good luck!
Disclaimer: This service is meant to provide advice only and is not meant to replace an appointment with a registered veterinarian. Users should always seek a second opinion. Unfortunately we are only able to answer several questions per week so not everyone gets a published answer. And, unfortunately we can't answer by email.
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