Teddy Bears are often given to children in times of need, could the same practice work with your dog?
Whether transitioning to sleeping alone at night, being separated from their parents or carers, or during times of discomfort or illness. Teddies and other stuffed animals have been known to soothe anxiety and offer comfort and safety to children. They are generally made of soft materials, which children love to cuddle and snuggle with, and these actions allow them to mirror those of being warmly embraced and comforted by a parental figure or carer. In child psychology these are known as ‘Transitioning Objects.’ In dog behaviour science these are referred to as ‘Maintenance Stimuli’. They are basically any cues that have been conditioned to represent a feeling of safety, bonding and relaxation for that particular child or animal. These could be physical objects like a favourite toy, a blanket or a stuffed food toy/puzzle.
The comforter could be olfactory in nature, eg. an item of the caregivers clothing containing their familiar scent, or the soothing, calming or uplifting scent of an essential oil. Or, they could be auditory signals such as specially formulated music which promotes a feeling of calm and relaxation. Even a familiar radio channel which is played regularly when the caregiver is home, can become a cue for safety, routine and a sense of belonging. The more Maintenance Stimuli which we offer our dogs during times when they are learning to stay alone, the better.
It’s important for me to point out here that the chosen object/cue must represent and trigger positive emotions in your dog. If not done correctly, it’s likely to have quite the opposite effect!
For example, if your dog has never had a teddy bear of their own before. Now, you decide to buy one and leave it with your dog every time you go out, in an attempt to offer an object of comfort. However,
Yet there has been no prior connection between this teddy bear and any feelings of safety, reliability or affection. The presentation of the teddy in this case, is more likely to become a cue that you are leaving and trigger feelings of abandonment, frustration or anxiety. So, it is important to carefully consider which items you choose for this purpose and how they are related to any or all of the positive emotions you would like them to represent to your dog.
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