Can you make your dog sick with the wrong kind of attention?
There is often a fine line between lovingly caring for our sick canine friends, and doting on them. We can relate to how awful it is to be sick, and try to be reassuring, particularly when serious illnesses are involved. Perhaps in a sense we are overcome with how much we love our pets, and desire them to be healthy. The problem is, dogs don't know this. Being very sociable animals, they simply love the attention, and don't really understand why all that extra attention stops when they get better. We can create needy, and insecure dogs when we make a big fuss over their illness.
Understanding how dogs react in the wild can provide some clues as to how we should treat them. It also shows how strong they are, and capable of dealing with illnesses in their own way.
Dogs need a safe place they can recuperate and rest by themselves. In the wild, dogs would often take themselves off somewhere where it is quiet and warm, with access to fresh air and sunlight. They also fast instinctively, so a loss of appetite is not necessarily something that needs to be feared or fixed with force feeding, unless your vet suggests otherwise, based on their examination. Yes, a loss of appetite is a sign of illness. And if your dog doesn't eat for a few days, he should be taken to the vets, but once a vet has made appropriate recommendations, it's good to understand that this will heal itself as your dog does.
Dogs don't need extra petting when they are sick. That is something that tends to reassure their human owners more. Just by providing a safe environment, that is free of drafts, and that is clean and protected from noise and interruptions, we are providing what our pets need in times of illness. If they want to go outside to get some sun and fresh air, and provided the vet feels that is okay (taking into account the possibility of infection if they have an open wound), then let them. But don't try and force them to go outside.
Whether or not we can actually turn our pets into hypochondriacs, I don't know. Some people do believe this, and perhaps it is true in severe cases. But it is important to be aware of signs of illness, and not simply assume that your dog is play-acting.
One suggestion to determine whether your dog is actually ill, is to leave your house, and sneak back and check on your dog through a window. If he's running around, and back to his usual self, chances are that he's not sick. A vet check up will pick up any signs of illness also, so if you're in doubt, or still concerned, then take him for a check up. But don't over pet him!
Aside from giving your dog the same attention when he is sick that you would when he is well, you can avoid creating a dog that plays on illness by being generous to your pets when they are healthy. Give them lots of attention them, and feed them well, without sacrificing the training and boundaries that dogs also need. Then you'll have a happy and well-adjusted pet in sickness and in health.
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