Perchè bisogna confortare il cane quando ha paura

Abbiamo visto più volte che tra i tanti sentimenti, emozioni e stati d’animo che i cani provano c’è la paura e, come su tantissime altre cose che riguardano i pelosi, anche sulla paura ci sono convinzioni che hanno il non indifferente difetto di essere sbagliate.

Ce ne occupiamo oggi.

Ne scrive la Dr. Patricia McConnell, etologa, coportamentalista (CAAB) e professore di zoologia alla University of Wisconsin-Madison negli Stati Uniti.

Il punto è questo:  nella conoscenza comune i cani che hanno paura non devono essere confortati perchè così facendo si rafforzerebbe la loro paura.

Solo che non è così. Non è vero che confortare un cane che ha paura rafforza il suo stato d’animo. 

La D.ssa McConnell spiega chiaramente la questione.

Dice, se lo si vede rigidamente nell’ottica dello stimolo-risposta può sembrare logico pensare che rincuore un cane che ha paura rafforzi il suo sentimento:

il cane sente un tuono > ha paura> corre dal suo umano > viene accarezzato

=

il cane è rinforzato nel suo correre dal proprietario e nel suo avere paura del tuono.

Le cose però stanno diversamente. La McConnell elabora la spiegazione su tre punti (l’ordine è casuale):

La McConnell  fa un esempio per chiarire il punto: immaginiamo che un ladro cerchi di entrare in casa mentre stai mangiando un gelato. Nel caso dovessi rivivere una esperienza simile, il piacere di quel gelato ti farebbe avere ancora più paura ? No. Quello che potrebbe succedere è che la prossima volta che mangi il gelato ti senti un po’ a disagio ma certamente non hai più paura dei ladri perchè stavi mangiando il gelato quando sono entrati.

Lo stesso vale per i cani, con un extra, la paura ha una sua funzione di sopravvivenza, segnala pericoli, avere paura è brutto e non ci sono carezze, merende, attenzioni che valgano avere paura. Da cui, confortare un cane che ha paura non lo porta ad avere più paura.

Ci sono poi le famose teorie degli Anni ’30 e ’40 secondo cui non bisognava confortare i bambini spaventati clamorosamente smentite quando è stato provato che avere genitori su cui poter contare e a cui potersi rivolgere e affidare in situazioni di difficoltà rende i bambini più indipendenti e sicuri di sè mentre i bambini lasciati a sè stessi crescono paurosi e insicuri.

Lo stesso vale per i cani: un cane sereno è un cane che si sente sicuro e la fonte della sicurezza dei cani sono gli umani. Un cane che ha paura e ha il suo umano che lo conforta, ha ciò di cui ha bisogno. Un cane che ha paura e viene lasciato a sè stesso, non ha ciò di cui ha bisogno.

Detto questo, nel caso specifico del conforto con carezze nel caso di paura per i tuoni c’è una ricerca che ha scoperto che accarezzare il cane non ne riduce i livelli di cortisolo (ormone legato allo stress) (li riduce invece negli umani) (Nancy Dreschel, DVM, & Douglas Granger, PhD. 2005. “Physiological and behavioral reactivity to stress in thunderstorm-phobic dogs and their caregivers,” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 95:153–168)

Da un’altra ricerca però è emerso che le carezze hanno altri effetti benefici sui cani e sugli umani. Tra l’altro, aumentano i livelli di ossitocina, prolattina e beta-endorfine, tutti ormoni associati ai legami e al senso di benessere (J.S.J. Odendaal & R.A. Meintjes. 2003. “Neurophysiological correlates of affiliative behaviour between humans and dogs.” The Veterinary Journal 165:296-301).

Come sempre nei confronti dei cani, anche con la paura gli umani possono aiutare i pelosi ma possono anche peggiorare le cose.  Come?

La McConnell spiega che la paura è contagiosa – è un caso di contagio emotivo – e un modo in cui viene paura ai cani è quando ce l’hanno gli umani. Un cane che sente (ricordiamo quanto i cani sono sensibili alla miriade di segnali che, anche inconsapevolmente, gli umani trasmettono) la paura del suo umano si preoccupa e inizia ad avere paura a sua volta.

In questi casi, per aiutare il cane bisogna aiutare sè stessi per prima: concentrarsi sul proprio corpo, sulla respirazione, cambiare la postura, parlare (se proprio necessario) lentamente, con un tono basso e pacato. Il cane percepisce il cambiamento e cambia anche il suo stato d’animo.

Condividi

Lauretana

La mamma umana di Oban, autrice di Senti chi Abbaia. Ama la montagna, leggere e scrivere, ha un debole per la mozzarella. Pensa che i cani siano creature straordinarie e la vita con loro un'esperienza meravigliosa. Come il suo peloso, è riservata e abbastanza timida. Tra i suoi amici più cari, due quadrupedi, Baffina, che abita vicino a casa, e Robin, che è andato in cielo e resterà per sempre nel suo cuore.

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