I think I see a monster-DO NOTHING
Monsters, we all see them don't we? Well dogs think that they see monsters too, or at least things that are up to no good. Yesterday I decided to take some pics of Luke and Elsa in front of the Christmas tree. I got my camera, sat them in front of the tree and was ready. That is when Luke gave me a dirty look; got up and left to go to his place on the couch. "Okay then," Luke was not in the mood. He's allowed to not be in the mood; poor guy has been my constant model for over twelve years. So with Luke comfy on the couch he watch Elsa and I.
She is also my steadfast model but she's only been at it for over a year so she has lot's more to go. She was being tempted by a rubber bone that lay only a few feet away from her but she stayed and got the photos. Then she spotted something on the fireplace. Her ears went up, head stuck out with an intense gaze. I turned to see what she was looking at thinking a mouse was on my fireplace or something. "Nothing," but her posture remained the same. I checked again, "what the heck are you looking at?" I asked her. After a few amazing shots I released her and she ran to spot on the fireplace that has a large carved area. She had obviously seen something in it, or she just never noticed it before.
It is common for dogs to see things that aren't there. Meaning monsters where a bag lays, or a shirt hangs. About a week ago I was hanging my sons shirt outside; Elsa of course was by my side. She watched me hang the shirt and walk away. But when she stood there alone looking at the shirt, she was sure it was a bad guy. With her biggest, toughest and scariest voice she let the shirt have it. I walked outside, went directly to the shirt and picked it up. I very deliberately walked back very close to her so the shirt brushed against her and she got a whiff of it. Crisis averted.
This happens a lot with dogs; some more than others. When it does happen you can either quickly fix the misconception or make it worse by your behavior. Many people wrap themselves around their dog trying to explain that it is "just a shirt." They do a great deal of touching and "poor you," talk. All this creates a scenario that there is something wrong for your dog. Even by grabbing the item and bringing it right to your dog can make matters worse. What you need to do is interact and ignore. Make it a non issue.
I don't know how many times I've had to calmly walk outside, pick up a random bag that blew into our yard and walk into the house with it. Leaving the particular dog feeling much like "oh I knew it was just a bag." Experience helps with these sort of mistaken identity moments. Luke use to be very skittish about anything different but with many years under his belt it rarely happens now. Then there are dogs like my Tilley; (now gone almost a year) rock solid and knew what everything was. You could not shake that dog no matter how hard you tried.
Elsa is young and although she is not fearful she is afraid of scary things. She will run out in the yard sounding off, trying to act tough. But, if Luke goes out to join her in her barking she will turn tail and run for the house. She thinks that there must be something really scary if Luke is barking. Because we cannot explain to our dogs what unidentifiable items are; we must show them. "Do nothing," is something that I say regularly in this house. Human response is to typically coddle; so as quickly as someone slips into the coddle mode I switch into my "do nothing" mode. When an issue arises and someone goes to coddle, I firmly and calmly say "do nothing."
"Do nothing," means just that. Do not change your pace, do not change your mood, body posture of facial expression. Do nothing. Even in cases of leash aggression from other dogs; "do nothing." The other day we walked by two very angry small dogs with small dog issues. They were sounding off at both Luke and Elsa and I remained exact, I did not waver at all. This helped Luke to keep his cool and not go off on them and to let Elsa know that we really care nothing about this type of thing. We moved on happily and got treats for interacting so wonderfully.
So when your human reaction is to slip into action and help; help by doing nothing. "Do nothing." That is the best help you can give your dog.