Desensitization and counter-conditioning are interwoven into almost every aspect of dog training. Most often, though, these concepts are associated with behavior modification. It’s very easy for dogs to feel overwhelmed and begin to form negative associations. Dogs may become fearful, frustrated, or even aggressive when exposed to those triggers. It’s best to proactively form positive associations through intentional low stress exposures. Sometimes, however, a negative association forms in a prior living experience or without our awareness.
Desensitization involves introducing a trigger at a low intensity at a sufficient distance that your dog is aware of the trigger without feeling fearful. As your dog is appropriately desensitized over time, the intensity of the trigger is increased and the distance between your dog and the trigger is decreased. This is never done at a level that compels the dogs to react to the trigger. Reactions are an indication that we are moving too fast and will ultimately cause your dog to become more sensitive to the trigger.
Take care to introduce your dog to stimulus at a reasonable intensity that he can handle. Too much too soon will ‘flood’ your dog resulting in a fight or flight reaction or can cause your dog to ‘shut down’. This occurs when your dog stops responding to the things around him and is an indication of extreme stress!
Counter-conditioning changes a dog’s emotional association to a specific trigger. The trigger which is introduced at an appropriate intensity and distance is then paired with a sufficient reward, either play or food. Over time your dog will begin to look forward to the arrival of the trigger. The trigger becomes as an indicator that something he finds valuable will soon be introduced.
Desensitization and counter conditioning are paired and used together to help your dog overcome their reactivity based on fear or frustration.
If you have any questions about your dog or training program please call or text us at 913.712.8742. Join us remotely for our Weekly Q&A and Nail Trim sessions hosted on Zoom and streamed live through Facebook. On a tight budget? Check out our FREE courses available online.