Counter-Conditioning and Desensitization for Dogs (Part 3)

Basic Graduation 2-14-12

Last week I described the counter-condition and desensitization process (CC&DS). When is it the right approach, as opposed to addressing a problem with reward-based training?

Deciding that an association is causing your dog to behave a certain way means making assumptions about what is going on "inside" the dog. These kinds of assumptions are not always right. As a matter of fact, these kinds of assumptions are what can lead to describing a dog as stubborn, dumb, or even the dreaded (and horribly misused) "dominant." Which is not a personality attribute dammit. But I digress…

With the understanding that we are making judgements based on our dog’s body language and behavior there is a general rule we can follow. We use CC&DS to change an undesirable response to a stimulus that seems to be driven by a negative reaction to the stimulus. Let’s consider three possible responses to a human stranger approaching a dog:

  1. The dog attempts to escape.
  2. The dog lunges, growls, barks, in what we would characterize as an aggressive manner.
  3. The dog attempts to jump up and greet the person.

In numbers one and two the dog’s reaction is negative. Both reactions are likely driven by fear. In number three his reaction is positive – he is happy to see the person and wants to greet them, albeit in an inappropriate manner.

We need to change the emotional response in scenarios one and two. A dog that is attempting to flee or attack cannot be taught to greet someone politely, and even if it were possible, he would probably still be distressed. We want to make him more comfortable. This is job for CC&DS.

In scenario three the dog is happy to see people! We certainly don’t want to change that. We have a training problem: we need to teach him how to greet people politely.

In situations where we need to make something "bad" become something "good" (or at least a lot less bad) we use CC&DS. In a situation where something is already good but the response is what is "bad" we use training.

That’s it for CC&DS in this series. Next week we move on to a new chapter in the ABC’s.

But before we move on, here’s a cute video illustrating how classical conditioning works. I wish I had found it when I started this series.

Counter-Conditioning and Desensitization for Dogs (Part 3) is a post written by . You can see the actual post at Dog Training in Bergen County New Jersey


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