Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning in Dogs
The Key Factor to Successful Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning
Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning are two of the most successful techniques used to change unwanted behaviour in dogs and there are many methods in which to achieve this. However there is a key factor that is often overlooked and renders these techniques useless.
The term counter conditioning means conditioning or teaching a dog to display behaviours that is counter to the unwanted behaviour. The term desensitisation however means gradually exposing your dog to the situation or activity, without triggering any unwanted behaviour.
Dogs are driven and motivated; if given the opportunity they will perform an undesirable behaviour at some point. The highly motivated dog with a drive to compete will always be harder to counter condition.
Many trainers and Behaviourists will teach these techniques to provide owners with a way in which they can gradually show their dogs acceptable behaviour. And on the face of it these techniques certainly seem to help eliminate many types of behaviours including fearful and aggressive behaviours.
However there is a key factor that is often overlooked and renders these techniques useless.
When a dog feels anxious or afraid the instinct and number one priority is to feel safe.
Before we use any counter conditioning or desensitisation the dog has to feel safe, then and only then will they be in the right state of mind to focus on a task.
If they are anxious or fearful they will be distracted and less motivated. They may still take a treat from you if you are offering one, but the mind is still shut down and in this state the change will not take place.
Put away the clicker and treats for a moment and think safety must always come first, build that bond/trust and your dog will become relaxed and generally more confident in situations or activities. Recent research shows that when dogs feel safe, their level of interest and ability to perform and learn is dramatically improved.