The Basics

pupI’m going to keep this one short and sweet. If you are working with a fearful dog you must at the very least understand the concepts of counter conditioning and desensitization.

Desensitization is the gradual introduction and increase in exposure to the things your dog is afraid of. The exposure is only increased when the dog exhibits comfort with the situation or object. Go too fast and you set yourself back by causing a fearful reaction to whatever you’re trying to get the dog used to. This usually requires more time and patience than people give it. When it doesn’t work they blame the concept and not the way they implemented it.

Counter conditioning is the pairing of something the dog is afraid of, with something the dog loves. It’s classical conditioning except that you’re changing a negative association to a positive one. It is done in combination with desensitization. If the dog cannot engage with whatever you’re using to create the positive association, food treats or a toy for example, then you are not counter conditioning. If your dog will refuse to eat a super favorite treat when someone is 4 feet away, then try having the person be 10 feet away and see what happens. The biggest mistake that people usually make is not having the reward be of high enough value, and using enough of it, often enough, to outweigh the negative feeling the dog has for its fear object.

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7 comments so far

  1. Blueszz on

    Great post Debbie!
    I wish it was as easy as it sounds 🙂

    Nicole
    *we can do it!*

  2. Lizzie on

    I wish I had more than 2 hands Debbie to enable me to work on this!!

  3. fearfuldogs on

    Sorry can’t help you there, but check this out for inspiration 🙂

  4. Blueszz on

    Buahahaha, I love your comment Debbie!

  5. Lizzie on

    Consider me duly humbled by this inspiring lady.

    Mind you, it does help if you have a ‘normal’ dog to work with and even better a Border Collie! Dogs never cease to amaze me.
    Did you see the obedience work with the Dobie, truly awesome.

  6. solomeeo on

    I have a fearful basset. She has an amazing pedigree and we got her at 10 weeks old. Ever since she has walke through our door (she is now 2 1/2, she has run every time I drop something or put the recliner down. Her fear has also transfered to children and since she is fearful of them, she growls and tried to nip at them. What can I do for her?

    • fearfuldogs on

      There’s lots you can do for her. Have you visited http://www.fearfuldogs.com? Get a copy of The Cautious Canine. Get your head around triggers, thresholds, counter conditioning and desensitization. Look for positive, dog friendly trainers in your area. Keep kids away from your dog. Remember that since she’s been afraid her whole life and may never be a confident social butterfly, changes will happen slowly, but you can work on things with her. It takes time, training and patience.


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