While there are many ways to help fearful dogs develop confidence, professional dog trainers frequently turn to two behavior modification techniques – desensitization and counterconditioning.
Both were developed by psychologists, and both are used to help both people and canines learn to cope with their fears. Here’s a look at how the techniques work.
Desensitization is a process that reduces the fear associated with a particular stimulus through gradual and repeated exposure, starting at a low level and building up tolerance over time.
As an example, consider a dog fearful of loud noises. In using the desensitization technique, a professional dog trainer might begin by playing a recording of fireworks going off at a very low volume. Once that’s no longer scary, the volume can be turned up a notch – and as long as Fido remains comfortable, this can continue. As time goes on, louder sounds become tolerable.
Counterconditioning is a training technique that works to replace a fearful response to a particular stimulus with a more favorable response.
As an example, take a dog that reacts with fear anytime another dog is around. A professional trainer using the counterconditioning technique might offer a tasty treat as soon as another pooch enters the scene – and continue to do so every time that happens. The repeated rewards diminish the fear, and eventually, Fido learns how to cope when other canines are near.
Using Both Techniques
In many cases, professional dog trainers combine desensitization with counterconditioning to help fearful dogs learn to have a positive association with a particular stimulus.
As an example, picture a canine fearful of taking car rides. A professional trainer may use desensitization, starting by helping the pooch become comfortable sitting in a parked car before moving on to taking a short ride and, eventually, a longer road trip. At the same time, the dog trainer might employ the counterconditioning technique, offering delicious treats each time Fido jumps up into the car and during every car ride.
Why Fearful Dogs Often Need Professional Help
Now that you understand desensitization and counterconditioning, you may be able to use the techniques with your own furry family member. But the reality is, you might end up needing the help of an experienced dog trainer.
Training fearful dogs takes a great deal of time and patience. These behavior modification techniques require careful attention to a pet’s reactions, which can be difficult to interpret. Progressing too quickly or changing the training approach can backfire, too. Therefore, desensitization and counterconditioning are typically most effective under the direction of a professional dog trainer with experience helping pets overcome their fears.
If you have a fearful dog and you’re in southern California, reach out to The Driven Dog. We’ve been helping pet parents just like you for over ten years, and we’ll personalize our training services to meet your needs. For more information, or to schedule a consultation with an experienced professional dog trainer in Long Beach, contact our office today.