Desensitisation and Counter-conditioning (CC&D)

By admin Posted in Advanced, Problems, Updated posts /

Desensitisation and Counter-conditioning (CC&D)
We know what a pleasure it is to live with a dog that is friendly, affectionate and loyal. Sadly, there are many dogs that react with aggression, fears, phobias and anxiety to people or things in their surroundings and they can be hard to live with. You cannot explain to a dog that his behaviour is going to get him killed or lose the home he is in. Their problems can usually not be solved with commands such as “Sit -stay” to prevent a “fight” or “flight” reaction. What is needed is to change the way they feel about something, to eliminate what causes the emotional response that is so characteristic of their behaviour.
Desensitisation and counter-conditioning are treatments (behaviour therapy) perfected by psychiatrist Dr Joseph Wolpe to change the fear and anxiety based responses to certain stimuli for his human patients. The same technique is used for dogs and is now called the “trigger” by dog trainers. It can be any situation, object, person, noise, event etc. that produces a fearful reaction in a dog. It reconditions the dog to accept what he would normally not accept.
Desensitisation means to make less sensitive. The goal is to reduce or eliminate the emotional reaction to a specific thing (trigger) – animals, people as well as certain places or noises. We use a low level trigger by decreasing the distance and the intensity to a level where the dog cancontrol” himself emotionally.
By using a weaker, less threatening, smaller, slower, further away, less noisy “trigger” that is or not moving etc. the dog can be in control of the situation. He does not react with fear or aggression.
Later, as the situation improves the exposure to the animal, person, place, object, noise etc. is made stronger, closer, increased in volume etc. We always have to start at the least scary version of that what is feared until full normal exposure is reached.
Counter-conditioning is basically classical conditioning in that we re-teach the dog to have a pleasant feeling and reaction to something that he once feared and/or disliked. In most cases tasty treats are used. The dog learns over many repeats that whenever that trigger appears, good things happen! Praise and tasty treats are handed out.
Food is the best indicator to determine a dog’s level of stress. I test all new dogs to my club by offering them a treat at the introduction. If the dog does not want to take a treat from me, a stranger, I give the treat to the owner to give to his/her dog. If the dog does not want to take food from its owner, the stress level is so high that training can only start after having been a spectator to training activities and the dog begins to accept treats again.
Linking food with a trigger can get the dog to change his emotional response and begin to “look forward to” instead of having a fearful or aggressive response in that situation.
The Desensitising and counter-conditioning plan
1. Establish the triggers. Record what the dog fears. Make notes of all relevant facts such as, the way the (trigger) moves, sounds, looks, smells, and how far away and how long it lasts. Only things that can be regarded as triggers, etc. should be listed. Triggers are usually unique for each dog and may be related to certain environments like inner city sounds. Understanding what causes fear/anxiety in your dog is your starting point.
2. Identify when the situation is least and most threatening to your dog. For example; how does he react when the noise gets louder, how far away from it does he feel threatened. Does he bark, growl, snarl, lunge or cringe as his fear increases.
3. Make a training plan. This is very important because you must start at the least threatening level of exposure for your dog. Depending on the dog’s temperament you may have to use different levels to help your dog through each one. If your pet fears a sound or noise you can expose him to controlled versions of the sound by playing tape recordings of it.
If the dog is afraid of other dogs or men then determine the distance at which he is comfortable with them being around. Use tasty treats – that is new to him and will be used only in the training programme. Treat your dog and let the trigger dog or person start 100 m away and zig-zag closer until your dog reacts negatively to their nearness. Let them stop and slowly move away while you are still treating your dog. Stop the treats as soon as the feared thing is out of sight. Repeat this pattern of approaching and treating many times a session.
4. End sessions on success. Avoid situations where your dog is going to be exposed to a trigger that will result in a fear response and set you backwards. It means that for the foreseeable future you need to organise your routine and environment daily to ensure success.
Should something unforeseen happen like a noisy car backfires near you or another “trigger” suddenly appear near you, stay calm and simply physically remove your dog by walking away to a safe distance before talking to your dog again. Play and treat to make it a positive experience.
5. Move up to the next level when your dog is relaxed enjoys the treats and is keen to play. The desensitisation and counter-conditioning cannot be rushed. The dog’s progress will determine when the next level is reached and the trigger (other dog etc.) can come nearer.
6. You do not have to remain in the same spot or environment, as long as you stick to the same principles.
7. Only one aspect can be attended to at a time. You cannot try to overcome a dog’s fear of people in a place where he is stressed or unhappy. The more you try to do at a time the slower the progress will be.
Calming signals
You and your dog form a team and the dog reacts to your energy and body signals. I often come across handlers who react with, “Oh no, here we go again” and throw their hands up in the air when the dog reacts with aggression or fear. Being angry or frustrated sends the wrong message to the dog you are trying to help. Stay calm because if the dog senses that something is wrong he will react negatively. Feeding treats unexpectedly is a way to get a dog to calm down. Try to increase your knowledge of dogs’ body language by reading articles on the subject.
All dogs have issues with something at some time in their lives. Owners who are serious about helping their dogs should become familiar with the process of Desensitisation and Counter-conditioning. It may be the easiest way to solve his problems.

Comments are closed.

Copyright © 2002 - 2014 Jan Meyer (all rights reserved) | Website by : imediate.web.