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Counterconditioning

Whether your dog fears garbage cans, barks at men with beards, or growls and lunges when someone blows in his face, counterconditioning is a good way to change your dog’s behavior.

By
Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #138

Rule #6: As Soon as Thing A Disappears, So Should Thing B.

The second that bearded guy turns a corner out of sight, no more chicken for Dogalini. This helps make the connection between them crystal clear for her.

Rule #7: Don’t Overdo It

Do no more than a dozen reps per session, and give your dog a breather between reps. Avoid falling into a rhythm. You want your dog to learn that Thing A predicts Thing B any old time, not that Thing A and Thing B show up at specific intervals.

Should You Try Counterconditioning On Your Own?

As you can see, counterconditioning is simple, except for how it’s not! If your dog is very afraid of something, or if his aggressive behavior frightens you or others, it’s best to start your work with a behavior counselor in person. The same goes if you have no way to control your dog’s exposure to whatever he has problems with.

But to take the example of men with beards, suppose your dog is just a little timid around them, and one of your good friends has a beard. Try this: First, pick a sound or an object that your dog has no feelings about whatever, and condition it positively using the rules above. See how the process works and hone your skills. If you follow the rules carefully, you’ll soon see a “conditioned emotional response”: When your formerly neutral Thing A appears, Dogalini will perk up happily and look for her treat. Trainers call this the “Where’s my chicken?” look.

With that practice under your belt, go ahead and work on some counterconditioning with your bearded friend. When Dogalini turns to you at the sight of him and says “Where’s my chicken?” it will gladden your heart.

You can follow The Dog Trainer on Twitter, where I’m Dogalini. I’m The Dog Trainer on Facebook, and you can also write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. Though I usually can’t reply personally, I welcome your comments and suggestions, and I may use them as the basis for future articles.

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Scared Dog image courtesy Shutterstock

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About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).

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