DS and CC – The Scientific Way of Treating your Aggressive Dog
Desensitization is the process of making a subject (and in our case, the dog) less sensitive to stimuli it hates or fears. This is usually done by introducing the dog to a level of exposure it can tolerate and over many sessions, gradually increasing the exposure level (e.g. by shortening the distance between the dog and the stimulus). This is important because if a dog is overwhelmed by the stimulus and becomes reactive, it is difficult for it to learn. Counterconditioning is simply a classical conditioning process used to change how dogs feel about certain stimuli that causes them to react aggressively. The objective of counterconditioning is to have the dog associate pleasant, positive emotions to stimuli it once reacted to. When this happens, your dog will become more relaxed and learn to like the stimuli it once feared or dislike.
Why Dogs Become Reactive?
While dogs may display aggression or fear due to genetic predisposition, in many instances, reactivity in dogs arises pretty much the same way that it does in humans. It comes, for example, from fear of being hurt by a human or by another dog. How often has your blood pressure gone through the roof when a puppy nips a baby for no apparent reason? The truth is that the baby (or another baby) has probably hurt the puppy by squeezing him too tight or pulling his ears or tail. As a result, the puppy develops a fear and become reactive toward all small children due to this. Smaller dogs who are injured by bigger dogs become fearful of the large dogs. They associate big dogs with pain and fear. This will lead to the small dogs being aggressive in the presence of bigger canines.
How to Use DS and CC to Rehabilitate your Aggressive Dog
The next time you walk by a house and a dog is barking incessantly, understand that he is probably more scared of you than you are of him. Handlers use counterconditioning to pair the anger stimulus with a reward that will make the dog happy instead of fearful and angry. High value food treats are often used to bring about this emotional change in the canine. If your dog is reactive towards other dogs, you can use desensitization and counterconditioning to rewire the dog’s brain not to fear or dislike other dogs any longer. Do this by exposing your dog to a decoy dog (controlled by another handler) at a distance near enough for your dog to notice and yet not be overwhelmed with fear or anger by it (desensitization). Be sure too that the decoy dog you choose is always calm and not another dog that will react aggressively at the sight of your dog. Once the decoy dog is it sight, begin feeding the dog continually with the tasty treats you prepared (counterconditioning). Continue doing this until the decoy leaves then cease feeding the dog. Bring the decoy back and repeat the routine at least another 10 times and until your dog appears relaxed and more concerned about his treats than the decoy. Always aim to end a counterconditioning session on a high note. The objective is simply to teach your dog that appearance of another dog equals food. At the next session, repeat the above routine at the same distance to see if your dog is relaxed or tensed up. If your dog is relaxed, you can move the decoy a little closer and repeat the above process again at the closer distance. If it is still tensed up, then keep to the same distance and repeat the counterconditioning process till your dog is more relaxed and stop. Over a period of time, you should be able to bring the decoy dog close enough to interact with the reactive dog.
Some Important Pointers on Desensitization and Counterconditioning
Some pointers to note for successful desensitization and counterconditioning are as follows:
- It is important to introduce other decoy dogs, one at a time to the exercise to allow your dog to generalize the good feelings learned from the desensitization and counterconditioning process towards all dogs.
- Till your dog has been successfully counter conditioned, you should as far as possible avoid exposure to the feared stimulus outside of the exercise environment to prevent any negative experiences from spoiling all your previous good work and effort.
In time, your dog will actually begin to feel comfortable in the presence of other dogs. You have now used conditioned emotional response to cure your dog’s fear, dislike or anxiety of other dogs. Important Note: This article is for education purpose only. If you have an aggression issue, we strongly recommend that you seek the help of a certified dog trainer familiar with DS and CC. Alternatively, at Dog Training Singapore our dog trainers will be able to help.