Your dog is barking at other dogs/people on walks and you desperately want to know how to make it stop. Because the root of your dog’s reactivity is most likely fear (if it’s not, it’s frustration and that’s a bit of a different story), we have to get to the root of that emotion and change it before the outward behaviour can change.
If you have not yet read the blogs about why your dog is barking at other dogs/people on walks and the best tools to use, go do that first and then come on back here!
This is where Pavlov comes in. It’s so simple, you might read this and smack your hand to your forehead.
What is it?
Counter conditioning is a simple, effective training technique to change a dog’s association with an object, animal, or person from a bad feeling to a good feeling. In this technique, we use carefully timed food treats to teach a dog that the thing they fear is nothing to be afraid of, and is in fact, predicts something fabulous. Think back to Ivan Pavlov - the dogs learned to associate food with the ringing of the bell and this can change their emotional state and, in turn, their behaviour.
How to train
- 1Find a novel food - something your dog has never had but is likely to absolutely LOVE. The meatier, softer, and juicier the treat, the more impact it will have on the training. Some ideas are canned chicken, canned sardines (in water, not oil!), cat food pouch, wet dog food in a squeeze tube, low-fat cheese, steak, bbq pork (without spices or sauce), meatballs/meatloaf, boiled chicken, you get the idea. Need some ideas? Click here for some ideas or click here for my famous doggie meatloaf recipe!
- 2Cut the treats into bite-sized pieces no larger than an M&M. Put them in an easy-to-get-to container like a bait bag, an old fanny pack, or an apron pocket.
Begin happy-talking and feeding your dog as soon as they notice the trigger.
Continue treating your dog at a rate of about one treat per second for as long as the trigger is present.
- 3The moment the trigger disappears, you abruptly stop the stream of treats and happy talk and go on your disappointed way. “Man…too bad that trigger went away. Triggers bring the best stuff!”
- 4Repeat the process every time your dog notices the trigger. Be mindful of the order of events. The trigger must be noticed before the happy-talk and food starts so that the trigger predicts the good stuff and not the other way around!
Examples of when to use Counter Conditioning:
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