Socialization,

Conditioning &

Counter-conditioning


 

  • Do you want to gently introduce and make your new pup comfortable in environments that he’ll encounter over and over the rest of his life?  

  • Does your pet look wary of a new situation?  

  • Does your dog startle at the unexpected?

  • Freak out when something in his environment changes?

  • Bark or want to bolt when something scares him?

 

Stabyhouns are very intelligent dogs - they watch tv, they notice nearly everything in their environment, AND they were a great watchdog on those Frisian farms.  Let’s face it, we need to be proactive with our dogs so they are not overwhelmed with novel sights and sounds and so they respond with calm confidence rather than anxiety or fear.

 

Help your pet associate good things with the situation rather than bad things.

This will condition an emotional response (CER) that good things happen (treats/play/praise) when a scary thing appears, and with repetition and consistency a formerly scary situation/object/sound can automatically elicit a neutral or non-response from your dog when they happen.  

 

Just like Pavlov’s dog would salivate when the bell rang because he got treats every time, your dog can be conditioned to relax and feel good when they see that scary trigger, especially if you do this when they are a puppy and they haven’t had a bad experience with the situation.  This will also give your dog confidence to bounce back more quickly when they do encounter a scary or negative event.

 

Food (especially favorite treats), toys, and social reinforcements like petting, attention, and praise are ways of bringing the “good” into the situation.  Use tiny pieces of food that is soft and yummy for your dog. You may need to experiment a little to see what food is the best motivator for your pet.  Don’t worry - you won’t have to use food forever, and you are not rewarding the dog for his “bad” behavior (bolting, barking, growling).  

 

Here are some tips for counter-conditioning:

 

  1. They must be aware of the trigger BEFORE the treats so TRIGGER PREDICTS GOOD THINGS.  Dog sees trigger (people, other dog, scary object) or hears trigger (thunder, car noises, garbage truck) then treats appear.  Don’t be stingy!

  2. Do this from a distance that your dog is aware of trigger but not freaking out yet.  If your dog has no interest in your yummy treat, you’re too close. Make sure they’ve spotted the trigger, and reward.  Eventually you can train them to look at you (see LAT or “Look at That” game) as a default behavior when they’re worried.  AND - best part - with practice, eventually you will have less and less worries to counter-condition with your dog!

  3. Set up situations to practice - a friend jumping out of their car, standing far enough away from a busy street, or when children pass by - just one thing that your dog has reacted to or that you want them to be comfortable with (yes, you don’t have to wait for them to be scared - this is called socializing).  Treat-treat-treat when your dog notices the trigger or potential triggers.  When the dog doesn’t have a reaction any longer, move a bit closer and do it all again - small steps - don’t go over the threshold where the dog reacts, and keep it up until it’s “no big deal” for your dog.  

  4. Exude calmness and confidence yourself - your dog can sense this.  Be a good leader and let your dog know “I’ve got this, don’t worry” with your attitude.

  5. While conditioning and counter-conditioning can take time to do and get results, I think of it as a way of life - a way that I communicate with my dog.  

 

It gets easier!

 

I used to carry treats on EVERY walk and used them liberally - for loose leash walking training AND for counter-conditioning.  Now, it’s no big deal to go for a walk without treats - she’s feeling confident and happy about it all.  If we did encounter something scary, I could use praise and play instead of treats.  I knew she was getting “bomb-proof” the day we calmly walked by three idling electric trucks, with men talking and moving about, coming out from behind the truck, loud noises, and she noticed them but kept on walking with a loose leash right past them.

 

If we’re going into a new situation, I think of it as a training opportunity - bring the treats, and set it up for success.  If something happens that was unexpected, treat-treat-treat and retreat to a safe distance.  

 

Best of all - my dog thinks all good things come from me - I have earned her trust by never forcing her or reprimanding her for being scared.  Since she gets treats as rewards, for training, etc. they are nothing but positive, so just having them with us also improves her level of anxiety.  


A good cheat-sheet on desensitization and counter-conditioning:  http://www.training-your-dog-and-you.com/Desensitizing_and_counter-conditioning.html