Steps to De-Stress Your Dog

Check out a step-by-step desensitization and counter-conditioning program for nervous dogs.

Both humans and canine behavior counselors use a powerful behavior modification technique called gradual desensitization/counterconditioning. It is used to help dogs (and people!) overcome their fears and anxieties. For example, if your dog is afraid of a stranger approaching him (e.g., the stand for exam in conformation and obedience or proximity to a judge in agility), the following steps would be undertaken.

  1. Determine how far away the stranger can be and your dog is still relaxed and not threatened. This will be your beginning “threshold.” It is important to keep your dog “under threshold” at each stage of this training. Any signs of stress and you are probably going too far too fast.
  2. Get some really yummy treats that your dog will only get in the presence of strangers.
  3. Be sure to relax, yourself! (Think about how you normally stand or sit when you are talking to a good friend.)
  4. Have the stranger approach from an angle (not straight toward your dog) and only come as close as you’ve determined to be the initial threshold.
  5. As soon as your dog notices the stranger, start giving him tiny little pieces of the yummy treat.
  6. The stranger should only stay in place for 30-60 seconds, and then leave.
  7. When the stranger leaves, stop giving your dog treats. Wait a few minutes before having the stranger come back.
  8. Repeat this 4-6 times in your first training session and then take a break until another day.
  9. Repeat these steps until your dog show signs that he now likes the presence of the stranger because it means he gets good treats. He might look for the treat as soon as he sees the stranger, or he might wag his tail.
  10. Decrease the threshold just a short distance at a time and only when you see that he is happy to have the stranger in proximity.
  11. Gradually have the stranger come closer. As your dog gets more comfortable with the stranger, the stranger might be able to look directly at your dog, talk to him, reach part of the way toward him, etc., until he can touch him.
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Article Categories:
Dogs · Lifestyle

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