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Behavior Modification for Dogs


Dog training

Dog behavior modification can be a relatively complex subject. Unfortunately, many dog training shows make it look easy and simple; the majority of them are based on outdated and counterproductive methods that are responsible for the suppression of the dog’s communicative signals and may also severely damage his welfare and mental health.

Real behavior modification should only be done by trained professionals who understand and know exactly what they are doing. It can be done using techniques such as systematic desensitization, counterconditioning, LAT, BAT and others. These techniques are based on the use of positive reinforcement, which means they respect the dog’s well-being.

In systematic desensitization, we expose the dog to the stimulus that scares him in a gradual and controlled way; the purpose of this technique is to decrease the intensity of the dog’s response. For example, if the dog is afraid of hair dryers, we’ll start by showing him a hair dryer, turned off. Then, we can turn it on. However, we have to respect the dog’s threshold: this means we must keep the scaring stimulus at a distance that doesn’t trigger an aversive reaction. If the dog starts reacting to the stimulus, we’re too close and we definitely need to increase the distance between them; if the dog doesn’t react and looks relaxed, we can move a step forward and decrease the distance. By doing this, we can make the dog feel comfortable around hair dryers or any other objects or stimuli that he may find scary.
Since systematic desensitization can be quite a long process, it is usually paired up with counterconditioning.

Counterconditioning is a technique that allows us to change the emotional response dogs have towards a certain stimulus. For example, the dog that is afraid of hair dryers will begin to associate them with things that he likes and, as a result, the fear will disappear. In counterconditioning, we expose the dog to the scaring (or aversive) stimulus and then offer him a treat. Through enough repetition, the dog will begin to associate that stimulus with food and, therefore, his emotional response will change.

LAT and BAT Dog Training

LAT (Look At That) and BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training) are training techniques that can also be used. With LAT, we teach the dog to look at the aversive stimulus and then reward him for doing so without reacting. On the other hand, BAT is based on rewarding the dog, not by using food, but by increasing the distance between him and the aversive stimulus, when he doesn’t react to it.

Every dog’s behavior can be changed and modified. Since the majority of dog owners don’t possess the knowledge or the skills necessary for doing so correctly, they must hire a professional. A certified positive dog trainer will analyze the dog’s behavior, understand its causes and consequences, establish a behavior modification protocol and possibly apply some of the techniques mentioned above. Make sure you choose a professional who’s updated and compassionate!

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Marilia Domingos
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