Counter-conditioning

Early on, Lyra was scared by particular sounds. Her fear of some triggers has faded, but others remain. It’s like a deep etching in her brain. My job is to try to erase the negative response; ideally, to replace it with a positive one. The problem is complex. Because of her strong reaction to traffic sounds, it was not easy to give her happy experiences out in the world — with strangers, especially — when she was a young pup. She continues to be anxious if strangers reach for her, and can be wary of handling. The goal is to create a positive conditioned emotional response (+CER).

My main tools are counter-conditioning (cc) and desensitization (ds). CC is where you change the dog’s emotional response to a trigger (from bad to good); DS is where you expose the dog to a trigger, at a level where the dog feels safe, to enable the dog to “practise” calm behaviour in its presence. If you work on both together, the goal is to help the dog feel safe at shorter and shorter distances from the trigger. (When I use the word “distance” by the way, I often mean “volume”, since most of Lyra’s triggers involve a sound element, but I can also mean quantity. There are many ways to achieve distance.)

Two good blog posts on conditioning: one by Eileen Anderson and the other by Randi Rossman.

Areas of work

  • Busy streets: e.g., the walk to the vet.
  • Handling: e.g., vet exam, nail trim, tooth brushing.
  • Car journeys
  • People. While she adores some people, and is fine in the company of most strangers, she reacts when startled and often ducks away if someone reaches for her.
  • Bus and truck sounds: especially, the rev up or down of the engine and air brakes.

Counter-conditioning Lyra to car travel