Desensitization or counter-conditioning is a process to help dogs get over their fears and anxieties. With proper desensitization, the anxiety producing object loses its power.
This can help if your dog reacts to cars, noises, people, other dogs or animals, or anything your dog may be uncomfortable with. I'll refer to the above as "Scary Object."
You have to start working this at your dog's comfort distance. This could be 50ft away, 100ft away, or even more from the Scary Object. You have to be able to get his attention on you. If you cannot get his attention, you are too close from the Scary Object.
You will want to use very high-value food treats (liverwurst, roast beef, teriyaki chicken). Something very delicious, something your dog doesn't get all the time. Save these special treats just for your desensitization training.
As soon as Scary Object is in view start feeding your dog the delicious treats. Little pieces just keep feeding and feeding do not stop feeding until Scary Object is out of view. It's very helpful if you can set up the viewing and the distance from scary object.
You will want to start with only a few minutes, and keep the exposure to the Scary Object very brief. Today you see scary object for 1 minute, tomorrow 2 min., etc. You'll build up time of exposure as you go along. Remember to feed while Scary Object is in view and stop as soon as Scary Object is not in view.
After your few minutes, turn around and go in another direction away from Scary Object.
Keep doing the above and always work at your dogs comfort distance. Always look for opportunities to use the desensitization process. Keep the viewing a short duration.
Next you will start reducing the distance to the Scary Object. Instead of being 100ft away, try only 90ft away. Never rush !! You always want to be able to maintain your dogs attention, if you can't keep his attention then you are moving to fast. It's harder in the beginning but if taken slowly, things will move faster towards the end. It can take months to desensitize but is well worth it when you reach the end.
Eventually, what you're hoping to happen is for your dog to see the Scary Object and turn to you automatically. The Scary Object becomes the dogs cue to look at you "Hey, I see a dog over there, I look at my owner, I get a treat!" This is a huge breakthrough.
You can help this process along by:
- Being relaxed. Any anxiety or nervousness you feel will run right down the leash to your dog.
- Be alert and aware so that YOU notice the scary object before your dog does.
- When scary object is in view SMILE at your dog and feed delicious treats.
- Feed only when scary object is in view.
- Turn and walk away in a different direction when dog is agitated or exercise is over.
- ALWAYS set your dog up to succeed. This means being prepared and keeping the distance at the dogs comfort level.
Eventually you will be able to move in closer and closer to the scary object and extend the amount of time spent in the vicinity of the scary object.