How Dog Owners Help With Desensitization

If training is the polish to bring out your dogs’ inner brilliance, where does comfort fit into the equation when desensitizing and counterconditioning your dogs?

Some dogs are just naturally fearful of things. They can develop a phobia or anxiety based on past experiences. 

When formulating a plan to move a dog through its fears and into a new reality of confidence and happy engagement, we must start with the most important part of the equation… The relationship between the dogs and their humans.

Teaching the owners how to encourage their dog with their voices, touch and responses to triggers of anxiety is always the first order of business. Contrary to popular notion, you cannot reinforce fear by comforting your dog when they feel fearful.

In this blog, we are going to review what desensitization is, how dog owners help with desensitization and ways to get them over their fears. 

What Is Desensitization

In general, desensitization and counterconditioning are treatments used to reduce an emotional response to a negative stimulus after being exposed to it repeatedly. The goal of desensitization is to teach a more relaxed response instead of exhibiting a fearful response. Training is going to be a very important part of the desensitization process. However, when trying to desensitize a dog to an adverse event, you should watch their response when a touch from a loving owner accompanies systematic desensitization. This alone can show you how integral a role comfort plays in a desensitization and counterconditioning plan.

Dog Owners Help With Desensitization

How Can The Dog Owner Help With Desensitization?

There are happy chemicals and hormones and unhappy chemicals and hormones, to put it plainly. When a dog reaches its threshold, unhappy chemicals and hormones can wreak havoc on a dog’s emotional state. Norepinephrine, cortisol and adrenaline start flying around and can take a considerable amount of time to dissipate.

Our dogs need to know that we are there for them and that they can rely on us. As their pack leaders, they need to look to us for guidance and positive reinforcement.

If your dog is having a negative emotional response to a stimulus, your touch and comfort release oxytocin into the brain. This stimulates the release of happy hormones. Dopamine and serotonin, almost immediately diminishing the level of anxiety your dog is feeling. If our dogs instinctively look to us for answers and comfort, why would we withhold our reassurance?

How to Properly Desensitize a Dog

Since desensitization is a slow process, it must be handled delicately, along with the professional dog trainer. It is important to only expose your dog to the stimulus at their current threshold so they do not become overwhelmed.

In any scenario where the threshold is properly maintained, the addition of comfort is not only acceptable but significantly reparative when attempting to mitigate stress and support a more positive association to the triggers of anxiety and fear.

When training to desensitize your dog, keeping the environment upbeat and positive can really be good for your dog. In addition, comfort talking, or even a massage from their owner can bring them below their threshold.

The Takeaway

It is important that we acknowledge the natural human/dog relationship when partaking in any kind of dog training. You and your dog will naturally feed off of each other. If you feel stress, they will too. Just know that you do not have to train your dog alone. Take some time to review our training packages. We are here for you and your dog for all their training needs!


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