Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Working with a Fearful Dog

This morning, Reo, my Sanctuary Foster (who is a fearful dog and leash reactive and very scared of the vet’s office) and I went to the vet today for a socialization visit.  He proved that using food for training and behavior modification works.  Here’s how he proved the myths to be untrue:

#1 Treats are bribes. Nope, Reo proved that using food as a reinforcer works. A bribe and a reinforcer are not the same thing. A bribe happens when the food is produced before the desired behavior, a reinforcer is produced after the behavior. Reo saw the food after he looked at his triggers:  other dogs, people, the vet techs, the waiting room, the scale.  I reinforced/counter conditioned.  I did not bribe Reo.

#2 If you use food, your dogs will not obey you without it. Nope!  Reo was a perfect gentleman and performed all of his obedience commands:  down, sit, stay, leave it, say your prayers, etc without me having to use food.

#3 Dogs should work because they want to please you.
 Reo cannot work when he is afraid, using counter conditioning and operant conditioning has helped him overcome his fears. When you think about it, it's pretty silly to think dogs want to please you.  The very idea that this relationship between dog and human is so one-sided that dogs will perform for no tangible reward makes zero sense. It's nice to think of it like that, it’s kind of romantic, but, sorry, it’s not real.  Reo did well on his socialization visit today because I have counter conditioned him by using food – something positive to change his negative conditioned emotional response (CER) to a positive one.

#4 Dogs should work for praise. Reo could not calm down in the presence of the things he is afraid of just by me telling him he is a good boy! The idea that all or even most dogs are eager to work for just a pat on the head or a "good dog" is merely fantasy.

#5 Training for treats is fine for teaching tricks, but not for "real training and behavior modification." Do you really think that your dog instinctively knows the difference between tricks and "real training" and takes one less seriously than the other? *snort*  Food has the power to not only enhance your dog’s ability to learn, it also helps your dog overcome fear or anxiety by raising the levels of dopamine in his/her brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and it plays a major role in reward-driven learning and helping the dog change his/her emotional responses to things.

Using food with Reo before he reaches a high stress level in the presence of the stimuli (people, dogs, the vet and staff) that scares him, creates a positive emotional response.  This helps him get over his fear.  Instead of feeling fear today, Reo’s brain was being overcome with not just the pleasurable feelings that the food gives , it allowed him to focus more on the good sensation of his favorite food and less on the negative emotion of being at the vet clinic.
It’s pretty amazing what a piece of food can do for a dog.  You do NOT have to use equipment like shock or pinch collars, you do not need to alpha roll your dog and dominate him/her….you can use a piece of food and change the way your dog thinks.  Give me food any day of the week, I can do amazing stuff with your dog and never use fear, pain or intimidation. 

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