Desensitization is basically introducing a concerning thing at a low enough level that it is not concerning. And only increasing intensity when the dog is ready.
Examples of desensitization
-A dog afraid of humans. Start with one human (no hats, no shades, no back pack or purse) at a distance far enough away so that the dog can see but not become concerned. (could be 2 or 3 hundred feet away)
... - A dog afraid of nail trims. Start with just approaches, then reaching, then barley touching the leg, then touching the feet, then presenting the instrument and so on.
- A dog who gets over-stimulated by company. Introduce people outside first or work just on door openings or just on the door bell.
These are NOT desensitization
- A dog is anxious or over aroused in a pet store. So you take the dog to the pet store over and over again in hopes that he will "get used to it"
- A dog barks at the door bell, so you ring the bell over and over "to make the doorbell not a big deal"
- A dog doesn't like being touched, so you stroke the dog over and over "until she likes petting"
- A dog is anxious around stranger dogs, so you take her to an indoor group training class (that is not set up for reactive dogs) where she has to be close to other dogs "so she can get exposure to other dogs"
The type of exposures listed above could backfire and sensitize a dog instead of desensitize. Basically it can make a dog's issues worse.
From Dr Karen Overall's Manual of Clinical Behavior:
"Prolonged exposure to a stimulus that provokes an adaptively anxious response does not induce habituation. Instead, it can induce hypervigilance, exhaustion, and increased anxiety, which may or may not become pathological, given other factors in the environment."
See what other experts write here: http://tinyurl.com/GradualExposure
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