Commentary on systematic desensitization and counterconditioning in dogs by Andrea Steinherr

Running dog, photo: Melanie

Of a stimulus that is original Fear triggers, the dog can get used to it. This has to be done for this Appeal so low be kept so that the dog can perceive that this stimulus poses no danger. If this process is carried out specifically, it is called a desensitization.


The dog experiences this stimulus repeatedly at a level where physical signs of fear or aggression are absent – the undesirable reactions – do not yet occur.

For people, dogs or objects this is done via the distance controlled. At noises can the intensity can be controlled via the volume. The duration of the stimulus is also important! It must be dosed according to the dog's behavior.

In individual, consciously brought about, adapted to the dog's behavior Training situations, the strength of the fear-inducing stimulus is continually increased in small steps. Care must be taken to ensure that the dog is attentive but does not show any signs of undesirable behavior or emotional states.

In to quick approach or if, through unfortunate circumstances, the dog is exposed to the full strength stimulus, there is a risk of one relapse.

With correctly dosed and sufficiently frequent exercise sessions, often over several weeks the stimulus gradually no longer triggers the undesirable behavior. At the same time, desired, calm and relaxed behavior should also be praised and rewarded (beginning of counterconditioning).


The feelings can also be changed if the dog experiences that the stimulus that triggers fear or aggression reliably indicates something pleasant. In the long run, fear and joy cannot be compatible at the same time.

The pleasant experience must immediately occur following the appearance of the fear- or aggression-triggering stimulus. It should last during the presence of this stimulus and stop at the same time as the stimulus.

So if you use a particularly good food, the dog should get the food as soon as the trigger appears and without a break until the trigger disappears

Regardless of how he behaves. The only important thing is that he can and wants to eat.

If this pairing has been carried out correctly and sufficiently often, the previously fear-provoking stimulus will, over time, trigger joy in food. Anything the dog finds sufficiently attractive can be used for the process. Through this counterconditioning, feelings about living things, touch, places and objects can be changed.

The prerequisite, of course, is that the distance to the stimuli is carefully chosen and reduced so that there is no “relapse”.

Author: Melanie Weber-Tilse