Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ranger Recommends: The Cautious Canine: How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears

Since we adopted Ranger's sister Finna I've been doing a lot of reading about techniques and methods for helping a dog overcome fears. Finna was not socialized as a puppy and she has a lot of fears that we're needing to overcome. Patricia B. McConnell's booklet "The Cautious Canine: How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears" is my most recent resource. I am a devoted follower of McConnell's blog http://www.theotherendoftheleash.com/ and have found all her books to be clear, well-written and invaluable in helping me better understand how my dogs' minds work. I think what I value most about McConnell's writing is that she makes me feel like I really can do this and that if I can't do it all on my own there is no shame in getting professional help. "The Cautious Canine" does not disappoint. In this booklet McConnell describes clearly how to reprogram your fearful dogs emotions though the use of classical counter conditioning.

Classical Counter Conditioning or CCC for short is the process of changing how your dog feels about something by pairing a low level of bad with a high degree of good. For example, Finna is afraid of my husband if he gets too close or if he tries to pet her. Since we know Finna loves freeze dried bird hearts (chicken or duck) and playing fetch we're making sure that "Dad" is the one with the super yummy treats and that he plays lots of fetch with her. The more we pair the appearance of "Dad" with the good things Finna loves the happier she'll be to see him.

CCC can be used to create positive conditioned emotional responses (CER) to things that the dog fears. By starting with a low level of fear, the level at which the dog is just beginning to be anxious and slowly teaching the dog that the thing that previously produced anxiety is now a reliable predictor that something good is about to happen the dog begins to associate the previously fear producing thing with pleasure.

Full of concrete descriptions and clear progressions "The Cautious Canine" is a wonderful resource. I probably won't be able to help Finna entirely on my own but thanks to this booklet I have a better understanding of how the process works and a basis for comprehending the advice of a professional behaviorist. And thanks to this booklet I've already identified one thing I'm doing that isn't helping Finna. Knowing that she reacts badly to the appearance of other dogs on leash I've been tightening up on the leash in anticipation of her negative reaction. Of course that's just confirming her fears that the approach of other dogs on leash is going to be terrible. McConnell even shares her personal technique for making herself relax instead of tensing up; she sings Happy Birthday. Since Finna is already conditioned to look at me when I say her name and to expect something good when she looks at me in response to her name I'll probably try singing Finna Finna to whatever tune pops into my head that should help if I can be consistent and start before the other dog gets closer than her comfort level.

If you have a dog that's afraid of something, whether slippery floors or every other human being in the world this booklet is a must read.

1 comment:

  1. I will have to check out McConnell's booklet "The Cautious Canine: How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears" and blog. I have two Pomeranians and one of them won't walk down stairs at all. She's fine climbing stairs, but for some reason going the reverse direction is scary for her.