Options for Modifying Reactivity & Fear in Dogs
Option 1: Improve Behaviour (Operant Conditioning)
This option focuses on training your dog to do something else in response to noticing a trigger.
Looking at you
Disengaging from the trigger
Looking at the trigger on cue ("look at that")
All of these should be done from a distance where your dog can be successful. If done correctly, these should have a classical conditioning side effect (see next option).
Option 2: Improve Emotions (Classical Conditioning)
Treats (or other great things) are provided every time the trigger appears, regardless of behaviour. Dog likes trigger more as a result, and improved behaviour comes along for the ride (because dog doesn't feel the need to react).
Most modern training plans use a combination of both option 1 and option 2. There is a third option however...
Option 3: Suppress Reactivity (Positive Punishment and/or Negative Reinforcement)
This option uses something painful, scary or unpleasant to teach the dog that barking/lunging is not safe to do (e.g. collar correction, e-collar stim). Unfortunately, this often comes with high risk of increased fear and aggression (toward trainer, trigger or both). It also does not address the underlying emotion causing the behaviour. Because "bad" behaviour is being punished, this method works quickly to change behaviour short term, with long-term side effects. We do not recommended option 3 due to the risk of negative side effects, as well as welfare concerns for the dogs.
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Tess Morgan is a certified dog trainer in London, Ontario specializing in reactivity and fear. She sees clients in-person in London as well as virtually worldwide.