You hear these two terms super often, but what’s really behind them is often rather misleading.
First of all… both techniques are really great if they are applied as error-free as possible. However, they can also make things worse very quickly.
That’s why they belong in professional hands.
But what is actually what?
This is about making something irrelevant to the dog.
You might know this. If you live next to the airport, within a very short time you don’t notice the engine noises anymore. They are irrelevant because they don’t matter to us. We have been desensitized.
For the dog, this makes sense with some everyday noises (e.g. neighbors, sidewalk in front of the front door, cars, doorbell, New Year’s Eve), and often it works by itself.
If, on the other hand, a sound causes fear, the desensitization has gone wrong.
Also touching cannot be desensitized in fearful dogs for this reason. Apart from the fact that we do not want our dog to perceive a touch as irrelevant.
A harness or a muzzle, on the other hand, should actually be completely normal and not be noticed by the dog.
That is why it is so important in training to quickly go through well-trained exercises after the positive build-up so that the dog literally forgets what he is wearing.
The last part is again the desensitization.
Not so easy, right 😉
But what about counterconditioning now?
In counterconditioning, something is already linked to a negative emotion and we want to turn it into a positive one.
For example, if a strange man coming closer triggers insecurity in your dog, we can change it with techniques like the look at that game.
The dog learns that such a strange man immediately announces great things (eg great treats from Mommy).
You have probably already noticed that this kind of training often takes place at the beginning of leash-reactivity training.
Why are both techniques so difficult when they sound so simple?
The trick with both methods is to choose the timing, intensity, and distance so that the dog never lapses into the negative emotion or undesirable behavior.
So he is never fearful when a sound is heard that is to be desensitized to.
He no longer freaks out when the strange man approaches.
He no longer barks at the other dog.
We can only achieve this by choosing or changing the situations in such a way that a large distance, a very quiet noise, or possibly an alternative behavior is possible.
If we don’t manage this, the training will quickly backfire and our dog will react faster, more violently, or more often.
Therefore, better safe than sorry and (in case of doubt) always with the support of a professional 😉