CARE for Reactive Dogs

CARE graphic

Wow! My friend Jennifer Titus has created a wonderful thing.

Website: CARE for Reactive Dogs

CARE is an educational website that provides, free of charge, solid gold information on the protocols of desensitization/counterconditioning and differential reinforcement of incompatible behaviors.

These are tried, true, and gentle methods for helping reactive or fearful dogs. Because of our cultural bias towards punitive methods and because dogs exhibiting behaviors born out of fear are still seen by many as “challenging our authority,” these methods are still not well known by the general public. Positive reinforcement-based training is just now starting to leak into the culture in a semi-accurate way. (It’s been misrepresented plenty already!) Now we can go a step further.

The CARE site makes the information for helping our reactive dogs extraordinarily accessible and puts it together into easy-to-follow steps. I personally love it that Jennifer doesn’t use trendy, made-up words or obfuscate in any way; she uses the scientific terminology and helps the reader learn about it. And she is not repackaging information and claiming to have invented it. She is organizing known techniques into an easy to follow protocol. She uses various versions of “C.A.R.E.” as mnemonics.

The most important thing is to do the whole protocol as she presents it.  If followed exactly from beginning to end, it will change your dogs behavior, because that’s how these principles of behavior work.  It is very condensed, so be sure not to cherry pick. 

It’s great to have a skilled professional to help, and for some dogs it is imperative. But there are lots of people out there for whom help is really hard to find. I am here to say that pet owners can help their dogs using these methods.

Here is my own small example: an account of how I used DS/CC to help my little dog Zani overcome her fear of the elliptical training machine.

As many of you know, I have a much longer term project going on with my formerly feral dog Clara. It is absolutely magical to see the conditioned positive emotional response (+CER)  kick in. (Check the CARE site for a definition if you don’t know what a +CER is.) Now when we go to, for instance, a shopping center, instead of looking to me for the conditioners and reinforcers, she often chooses to hang out with her doggie friend, clamber into the lap of one of her human friends, spend as much time as she wants checking the pee-mail and other interesting scents, and even go into dog friendly stores for a quick look and sniff. Check out the post I finally wrote up about that. The protocol of DS/CC allows a completely organic transition to just plain enjoyment all sorts of new environments. Kind of like the whole world is becoming Grandma’s house.

So Clara says, go check it out and CARE for your dog!

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