Expert Q&A

I’m familiar with conditioning, such as getting my dog to sit after hearing the command, “Sit.” But what is counterconditioning, and can I do this to stop my dog from misbehaving?

I’m familiar with conditioning, such as getting my dog to sit after hearing the command, “Sit.” But what is counterconditioning, and can I do this to stop my dog from misbehaving?

BY: The Dog Daily Expert

Conditioning is when your dog behaves in a specific, predictable and usually desired way when presented with a certain stimulus. It’s the basis of nearly all training. A simple example is when you say, “Sit,” your dog (should be) conditioned to sit. The word, in this case, stimulates your dog into action.

Counterconditioning is just the opposite. According to Bonnie Beaver, author of Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers, the termcounterconditioning” refers to when “learning is used to replace an unacceptable behavior with an acceptable one in response to the same stimulus.”

Beaver provides a wonderful example of a dog that often goes out into the yard, has fun playing and then returns into the home, happily tracking mud everywhere. The situation doesn’t trouble the canine one bit. But the owner then has to pull out the mop or vacuum cleaner.

Counterconditioning can be used to correct this problem. With a food treat or other reward, you can train your dog to sit as soon as it enters your home. This just requires a bit of effort on your part to be at the entrance and to reinforce the already learned “sit” command. You can then wipe off your dog’s paws, forever preventing the muddy paw-print problem.


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