Counter Conditioning

Every homeowner’s worst nightmare…new neighbors.

New neighbors with dogs.

Night one: our dogs hit the fence at each other, hackles up, the hound on their side baying and howling. The pugs caddy corner yipping away, and my danes bellowing and snarling and darting back and forth.

Then come the owners: the new neighbors come out and drag their dogs back in.  “MUDFLAP!!!!  THUNDER!!!!!” I hollered from the deck, “KNOCK IT OFF!”  Oh come on, admit it…you yell at your dogs too.

About two weeks after they moved in, the same scene has been repeating itself over and over.  Being the excellent dog parents we are, we’re slower and slower to respond.  The trainer in me just wants to ignore the behavior, problem is….it’s being reinforced by the behavior itself.  It is obviously innately fun to “protect” the domain and to make an embarrassing scene.

Then the inevitable happens and now the new neighbors are yelling at my dogs.  I don’t know if it was embarrassment or fear of escalation, but suddenly my motivation changed and I cared about fixing this problem.

If I were at work and had a problem with one of my animals reacting undesirably to a certain stimulus, I would work on minimizing or eliminating exposure to that stimulus.  Not possible here. If it was a stimulus I needed them to be conditioned to, I would re-introduce it at a distance, slowly, and approximate it closer.  Also not possible here.

What’s a trainer to do you might ask?  What about counter conditioning?

Antecedent: noise of new neighbor dogs next door

Behavior: barking, snarling, running, pouncing, and carrying on

Consequence: negative attention, but still attention from mom and dad, the satisfaction of the interaction

So how to change it?

A small cup of food in a ninja turtle cup on top of the electrical panel.

Whenever I’m relaxing on the porch, the dogs are normally with me.  I just had to pay attention and hear the neighbors’ sliding glass door open first. Jump up, grab the cup, and feed the dogs for staying on the porch.

And guess what?  It really was that simple.  After about four sessions my dogs heard the neighbors’ door open and came to me instead of tearing down the stairs to the fence.  I watched my neighbor, dragging their dog back inside again while my “two angels” sat at my feet getting their food for treats. The neighbor saw too.

Now to write a training plan for the neighbor.

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