Behavior Modification Protocol


When introducing your puppy to new people or dogs it is very important with a signal sensitive dog for the introductions and interactions to ALWAYS be “Puppy’s Choice”. Have your dog or puppy up (crated or in another room) when the new person arrives. Give the pup an opportunity to habituate to the visitor’s voice and presence (about 20 minutes) and then bring the dog in on leash (to prevent the dog from escaping/avoiding). Have the new person start tossing treats in the direction of your pup at about 10 feet from the dog. Ask that the treats not be thrown too close to the new person but rather closer to the dog. The owner/handler should not speak to nor look at the dog during this time. We want to ensure that your puppy’s sense of safe critical distance is not compromised. Dogs, like humans, have critical space distance, social space distance and intimate space distance. We need to move slowly from being in the dog’s perceived critical space working up to intimate space. We want to move slowly on this. Slowly have the new person start to toss the treats closer to him (the person) so your puppy will gradually move into closer proximity to the new person. It is highly important that the new person not look at, speak to, nor attempt to touch the dog and for him/her not to be standing right in front of your puppy, have the person’s body sideways to the dog. Have th e person feed about 10 treats and then take the puppy out of the room. Wait about 30 seconds and return to the room decreasing the distance between the puppy and the new person by about a foot. Repeat having the visitor toss treats gradually tossing treats closer to him (her) . Toss 10 treats and then remove the puppy from the room for 30 seconds. Repeat and decrease the distance from the visitor by another foot. We are trying to re-set the tolerance threshold for avoidance so this must be done slowly. Toss 10 treats gradually working the treats closer to the visitor. Remove the dog from the room and the session has ended.

Most dogs will present with approach/avoidance conflict where the pup is stretching in with the back legs spread way out (better position to run away) when reaching in to get the treat. We want to make sure the dog is not so overwhelmed he panics and that is why we start this trial with the dog at a great enough distance that he does not panic and flee. Repeat this exercise with as many people who will follow your directions as possible. You will find that most people want to reach out and touch the dog way to soon and moving too quickly can cause a setback. Remember, dogs do not have good visual memory so just because your dog is tolerating a strangers presence during a trial does not mean he is going to remember him at the next trial. Our goal is to gradually have the dog get closer and closer to the visitor. When the dog is accepting or taking the treats within a foot or two of the visitor, remove the dog from the room (removing the social pressure). Have the stranger/visitor sit down and put cookies on his feet. I call this my treats on the feet exercise. Bring the leashed dog into the room. Have the stranger start tossing treats closer and closer to his feet until (hopefully) the dog will take the treats off of the strangers feet. If he does, then remove the dog. Wait about 30 seconds and repeat. If successful, bring the dog back out and walk him about 1 foot from the stranger and give him time and see if he will take the treat from the foot. Once we are successful with this then have the stranger hold a treat in the palm of his hand extending his hand to the dog while having his head turned and not looking at the dog. If/when the dog takes the treat from the strangers’ hand, then repeat 10 times. Put the dog away – session ended.

Food is important for this exercise for two reasons. When dogs are highly stressed their central nervous system shifts from parasympathetic mode into sympathetic mode (fight or flight) and dogs will not take food. If we can get a dog to take food (which is why we start these exercises at a fair distance from the stranger) we can help reduce the physical threshold and thus keep the dog in parasympathetic mode. If the dog refuses to take the treats we have to end the exercise. No learning and no desensitization can take place once the dog goes over threshold. When the dog leans in and takes the food, counter conditioning takes place. W e are changing the dog’s conditioned emotional response from oh crap, a new person to yipee – chicken, cheese.

If you have any questions about this protocol, call or email me.

Katherine Smith

Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants), Professional Member APDT, (Association of Pet Dog Trainers), AKC Canine Good Citizenship Evaluator, Animal Behavioral College Mentor