Many owners were told they should use desensitization and counter conditioning when they have a reactive dog.
They were told they should never use correction, they were told they should never punish the dog for reacting, they were told they should never make the dog uncomfortable.
I was one of those people years ago.
We were told we had to keep the bar opened so to speak whenever a dog appeared. We were told to pour high value treats onto a dog when another dog appeared. We were told if we did this often enough, the dog would be conditioned to believe another dog will lead to reward and will therefore feel much more positive about seeing a new dog. We were told it was a scientifically proven method and the person telling us this had a phD.
Looking back, I have to say I have actually never seen a dog with intense reactivity being transformed drastically in front of my eyes with this approach.
I have seen dogs showing some improvement in a very sterile and controlled classroom. I heard lots of fancy theories that sounded very good on paper - but I have not once seen real drastic improvement on a real dog - not even from the very people who suggested these methods.
These dogs that never really improved continued to suffer not because of correction (the trainer never intentionally used any); but because they could not stop feeling anxious and frustrated upon seeing another dog. They were living in pain, and the method used were not helping them but prolonging the pain they were feeling. They were suffering and they were very stressed - Even in the absence of correction from the trainer.
I looked at this and I started asking questions.
One question I kept asking myself was "why do these dogs looking so emotionally painful even after years of positive reinforcement training? Isnt positive reinforcement supposed to make the dogs happy and correction was supposed to make them sad? How come they are so miserable even without any correction? If positive reinforcement cannot stop them from suffering, what can?"
Then I started looking into other approaches.
I started trying to interrupt rather than just avoid and reward, and I saw a very drastic improvement. I saw dogs becoming much less confused, much more calm, and much happier.
The pain they were suffering was alleviated. They could now go out for a nice walk and they could walk by other dogs. They were in less pain, and they were happier.
I asked myself, "can this be right? Correction makes them happier and positive reinforcement with no correction makes things worse for them?"
I was scared. Because I was told correction would backfire and make the dog worse. I did not want to hurt the dog.
Then I started to look at other trainers with great success in the real world, and I realized there was a right way and a wrong way to correct. I saw intense dogs actually improved with properly applied correction. And those dogs did not look shut down or sad afterwards. Instead, they looked motivated, much more engaged, and balanced.
Instead of avoiding correction, I wanted to learn more about it. I wanted to know how to correct an inappropriate behavior effectively and humanely.
This opened up an entire new world for me.
I was able to help much more dogs with much faster and better results that actually last.
I still use food, I still use positive reinforcement, and I still counter condition - but I have also learned how to use correction properly and humanely.
I do not see these dogs that I trained years ago becoming more reactive because they were corrected; instead, I see them becoming happier and much more balanced and calm.
Knowing how to help dogs with a balanced fashion (rather than a limited approach that I used to use years ago) is how I started having real success in behavioral rehabilitation.