Counterconditioning

Pavlovian conditioning plays a vital role in the learning and unlearning of emotional reactions through counterconditioning. To resolve fears and other problems involving emotional components (e.g., phobias, separation anxiety, and aggressiveness), classical conditioning may be required. unlike instrumental behavior, classically conditioned responses are largely autonomous and independent of central control. Dogs never consciously choose to feel fearful or anxious; such emotions simply come over them as automatically as such feelings may come over us. This autonomic component is mostly outside the reach of voluntary control. Despite great effort and preoccupation, people suffering with phobias are unable to control their fearful arousal when in the presence of the eliciting stimulus. The inherent resistance of highly motivated emotions to voluntary control is especially evident in the case of well-established phobias. Behavior problems involving aversive emotional components like fear and anger must be treated with a two-pronged approach utilizing both classical and instrumental training methods.

Although dogs may learn to cope with emotionally distressful stimulation, they cannot directly control the onset and offset of autonomic affective arousal, except by moving out of the range of eliciting stimuli. To be controlled, an aversive emotion (e.g., anger or fear) must be countered by the elicitation of an even stronger and incompatible emotional response. The philosopher Spinoza precisely described the premise of counterconditioning in his Ethics: "An emotion can only be controlled or destroyed by another emotion contrary thereto, and with more power for controlling emotion." Similarly, William James emphasized the necessity of employing an emotional impulse to control the expression and magnitude of an opposing emotional impulse: "Reason, per se, can inhibit no im pulse; the only thing that can neutralize an impulse is an impulse the other way" (1890/1950:393). This is an important basic principle and credo for dog trainers and be-haviorists to keep foremost in mind when working with highly motivated behavior. Of course, James and Spinoza had humans in mind, but the same sort of behavioral flexibility exists in dogs.

Counterconditioning essentially involves opposing one response by the elicitation of another. To eliminate an unwanted CR, the CS controlling the response is paired with an US that elicits a contrary response. If the UR is sufficiently strong and incompatible with the undesired CR, the new connection between the CS and US will attenuate or block the unwanted response in the future. Coun-terconditioning is a powerful tool. Even very painful unconditioned stimuli can be coun-terconditioned by pairing them through gradual increments of intensity with a strong contrary US. Pavlov, for example, counter-conditioned traumatic shock by pairing its presentation with food. A dog was shocked and then given a piece of food, and forced to eat it if he refused to take it voluntarily. Over the course of several sessions, the intensity of stimulation was gradually increased until the shock was so severe that it caused "severe burning." Even when stimulated with the maximum current, the dog showed no signs of fear but only turned his head toward the customary location of food, followed by profuse salivation, and chomping appetitive movements in anticipation of food.

in addition to appetitive countercondi-tioning, aversive counterconditioning is commonly used in dog training. For example, a dog may develop an interest or appetite that is dangerous or unacceptable for one reason or another. Such appetites can be very persistent and resist ordinary methods of deterrence. Just as counterconditioning can be used to reduce aversive associations and avoidance, it can also be used to generate or increase aversive associations and avoidance when necessary. Appetitive interest and attraction to a forbidden or dangerous item can be effectively decreased by pairing the item with a sufficiently aversive or startling stimu lus. During aversive counterconditioning, the US (startle) must closely follow the presentation of the CS (forbidden item) or US evoking undesirable interest. Many applications and a variety of conditioning arrangements in puppy and dog training use aversive counter-conditioning. Aversive training procedures should always be avoided until less intrusive methods have been considered and implemented.

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Responses

  • MARKO
    What is dog counter conditioning?
    6 years ago

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