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The Listen Dog Blog

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Desensitisation vs. Immersion Therapy: Why Slow And Steady Wins The Race

By listendogtraining, Dec 30 2016 09:00PM

These two types of rehabilitation form the basis of how we treat dogs who have a negative emotional reaction to any given stimulus – be it other dogs, men, women, children, traffic or anything else which causes them distress.

Whilst both immersion therapy and desensitisation involve exposing the dog to the stimulus that causes them fear or anxiety, they wholly differ in their approach. Desensitisation involves overcoming the fear gradually, at a slow and comfortable pace, ensuring the dog does not become overwhelmed at any stage of the process, whereas immersion therapy – otherwise known as flooding – involves presenting the cause of the dog’s anxiety directly to the dog, and all at once, allowing the dog no opportunity to escape or avoid the situation.

So, if we were dealing with a fear of other dogs, for example, desensitisation would involve a gradual exposure to another dog, at first from a great distance and for a short period of time; perhaps the dog would only glance at the other dog walking past at the very end of the street for a second or two. As time went on, the exposures would become slowly and steadily closer in proximity and perhaps longer in duration, all at a pace the subject dog appeared comfortable with, until s/he could happily allow another dog to pass by him unaffected on a walk.

Immersion therapy, in stark contrast, would involve introducing the dog to another dog in close proximity, which may then immediately be walked towards and around him. Flooding (immersion therapy) is a far quicker approach than the slow and steady desensitisation, however it can cause overwhelming anxiety and stress in dogs – some have become so traumatized that they lose control of their bladder and bowels, whilst others resist flooding so intensely, that they become aggressive, and the problem is only made worse.

Whilst there are some professionals who have and continue to practise immersion therapy, at Listen Dog Training we advocate a slow and progressive desensitisation-based approach, as although it can take longer, the risk of causing more damage to an already anxious dog is minimal, and it is a wholly safer method for your everyday dog-owner to utilise.

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