Happy April fools day; many of you may be the object of someone else's entertainment today, have fun with that ;) I had a good chuckle yesterday morning; upon returning from the gym I walked in the door to see Tilley out in the backyard draped in her blanket. With her recent haircut she has been sporting a coat at night; the coat is made of fleece, the same as her blanket. So when she got up to go out her blanket remained attached to her. There she was nice and warm smiling in the window upon my arrival; cute.

Association: the connection or relation of ideas, feelings, sensations, etc.; correlation of elements of perception, reasoning, or the like.

Dogs learn through association; often they learn an association that we don't like. A great example is my boy Luke; when he was young he quickly learned that when I called him to come in a park like setting it meant that another dog was around. I didn't mean to create this association but with a few repetitive behaviors from me I created it. So then I had to reassociate which meant calling Luke often in the park for other reasons. It worked well although he still has that "who's here?" every so often.

Dogs can associate the strangest things; and when you cannot figure out what is going on it is often a good idea to have a professional come in to try to piece together the puzzle. So how do you create a new association to a conditioned stimulus? Patience, baby steps and repetition are in order to achieve success. Another good example of association is "leash crazies" you know the dogs who come unglued at the mere thought of you opening the leash closet? I have worked with many guardians with this exact issue. The owner is unable to leash the dogs to go for a walk because they are worked up to such an extent that they are out of control.

This is actually quite easy to rectify; the problem is that the dogs associate the leash to the walk, obviously. So as the smarter species (ya right) we can outsmart them and give the leash a new meaning; or several meanings which in turn lowers the original association to the leash. Wherever the trigger starts; the cupboard door handle, the garage door or the leash itself is where you start. If it is a door handle then you walk to the door handle; touch it and walk away. Do this often and all throughout the day. So instead of your dog firing out of a canon when they hear that knob turn, they ignore it. Only move on when you have succeeded at each step.

Then work at opening the door; closing it and moving on. You are to remain very indifferent about it, giving your dog no reaction to use as fuel. Work your way up to leaving the door open. Then it is the leash itself; pick it up, put it down and go about your day. Lots and lots of touching the leash with no resulting walks. You want to get to a point where you can leave the leashes on the floor and no one cares about them. When you do need to take your dog out; pick up the leash when they are not watching and simply snap it to the dog unannouced and off you go.

Even dogs who get car sick can be helped with changing an association. Tilley use to get very car sick as a youngster; one day I realized that she started to drool before we even got in the car. Many owners simply stop taking their dog in the car at this point which is very sad indeed. But this gave me all the information I needed to help her; it was all in her head. For her the meant; Car=me feeling sick. So we changed what the car meant with baby steps. Lots of cookies and training while heading towards the car. Once the drool stopped outside of the car we did obedience in the stationary car with lots of goodies. Then we just chilled in the car with snacks and fun. Moving from there was a trip down the driveway and back; lots of treats and fun. You get the drift; we quickly moved onto small trips and soon she was a seasoned traveller.

It is a fairly easy process to change association; but you must think the process through. Start out with easily achievable goals and work slowly to your main objective. This is counter conditioning in it's looses form.

conditioning in which a second incompatible response is conditioned to an already conditioned stimulus; "counter conditioning lies behind many of the procedures used in behavior therapy"

It is an emotional response you are reconditioning; not so much a active response. But it is still counter conditioning; as you cannot be out of control crazy and calm at the sametime.

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