Friday, April 18, 2014

Over-exposed! (#atozchallenge)

Desensitization and counter-conditioning are the standard to deal with fearful or reactive behavior in dogs.

Controlled exposure, in carefully monitored increments, to the thing that causes fear. Conditioning the behavior so that the response to this thing will stop being fear--barking, lunging, growling, cowering--and become something positive.

What’s most effective is treatment that will change the way [the dog] feels about something. This treatment will eliminate the underlying reason for the behavior problem in the first place.

So a dog that's afraid of other dogs gets exposed to them: first at a distance, then a bit closer, then more, then without a fence, then a close encounter with one single (very friendly, very well-mannered) dog, then another, and another, then maybe two, then three, until--finally--he's ready for the dog park. The dog has learned, through this exposure, that other dogs aren't to be feared. If we're lucky, he might even have found out they're fun. At the very least, though, he won't tear that little Pomeranian to shreds the minute we look away.

But I wonder if there isn't such a thing as over-exposure.

Extreme sensitivity might be a bad thing--primarily for the dog, since it causes him/her angst and stress, and for the owner of that little Pomeranian--but sensitivity itself isn't. The ability to feel--isn't that what makes us alive?

Watch the news: murder, rape, corruption, betrayal, dishonesty, malice. War, death in massive numbers. We hear enough of it and it becomes rote. Routine. We begin to expect it: the way of the world.

When you heard about the Malaysian plane, did you cry? When you saw the George Zimmerman - Trayvon Martin story, were you outraged? When you read about a shop owner shot dead in the course of a robbery, do you mourn that life--and the social circumstances that caused its end?

Most people don't. Not, in any case, for longer than it takes to shake heads and switch channels. Because we're over-exposed. Exposure changes the way we feel about something. Exposure eliminates the underlying reason for the behavior. Death and cruelty, lack of integrity and prejudice--these things have become normal. They don't make us cringe anymore.

Over-exposure leaches out the color of life.

~ * ~

Thanks for the visit, and sorry about the late post. P coming soon(ish).
See you all around the A-to-Z water cooler.
Happy Easter weekend! 


  1. Good tie-in on the exposure - we do become desensitized to things we see over and over...makes sense that it would hold true in dogs too.

  2. You're so right, Guilie. I think the majority of us are over exposed.

  3. Feeling sensitive is essential to protect and to live--for dogs and people.
    Thank you,
    Garden of Eden Blog

  4. Once again, a wonderful post. I want to throw in a warning to not "Flood" with exposure. Flooding occurs, much like with the news reports you shared, where there is too much exposure and can lead to worsening of behaviors. I do believe that the lack of response, the routineness of violence breeds more violence. "Everyone else is doing it." Your example of slow exposure for dogs to other dogs is good, taking the same dog and putting it into a pack without the slow desensitization can have disastrous results.
    I have had to stop watching the news for the most part because it has damaged me, I was scared for everyone, I would cry throughout the newscast and after. Now, I still hear what is going on, but cannot surround myself with the violence, pain, and loss all the time. I still cry when I read or watch a sad story. My heart breaks when I give bad news to clients, when I euthanize my patients. I don't want to lose my emotions, even if they tear me up every time, I also don't want to be controlled by fear as a result of overexposure. Thank you for sharing and for giving people a glimpse at where they may stand.

  5. I agree overexposure tends to over-desensitize us. That's why I watch very little television.


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