Counter-conditioning and systematic desensitization
Eliminating undesirable behavior through simple reinforcement is not the only way to tackle a behavior problem. In cases such as fear, stress and aggression, the procedure must be taken further. In these cases, emphasis must be placed on the emotion which underlies the action, and not the action itself.
Example: you teach your dog the "STAY" command, and he does it for a few minutes. If you ask him to "STAY" and you confront him with a stimulus that scares him, he will be unable to comply. This situation illustrates the limits of positive reinforcement and correction when emotions are involved. In such a context, counter-conditioning and desensitization techniques are your best bet.
1. Counter-conditioning: Counter-conditioning is a behavior modification technique which consists in associating one or more response-triggering stimuli to a physiologically different, or "conflict" response. The dog is led to react in another way when he is presented with stimuli that provoke an undesirable response. We recommend this type of conditioning for various forms of aggressiveness, problems of emotional co-dependency, as well as fears. For example, a dog can be accustomed to sitting and remaining calm in order to be petted instead of begging for affection with his nose. Counter-conditioning means learning a behavior which is incompatible with the unacceptable behavior. Therefore, you must swiftly give a command as soon as you believe that a problem might occur. On another level, this technique attempts to replace emotional reactions by those related to appetite and the need for affection. Counter-conditioning is often combined with systematic desensitization. Example: a dog is aggressive towards pedestrians. The master recreates the situation from a distance. Later on, the dog shows no interest nor any signs of anxiety or aggressiveness. He is rewarded immediately (, affection). This approach results in combining systematic desensitization (distance) to counter-conditioning (reward).