Effect of a Standardized Four-Week Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning Training Program on Pre-Existing Veterinary Fear in Companion Dogs

Scientific Journal Articles

Reducing veterinary fear in dogs is important for canine health and welfare. It is commonly suggested that dog owners perform counter-conditioning and desensitization training to reduce veterinary fear levels, yet the efficacy of this training has not been evaluated. We recruited owned dogs with pre-existing fear and conducted mock veterinary appointments before and after training to assess changes in fear responses. Owners of dogs in the training group (n = 15) were instructed to perform exam-style handling and to visit the veterinary clinic on a weekly basis for four weeks, and owners of control dogs (n = 22) received no instructions. Compliance to training protocols was poor, with 44% of owners non-compliant to the training program. We found that, during the examination, trained dogs had less reduced posture than control dogs, but trained dogs showed more lip licking during clinic entrance and examination. Owners reported an observable improvement in their dog’s fear levels across the training sessions, and general fear scores lowered during the second examination for trained dogs. We suggest that, although few behavioural indicators of fear changed in the predicted direction, veterinarians should continue to recommend this training until further research is conducted.

Stellato, A., Jajou, S., Dewey, C.E., Widowski, T.M., and Niel, L. (2019). Effect of a standardized four- week desensitization and counter-conditioning training program on pre-existing veterinary fear in companion dogs. Animals, 9, 767, doi:10.3390/ani9100767

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Topic(s): Behavior, Breeder Resource, Dog to People - Low Stress Handling, Social Interactions