Conditioned Emotional Response (CER) Training

Conditioned Emotional Response (CER) Training

Meet Max, the sweetest golden retriever with a heart as big as his bark.

Max used to suffer from a deep-seated fear of thunderstorms. Whenever dark clouds gathered and thunder rumbled in the distance, Max's anxiety soared.

During storms, Max would seek refuge under the bed, trembling with fear as he listened to the ominous sounds outside, leaving his owners at a loss for how to help him.

Determined to ease Max's anxiety, his owners embarked on a journey of discovery. They learned about CER training, a method that promised to reshape Max's emotional response. With hope in their hearts, they set out to implement this new approach.

Identifying all the triggers was the first step. They noticed how Max reacted to the darkening skies, the distant rumble of thunder, and the sudden flashes of lightning. Armed with this knowledge, they began the process of counterconditioning.

During storms, Max's owners transformed their home into a sanctuary of comfort and calm. They withdrew to the most sound-proof room of the house, played soft music, offered irresistible treats, and showered Max with love and affection. With each storm that passed, they gradually got Max to like the sounds of thunder.

It wasn't easy. There were moments of frustration and doubt, but Max's owners remained steadfast in their commitment to his well-being. They knew that consistency and patience were the keys to success.

And slowly but surely, their efforts paid off. Max began to associate thunderstorms with positive experiences rather than fear. His anxiety diminished, and he no longer sought refuge under the bed. Instead, he found solace in the comforting presence of mom and dad (and treats), knowing that they would always be there to weather the storm together.

You can do it too - using the 4 steps of CER

CER training is a potent tool for reshaping your dog's emotional reaction to specific stimuli. Here's the 4 steps describing how you can put it into practice:

  1. Identify the trigger(s): The initial step involves recognizing what the primary trigger or triggers are for your dog's anxiety. Understanding the source of the problem is the key to solving it.
  1. Counterconditioning: The magic happens here. Associate the trigger(s) with positive experiences. Engage in playtime, offer delectable treats, and cultivate a tranquil environment in the presence of the trigger(s). 
  1. Gradual exposure: Gradually introduce your dog to the trigger(s), commencing with low-intensity versions only briefly. As your dog grows more comfortable, you can incrementally increase the intensity and duration.
  1. Repetition: The heart of CER training lies in unwavering consistency and periodic repetitions. Keep fostering positive associations with the trigger(s) and revisit the training regularly - all year round.

Replacing an emotional response is, in principle, simple - and it sounds so easy. But truth be told, it is not. Don't get frustrated in the process. It requires an immense amount of time and patience — but it is worth it all in the end.

Happy training! 

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