Dog Training DisrUPted - UPWARD Dogology

Anxiety Rehab: Flooding and Fixation vs Progress and Success! What to Expect During Anxiety Rehab.

January 25, 2022 Billie Groom Season 6 Episode 14
Dog Training DisrUPted - UPWARD Dogology
Anxiety Rehab: Flooding and Fixation vs Progress and Success! What to Expect During Anxiety Rehab.
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome! We all want the same for our dogs - to give them their best lives! But what happens if they are simply too scared, reactive, or incapable of enjoying activities with us?   

This year has seen a big focus on canine anxiety, and some of the info out there can cause anxiety!

So let's unpack what your options are, and how to determine if it is the right one for your dog, Is distraction and avoidance a good idea?  How do we know if we are pushing our pups too far too fast?  You may be surprised by some common signs of progress.

NOTE: For the interview with Dr. Murphy mentioned in this episode, please visit Talk of the Town with Lisa Peters - Jan 12-18, 2022

For more links to social media, interviews, and press releases, pls visit my website.
Upward Dogology

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Billie Groom with a rescue | Linktree

Buy My Book! Winner of the 2019 American Best Book Fest Award (pets/narrative/non-fiction)
The Art of Urban People With Adopted and Rescued Dogs Methodology: Rescued Dogs: The Misunderstood Breed: Groom, Billie: 9781525547287: Books -

Thanks again to the musicians
Jeff Mertick | Facebook
Danielle Bourjeaurd | Facebook
Open Strum | Facebook
Brian John Harwood | Facebook

This episode features Jeff Mertick, Danielle Bourjeaurd, and Brian John Harwood. 

Find all the episodes on Feedspot, where Dog Training DisrUPted is rated in the top 5 shows in the dog category in Canada:

For more info on Billie Groom and Canine CBT, and links to social media:

Dog Training, Canine Behavior and Cognition (

My Linktree with all my media, presentations, shows, articles

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Here is the link to the recent article in Psychology Today Mag by Marc Bekoff on Canine CBT
Dog Training: Perception, Cognition, and Emotions | Psychology Today

Buy My Book! Winner of the 2019 American Best Book Fest Award (pets/narrative/non-fiction)
The Art of Urban People With Adopted and Rescued Dogs Methodology: Rescued Dogs: The Misunderstood Breed: Groom, Billie: 9781525547287: Books -


[00:00:00] Billie: Welcome to Dog Training Disrupted by Upward Dogology, where I retrain your brain and introduce you to the world of cognitive behavioral therapy for dogs over the age of six months. Anxiety is a big topic. People contact me because of behaviors such as leash, reactivity, or chewing or messing when their dog is left alone.

But these behaviors are often a symptom of anxiety. I've helped hundreds of clients every year help their dogs overcome anxiety. And 98% of them have hired a certified trainer or more than one whose methods adhere to force free conditioning methods, such as positive reinforcement training or counter conditioning before hiring me. 

I talk about in this episode, why common techniques to address anxiety often fall short, what the industry is doing in response to the ineffective. How canine cognitive behavioral therapy approaches, anxiety, rehabilitation, and what to expect as you work your way through the program.

Hello, I'm Billie Groom, your host and expert in canine, cognitive behavioral therapy for three decades. Many dogs experience anxiety. There are many forms of anxiety as well as different symptoms and signs, and of course, different methods and techniques to address anxiety, basic techniques. Those recommended by behavioral specialists and trainers who conform to conditioning techniques commonly recommend using positive reinforcement and distractions combined with desensitization and association.

What does this mean? I recently saw a show with Dr. Coleen Murphy where she was a featured guest. She's a behavioral veterinary. Her suggestion to address separation anxiety is to fill a toy with treats before leaving, leave for short periods and repeat this, be sure your dog associates the toy with good things.

That is your association training. Give the toy prior to leaving - that's distraction and make sure that you leave for very short periods repeatedly. And that's how one would apply proper desensitization training. Okay, so this all sounds very good! It's also very basic, probably something that most people were trying naturally, and it can be successful.

It is often not addressing anxiety, but rather boredom or simply just teaching dogs, especially puppies that when we leave, we come back and it's a good thing when done in short increment. When this method is ineffective, it's because the root of the problem, the anxiety is already established in the dog's head.

That's already their thought pattern and a positive object or a treat is not going to change that perception to change the behavior. In fact, this approach can be counterproductive because the dog feels as though we are not understanding them, not understanding their thought patterns. And we're just simply trying to mask the problem.

It is necessary to address the root of the problem and you need to do that with canine CBT. Again, the two methods are designed differently and if you have not listened to season one of this podcast, I suggest doing that. 

Another example of anxiety is leash reactivity caused by fear of the stimulation, which could be children or loud noise or a bicycle or a vacuum cleaner. This is opposed to leash reactivity that's caused purely by excitement. A commonly recommended technique is to feed treats when the dog is calm and to accomplish. By keeping a distance away that is comfortable for the dog so that the dog is actually remaining calm so that you can reward that behavior.

And this all sounds good. This is non-stressful. And again, it's combined with association so that the treat would be given in other times, and then associated with seeing that stimuli. This also allows the dog to look at the stimuli, which is desensitization and for progress, which would be to be advancing closer and to work at the pace of the dog.

Great. This is a common conditioning technique and it's commonly effective. However, it is often not effective. Why not? While the common explanation is the dog is not interested enough in the positive reinforcement. And this is commonly followed up with a suggestion to increase the value or interest or excitement level that the dog has for the reinforcement.

So again, if you want more information on that, you can go back to season one and this all seems logical. However, the dog may take the treat, but this doesn't change his perception of the stimulus and the behavior may change momentarily, but because the perception doesn't change, the behavior does not change overall.

And it doesn't change when perhaps the stimuli moves or makes a noise. The dog is not associating the object with a positive thought pattern. When he sees a dog and he's shown a favorite stuffy, he doesn't correlate the two. Not because dogs cannot do this. They, they can correlate, but because it doesn't make sense to him to say, yes, I like this toy.

“I like it when I'm in my home, but I don't necessarily like the toy when associated with a dog behind a fence”. So then what then what do we do? Well, this is when the experts recommend avoidance. And really, is this a technique now I talk about this in another episode. No, I don't think avoidance is a technique.

So while they recommend avoidance and encourage distractions and getting the dog to look at you to avoid looking at the stimuli, it is also well-known that avoidance and distraction can increase emotional stress for both the dog and the human. Additionally, it prevents desensitization, which is essentially repetition and all rehabilitation methods require application in repetition.

This is different from patience. Patience is good and it's required, but desensitization is actually part of a formula. Although avoidance and distraction can prevent uncomfortable thought patterns, they are merely a band-aid.

People don't want to see their dogs fearful or having anxiety, and they want to include their dogs into their lives. They want to be able to take them places and have their dog be comfortable and happy. Ironically, the mindset of including dogs into our lives and acknowledging their emotions, is essentially, creating that human animal bond. These are all encouraged by the same people in organizations who are convincing trainers, that if they can not effectively address anxiety using conditioning methods, then they need to explain to their clients that their dog is not willing to change and that they need to be okay with that. And they just need to manage their environment or cope. And in some cases they can justify going as far as euthanizing because they feel that is in the better interest of the dog. Some people are fine with this. 

Others are not, they want to know that their dog is living a fulfilling life and being part of family activities - at least the one that dogs want to engage in. I do not recommend to force a dogs to like every activity, but as with children, being comfortable, doing daily activities, and enjoying family time together is nice. And bonding and just doing general things together is what people want to do with their dog. 

And here's where things get interesting.

What is too much for the dog? How do we know if that dog is stressed and unhappy and how do we know if we're pushing the dog too hard and too quickly, or whether we're just simply progressing and it's important to work at the pace of the dog, the dog world has incorporated terms that come directly from trauma rehabilitation.

And these are flooding and fixation. Flooding is when dogs are stressed, due to heightened stimulation from being too close to whatever it is, that's causing their anxiety, or there's just too many of them all around, or it's just simply a situation or an area or a noise, and they are being forced into this situation.

I'm going to talk about this and I'm going to talk briefly here about canine cognitive behavioral therapy in respect to being able to determine the stress levels and determine if you were flooding your dog, or if you're simply progressing to address the anxiety. So canine, cognitive behavioral therapy, or CCBT build skills at easy times, and these skills reset the brain, and change the dog's perception of all situations and of the person's ability to calmly manage situations, to relate to the dog, and to understand their needs. This is working holistically, and this is, of course, bonding. The skill set is then transferred to increasingly difficult situations, allowing their dog to change the perception of added stimulated, and to choose to change their reaction. It literally resets their brains and provide transferable skills. These skill sets and exercises allow us to read the dog's level of stress. Dogs may react initially, or if it trigger appears such as a cyclist or a dog or a noise occurs, this might cause them to react and feel stress.

The exercises are applied proactive, often preventing these reactive behaviors before entering a situation that we know can cause stress. If that stress level increases, these exercises can quickly reset the brain. And by doing that, we can determine the dog's stress level simply by the decisions that they make when we apply these exercises and how quickly these exercises can reset the brain and in turn, allow them to choose to change their behavior and decrease their stress. 

For example, I may be working with a client who simply could not take their dog into PetSmart. Maybe the dog just put on the brakes, outside the door and refuses to enter, no matter how high value tree that dog wasn't going to go in, or the dog was barking and spinning and simply unmanageable due to stress, not excitement.

Within a short time, a week to a few weeks, we transfer the skills that we've taught at easy or time. And we take them to a PetSmart, commonly the exercises prevent the anxiety when applied proactively. So for example, from the car to the doors - and they allow us to read his level of anxiety.

If the exercises keep the brain from going to an anxious state, and his anxiety level is low, which we can tell from the exercises we continue to go inside and/or he also allows us to go inside, then we are not forcing it, and it is not flooding. We're using the exercises to provide him with that choice. 

When we go inside that stress level may rise a bit, so we see some of those stressful behaviors occur again. So we apply the exercises commonly within 10 to 40 seconds, the anxiety decreases. So assessing stress levels is determined by the dog's ability to have the cognitive exercises that we've taught, override the anxious thought patterns in a reasonable amount of time.

Too often, trainers are told that they are flooding when the dog's thinking. But this is because the reinforcements that they're using are unable to reset. The brain reinforcements are designed to change behavior, and this can be ineffective at times or places or situations where the stress level is high.

They're simply not intended to change perception to change behavior. So once it all gets a little stressed, it's often challenging to use these reinforcements to reset the brain. And therefore at that point, This is when the industry has convinced trainers that they are flooded. Having said that if the situation simply is too much and it's too high intensity, we increase the strength of the skillsets at easier times and “bridge the gap”.

And then additionally, for our next session, we might choose an area or a situation with lower level stimulation. So if he takes something like PetSmart, we might go at a quieter time of day and not on a week. So this idea of increasing the difficulty in increments is not exclusive to CCBT, it's also part of conditioning.

And it's also just common sense. What we're applying to those increasingly difficult situations is the difference between conditioning and upward dogology using CCBT. So how do we distinguish between progress and “fixation”? Well, if a dog is not forced by a leash or a restraint to look at a stimuli that would cause them anxiety, and is just simply choosing to watch and monitor and is just not reacting. Well, it seems obvious that this is a good thing, right? Again, there may be some low-level reaction and again, we would apply the transferable exercises and the skillsets and reset the brain, allowing the dog to choose to watch this, which will change his perception of needing to fear it. And that of course, leads to changing the behavior.

As we go through the process of decreasing anxiety, my clients know to change in behaviors, such as, for example, if their dog was nervous to go on walks or perhaps lunged at children out of fear, but didn't pull on leash normally just when they were walking, when there wasn't a stimulus. The dog would just walk along, but then suddenly as, as we're working together and decreasing that anxiety suddenly they'll notice, ‘”oh my gosh, my dog is starting to pull on leash where he just barks happily and starts to spinto get on walks.”

Well, this is different! This is because that as anxiety decreases, it needs to be replaced with other thoughts. And that often leads to different behaviors. So being excited to go on a walk or to go into a new store, or when people are coming over, these are good things because CCBT literally addresses the anxiety, not just the behavior, those thought patterns are going to be replaced with other thought patterns.

And then once that happens, we can distinguish between excitement and that of stressful behavior. And that's why we need to work holistically with dogs. We learn what their excitement behavior is versus what their stress behavior is because we're working with them in lots of different situations. And we're continuing to work with them as their thought patterns change.

So with CCBT we can make educated decisions based on the ability to one proactively prevent. To the ability to quickly reset the brain and change perception three, noticing the difference between stress behavior and excited behavior and for providing options that allow the dog to choose and monitor and watch, or for example, to continue to go into the store and only CCBT provides options.

Conditioning methods rely on the person, deciding for the dog, making decisions for that dog, providing options that the dog is to choose one or the other, whereas CCBT allows the dog to decide and makes options for themselves when their perception has changed. And this is a big difference. CCBT is scientifically proven to address behaviors associated with things.

We all want to include our dogs into our lives, take them places they enjoy going and allow them to thrive for a dog. Ology is unto itself bonding, and it's an essential element in procuring the human animal bond. It's amazing to see the light in their eyes shine and to view us as truly understanding and relating to.

So in conclusion, it is important to be patient when rehabilitating anxiety, but CCBT allows for productive patients and progress happens quickly. There's no need to justify avoidance or coping or a decompression period or waiting three months. There's no need to claim flooding or fixation. The rehabilitation process needs to work at the pace of the dog.

And when that occurs, there are going to be ups and downs. So. But some of those apparent regressions could actually be signs of progress such as we discussed, added excitement or perhaps a defiance to go in the crate. If the crate was merely a safe place, your dog may no longer need it or an interest in stealing your other dogs twice, or perhaps they just follow you around less or perhaps.

These are natural changes that occur when other emotions take the place of fear and anxiety because of her dog ology and CBT take a holistic approach. We can easily adapt to these changes. 

I hope this episode helped you to understand what is best for you and your dog, and that if you have been struggling with anxiety with your. It's not your fault. You can learn more about CCBT in other episodes of this podcast and in my book, which is more of a journey into the world of dog rescue and how dogs think and learn that's available on Amazon and through my publisher, Friesen Press.

The second edition was recently released. That was in the late fall of last year. And as always the proceeds go to dogs in need. Please share these episodes. And if you are enjoying them, please give a rating or review. If you have any questions or comments, please email me at Please follow Upward Dogology on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and on LinkedIn. I'm Billie Groom. Thank you for your support and interest. And for all you do for your. Thanks to the musicians, Danielle Bourjeaurd, Brian John Harwood, and the Jeff Mertick band. You can find their links in the show notes.

Enjoy your learning journey. .