Dog Desensitization: How to Get Your Dog Used to Anything

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Dog Training By Erin Jones 25 min read May 23, 2021 10 Comments

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dog desensitization

Whether you have a pup who becomes afraid or stressed by loud noises, being home alone, strangers, or new experiences, it’s difficult having a fearful pup.

The good news is that you can help your pup get past these fears, so long as you move slowly and at your pup’s own pace when she is exposed to scary stuff.

In other words, you want to allow her to see, hear, or smell these frightening stimuli in a manner that allows her to feel safe. By doing this and providing positive stimuli during the encounter, her fear will often dissolve over time.

This is a process called systematic desensitization. It’s an evidence-based behavioral modification approach that uses gradual exposure to help your pooch slowly overcome a phobia or fear.

Below, we discuss what desensitization looks like, how to use it, and we even provide you with some specific plans for dealing with common doggo phobias.

But first, we need to lay some groundwork and explain how to recognize when your dog is afraid of something. 

Dog Desensitization: Key Takeaways

  • Desensitization is a technique that is often used to modify the way a dog behaves in response to things that frighten her.
  • To desensitize your dog, you’ll need to provide a positive stimuli (usually treats) while she’s exposed to the frightening trigger to help switch the negative association to a positive one.
  • You must keep your dog below her threshold — the point at which she starts overreacting to the trigger — during desensitization work to achieve success.
  • Different types of frightening triggers require slightly different desensitization plans.

How Can You Tell if Your Dog Is Afraid of Something? 

Fear can come in different packages, and dogs show signs that they are frightened in different ways.

Some dogs will cower and run when frightened, while others will act defensively towards a perceived threat. Some will do both, depending on the trigger and the situation. 

Dogs operate in what we call ‘fight or flight’. If they are scared, most dogs will want to run away, distance themselves, and/or mitigate the situation as quickly as possible. 

However, if they feel trapped, like they don’t have the option to flee, you might find that fear turns defensive or even offensive, manifesting as aggressive behavior.

Things that may make her feel trapped include a leash that’s restricting her escape and movement, being confined in a small space, or feeling cornered.

Dogs who react defensively in these situations are essentially trying to scare off the potential threat.

This type of reaction might become worse over time when your dog learns that this behavior makes the threat retreat. In these cases, the behavior can become inherently self-rewarding.

frightened dog

In the dog behavior world, we often refer to aggression as a ladder. As dogs become increasingly frightened or stressed, their behavior “climbs up the rungs” of a metaphorical ladder.

The lower rungs of the ladder feature subtle, sometimes barely detectable signs of stress and unease (which are often missed), and the rungs become increasingly aggressive toward the top, including things like snaps, snarls, and even bites.

Some dogs will continue to climb the rungs toward the top of the ladder, but extreme stress can cause others to withdraw and “shut down (a term used to describe a lack of behavior when a dog is profoundly fearful and unable to react at all).

Let’s break this down further to examine what fear can look like. Not all dogs will show all of these signs, and the response they exhibit will also depend on the type of trigger.

Below, we’ll share some examples of the subtle signs of stress, some of the signs associated with elevated fear or arousal levels, and finally, some of the signs that are associated with the “top of the ladder.”

Subtle Signs of Stress or Fear (Low Rungs of the Ladder)

These are some signs that may indicate that your dog is experiencing relatively low levels of fear or stress:

  1. Lowered or stiff body posture
  2. Ears back
  3. Licking or pursing the lips
  4. Yawning
  5. Tucking her tail, holding it stiff and upright, or wagging it in short, quick flicks
  6. Looking away, averting her gaze, or showing the whites of her eyes (“whale eyeing”)
  7. Dilated pupils, squinting eyes, or rapid blinking
  8. Exposing her belly
  9. “Smiling” – pulling her lips back in a tight “grin”
  10. Lifting a front paw
frightened dog squinting

More Obvious Signs of Stress or Fear (Middle Rungs of the Ladder)

As your pup’s fear levels increase, she may exhibit any of the following signs:

  1. Cowering or trembling
  2. Trying to hide or escape
  3. Moving in slow motion or freezing
  4. Growling, barking or lunging
  5. Raising her hackles (the hair on the back of her neck stands up)
  6. Panting or drooling
  7. Refusing food
  8. Pacing

“Top of the Ladder” Fear

These signs can happen when your pup is above her threshold level, earlier signs of stress have been missed or ignored, or she is feeling threatened:

  1. Lunging
  2. Growling
  3. Snapping
  4. Snarling
  5. Biting

What Is Dog Desensitization? How Does It Work? 

Now that you understand some of the most common signs of fear or stress, we can start talking about how to address them via the process of desensitization.


Desensitization is a way to gradually teach your four-footer to tolerate a troubling situation or stimuli (also known as a trigger) by carefully and slowly exposing her to the sounds, sights, smells, or situations that upset her

Here are the basics of how desensitization works:

What Is Your Dog’s “Threshold”? 

Every dog has a level of tolerance to the stimuli or situation causing her distress (her trigger).

We call this — the point at which she goes from being calm to over-stimulated — her threshold. In order for desensitization to work, she must remain below this threshold

She needs to learn and practice seeing (or smelling, hearing, etc.) her trigger without exceeding her threshold. 

Tools you can use to stay under your dog’s threshold include:

  • Distance. The further away you can be from your dog’s trigger, the less likely she will be to react to it.
  • Obstructions. Utilize cars, trees, or even your own body to put barriers between your dog and her trigger, making her feel more secure.
  • Your Voice. Don’t be afraid to (nicely) ask dog walkers to cross the street or ask any human triggers to avoid you to keep your dog calm.

Basically, your dog needs to be far enough away (or the sound or scent needs to be quiet or faint enough) that she doesn’t respond negatively.

She will notice the object, person, or sound is there, but it’s distant or soft enough that it’s not threatening, thereby allowing her to remain calm, cool, and collected.

Identifying Your Pup’s Threshold

Because you must keep your pup calm for desensitization to work, you have to begin by identifying her threshold. 

Every dog’s threshold is different.

In fact, your dog’s threshold level may change depending on the trigger (ex. a strange large dog vs a strange small dog). It may change depending on her mood. It may change depending on how many triggers she has experienced in a period of time. There is no one size fits all answer to this. 

But, there is a way to gauge how close your dog is to getting to her threshold level each time she is exposed to the trigger. 

She will tell you through her body language when she begins to approach her threshold level. Because every dog and situation is different and it may depend on the type of trigger, she may experience one or more of the following:

Below Threshold:

  • Body is loose and relaxed
  • Mouth is relaxed, not pursed closed
  • Tail is loose and at half-mast
  • Easily will focus on you
  • Will take treats

Reaching Threshold:

  • May start to look for an escape or appear “worried”
  • Still taking treats, but it becomes more “grabby”
  • Still focus attention on you, but seems agitated by the trigger
  • May start to periodically whine
  • Showing subtle signs of stress discussed earlier (lip licking, yawning, etc.).

Above Threshold:

  • Will no longer take food or respond to a clicker
  • Has retreated completely
  • Refuses to move (freezes) or moves in slow motion
  • Paces, whines, barks and/or lunges
  • Shows signs of major stress such as trembling, drooling, hiding, cowering
  • Hackles (the hair on the back of the neck) may be up and may be pulling if on a leash (either to leave or towards the trigger)
  • May growl, snap, snarl, or even bite if she feels threatened and as though she has no other options. 
fearful dog

How Does Desensitization Change Your Pup’s Mind about Scary Stuff?

Over time, in small doses of under-threshold exposure, desensitization allows your dog to experience her triggers without negative physiological response (technical term: freaking out). 

Her brain will start to make new connections, which will help her to change her automatic fearful response to something more tolerable over time.

If we pair systematic desensitization with other forms of behavior modification, such as counter-conditioning or reinforcing an alternative appropriate behavior, we have a good chance at changing her negative response to a positive one. 

This is particularly useful for changing a reflexive fear response to something positive.

What is Counter-Conditioning?

Counter-conditioning can easily go hand-in-hand with desensitization.

In a nutshell, counter-conditioning is changing (countering) a conditioned response (a learned, ‘auto-default’ response to the trigger). 

So, if your pup’s current response to loud noises is to run and hide, or she barks and lunges when she encounters unfamiliar dogs, you can change her fearful response to something calm and relaxed — even favorable!

How does this work?

It’s simple: We just pair the scary trigger with something A-MAZ-ING, like cheese or bacon (something  we refer to as a high-value treat.)

High-value treats are incredibly important for counter-conditioning. When working on these exercises, use something that is better than the treats she earns for sitting or jumping through a hoop. They need to be special!

When counter-conditioning your pup to a trigger, she doesn’t have to actually do anything, other than see the trigger. As soon as that trigger appears — and provided she remains below her threshold line — she consistently and predictably gets something delicious and great

Eventually, skateboards, strangers, fireworks, or whatever equals food, which equals awesome!

How Does Counter-Conditioning Work with Desensitization?

If you exposing your pooch to umbrellas, motorbikes, etc at a below-threshold level and in short stints while also giving your pup a treat when she’s calm, you are desensitizing her to her triggers while you are also working on counter-conditioning.

The desensitization is you helping her keep calm in these scary situations (aka helping her no longer be sensitive to these triggers), while the counter-conditioning is the introduction of treats to create new, positive associations.

Just remember, if you are too close to the trigger or the trigger is too intense, she will not take treats and counter-conditioning becomes impossible. 

For both desensitization and counter-conditioning to work, your pupper must remain below her threshold.

counter-conditioning dogs

Teaching an Alternative Appropriate Behavior

For some dogs, in some situations, teaching an alternative behavioral response can be useful. 

For example, let’s say your fearful dog runs and barks at the door as soon as that doorbell rings (anticipating a houseguest – scary!).

A good alternative behavior to teach her in this example would be to lay on a training mat anytime the doorbell rings. 

By teaching this alternative behavior, she will be unable to run to the door and lay on her mat at the same time. The two behaviors are incompatible.

You will also be offering her a pleasant alternative by giving her direction – when the doorbell rings, she goes to her mat and receives some treats.

This will help reduce her stress by providing a predictable and more rewarding alternative to barking, lunging, growling.

Doing so also provides her with a safe space where she knows that she does not have to interact with people until she is ready.

What Triggers Fears and Phobias in Dogs? 

Triggers can be anything in your dog’s environment that she finds scary on a fairly regular basis.

Triggers can develop from something your dog has never experienced before, was not exposed to during their critical socialization period, or something that seems unusual

Some dogs are more predisposed to being fearful of new experiences, and a large part of this is due to genetics and early experiences.

Over the years I have seen everything, from dogs who are fearful of leaving their own backyard or scared to go outside at all, to dogs who are fearful of leaving their kennel. Those cases are obviously not the norm, and most people can pinpoint their dog’s triggers to just a few specific things or situations.

The most common fears usually include things such as:

  • Strangers — particularly men
  • People who look “unusual” such as wearing hats or sunglasses
  • People of ethnicities that she may not have experienced previously
  • Strange dogs or other animals
  • Cars, buses, and other vehicles
  • Loud noises, including thunder, fireworks, loud cars, the vacuum and dogs barking
  • Riding in the car
  • Being at the vet
  • Being handled or groomed
  • Having her nails trimmed

How Do I Determine My Dog’s Triggers?

Many times, a dog’s fears are somewhat clear – “my dog is afraid of other dogs.”

However, with a little digging, you may find that her trigger is more specific than you originally thought. You may, for example, find out that she is afraid of large black dogs when they are being walked by men wearing trench coats! 

You may also notice that there are multiple triggers at play if you look closely. If your pup reacts unfavorably to other dogs ‘sometimes’, it might be because smaller triggers have lowered her tolerance level.

For example, perhaps you head out for a walk on a windy day.

In the distance, you hear a loud motorcycle. This causes your dog to exhibit some subtle signs of stress, but you don’t really notice.

Then, a jogger passes right in front of you. That was a bit startling, so she stiffens for a moment. At this point, she has reached her threshold level. 

The next thing you see is a dog approaching. She’s filled her tolerance cup to the brim and it’s ready to spill, so she reacts by barking and lunging.

But, what if you head out on a walk and it’s sunny and calm.

No one is around. She is relaxed and sniffing a tree when a dog passes by calmly. She takes notice, looks at the dog, and may become slightly worried, but she doesn’t bark and lunge because she hasn’t already reached her threshold level.

If you want to learn these subtle nuances, try keeping a journal. Not only will it help you to pinpoint her triggers, but it will also encourage you to pay closer attention to her body language and environmental clues.

Step-by-Step Desensitization Plans 

Desensitization and counter-conditioning looks boring to watch, but small, incremental steps are the best way to approach the problem.

Remember that every dog is different. Some will conquer their fears in minutes, hours or days. Others may take months! Patience is key.

Let’s explore some basic desensitization plans for some common triggers.

Desensitization Plan for Dogs Afraid of the Vet’s Office 

A lot of dogs become frightened visting the vet, but the following plan should help boost your dog’s confidence and ease her fear.

  1. Start by gauging your pup’s threshold level as you approach or enter the office. As soon as she starts to show any signs of fear, back up. You may need to start in the parking lot, or you may start in the front lobby. And you may need to stay at this level for some time.
  2. In short 5- to 10-minute sessions, moving at your pup’s pace, work your way inside the office and explore different areas of clinic.
  3. Try a treat scatter to help distract her and keep her below her threshold. To do so, simply toss some treats onto the floor, let her scavenge, and then go back outside for a few minutes to decompress.
  4. Lather, rinse, and, repeat as necessary.
a treat scatter in action

If there are specific things your pup is worried about in the clinic, such as walking onto the scale, spend some time working towards that.

Every time she steps toward the scale (on her own — don’t coerce her), give her a treat and then let her decompress by walking away from the item or situation.

This goes for anything she may find scary in the clinic, such as stethoscopes, the exam rooms, etc.

If she is worried about strangers touching her, you can spend time desensitizing her to this scenario with the help of the veterinarian or vet techs.

Have people approach her, move their hands slowly near her, and eventually they should touch her. Again, watch her for those subtle signs of stress and stop before it becomes too much for her to handle. You may want to start this process at home, first.

A good way to counter-condition handling is to have a spoonful of peanut butter (a great high-value treat) for her to enjoy as you work on these steps.   

Desensitization Plan for Dogs Afraid of the Vacuum Cleaner 

Vacuum cleaners frighten a lot of dogs, but once again, desensitization and counter-conditioning can help reduce her fear.

vacuum cleaner
  1. Bring out the vacuum out and put it in a location where your pup can view it without exceeding her threshold. As soon as you do so, give her some high-value treats.
  2. Next, put the vacuum away and stop giving her treats. Start by not even turning the vacuum on – just bring out the vacuum, offer treats, then remove the vacuum. If even this is too much for her to handle, you might start by having someone just go into the closet where the vacuum is kept and making a motion as if they’re reaching for it while giving her treats. Remember: Avoid exceeding her threshold. 
  3. Repeat this first step until she is ready to move closer to the vacuum without exceeding her threshold.
  4. Begin to move the vacuum slowly in a cleaning motion without turning it on. Once your dog is calm and relaxed about the vacuum coming out, you can begin to move it around. Toss treats as you move the vacuum around.
  5. The next step is to turn the vacuum cleaner on. Because you are really upping the ante here, make sure she is at a far enough distance from the vacuum that she remains under her threshold. If you don’t have this option, try finding a vacuum sound via YouTube and play the vacuum sound at a just barely detectable level. Slowly make the sound louder and louder, but only when the vacuum is out. You can even start doing this at the same time that you are desensitizing her to the sight and smell of the vacuum.
  6. Start moving the vacuum while it is on or the sound is playing on your phone or computer. Again, make sure that she is far enough from the vacuum that she isn’t worried or stressed.
  7. Keep practicing this step until she is completely unfazed by the strange closet-dwelling contraption
  8. Final step, get cleaning! That dog hair isn’t going to vacuum itself!

Desensitization Plan for Dogs Afraid of Cameras 

Some dogs are total hams, who love posing for photos with their human, but others find the experience (and the actual camera) unnerving.

dog scared of camera
  1. Start with the camera sitting on the floor. Allow your pup to be as far away as she pleases. Toss your high-value treats on the floor while the camera is out. 
  2. Put the camera away after she’s enjoyed a few treats and remained below her threshold.
  3. Repeat the first step until it’s no biggie.
  4. Next, put your hand on the camera as if you were going to take a photo while tossing her a few treats.
  5. The next session (or whenever you feel she’s ready to advance), pick the camera up, and toss her some more treats.
  6. Once she’s mastered the previous steps, increase her exposure a little more (while remaining below her threshold). For example, you may want to point the camera in your dog’s direction, while tossing her some treats.
  7. Work your way closer to her until you’re able to snap her picture without upsetting her
  8. Achieve Instagram fame with your adorable dog photos (or just share them with us via our photo uploader!). 

Desensitization Plan for Dogs Afraid of Being Left Alone (Separation Anxiety) 

Separation anxiety can be a complicated phobia to treat, so I do advise reaching out to a qualified training expert to help you.


How to Cure Dog Separation Anxiety

Learn how to resolve separation anxiety through the help of our step-by-step training plan.

You may even end up exacerbating her fear if she crosses her threshold, so it is important to do some foundation work before you begin to leave her alone for increasingly lengthy periods of time. 

  1. Start by creating a space that is positive and pleasant. This could be a room, part of the house, an x-pen, or simply a little area of the house surrounded by dog gates. Make the area fun, safe, and positive; toys, treats, and comfort are essential.
  2. Start by desensitizing her to this space with you directly outside her space but still well within view. Toss her treats while she enjoys a Kong or puzzle toy and practice moving about (while still remaining in her line of sight). 
  3. Gradually increase the amount of time in which she is inside the puppy-zone and you are right outside it. Perhaps you only start with two to three-second sessions and gradually move up to five or ten-second periods of time.
  4. Start desensitizing her to being in her puppy-zone while you are out of view. Begin with one to two seconds and work very slowly from there until you can reach a full minute or two. Remember: You must keep her below her threshold — if you see her starting to approach it, backtrack, and make things easier on her. 
  5. Work your way toward leaving the house. This might start with just opening and closing the door without actually leaving. It might just be even less obvious, such as gesturing toward the door, putting on your shoes, or grabbing your car keys, depending on the dog.
  6. Eventually, try going out the door and closing it, before opening it and returning inside. Repeat this step until it is easy for your pup.
  7. Increase the length of your absences until you work up to a desired amount of time where your dog remains below her threshold.

Desensitization Plan for Dogs Afraid of Fireworks or Other Loud Noises 

Fireworks and other loud noises are very common phobias for dogs, but once again, you can use desensitization to help reduce the fear they cause.

  1. Find a clip of your pupper’s audible trigger on YouTube or elsewhere. There are lots of options, you’d be surprised!
  2. Play the triggering sound at a very low level, while giving your dog something fun or tasty to do such as slurping scrumptious spreads from a stuffed Kong or playing the “find it” game.
  3. Slowly increase the volume of the trigger over time while allowing her to enjoy her treats or game. Eventually, (and assuming you keep her below her threshold) you should find that the sound fails to elicit any negative reaction from your dog at all.

Desensitization Plan for Dogs Afraid of Dogs or Other Animals

To address a dog’s fear of other dogs, you’ll need to find another handler to help you. This handler will need to control the “trigger” animal you are working with.

Otherwise, this process is pretty similar to desensitizing your dog to other stimuli.

  1. Start in a neutral place with lots of space. As soon as the trigger animal comes into view start to give your dog all kinds of tasty treats. Make sure to do so in rapid-fire-fashion; this means giving her treats every one to two seconds.   
  2. Repeat step one, but slowly and without coercion (don’t force her to approach the other animal), allow her to move closer and closer to the other animal. Move in a zig-zag pattern to avoid direct attention. If she starts to show any signs of stress or approaches her threshold, move further away until she is comfortable and relaxed again.
  3. Continue these steps until she is comfortable with the other animal. 

Once your dog has mastered this, try to change up the context in which she encounters other dogs as well.

In other words, practice in new and different areas. If it is a new area, however, you may need to start further away than where you left off when you were in the familiar and more predictable area.

dog barking in fear

Desensitization Plan for Dogs Afraid of Strangers 

A fear of strangers can be a tricky phobia to treat, as people are everywhere! But not to worry — just start by finding a lovely “stranger” volunteer to help you out.

  1. Start with the “stranger” hanging out a long distance from your doggo. Places like fields or parks are a great option. You may find that the stranger needs to stand up to a full city block away if your dog is particularly anxious. As soon as the stranger comes into view, start handing off treats quickly and at a consistent pace. When the stranger disappears, stop giving her treats. 
  2. Repeat step one but begin to work your way closer and closer to the stranger. Always watch your pup’s body language to make sure that she is staying below her threshold level. Never force her to approach the stranger more closely than she is ready to. Also, try to walk naturally in a zig-zag pattern instead of directly approaching the stranger.
  3. Practice these steps until you can be close to the stranger without any stress.

The fact that there are strangers everywhere can be a blessing and a curse all at once. There are lots of opportunities to practice, though people can be unpredictable, making it tricky to keep your dog below her threshold.

  1. If you see an actual stranger when out and about (as opposed to your friend who’s standing in as a stranger), move as far away as necessary to make your pup comfortable and start doling out the treats until that person is out of view.
  2. Try to avoid really busy parks or areas where your dog will become overwhelmed while working on this phobia. Doing so may risk flooding her, which is a forceful, high-intensity exposure to triggers. This can have harmful ramifications over the long run, and make her fear of strangers worse, not better.

Desensitization Plan for Dogs Afraid of Visitors

As mentioned above, teaching “place” (aka mat training) as an alternative appropriate behavior may be useful for addressing visitor fear. Nonetheless, you still want to reduce her fear through desensitization.

  1. Start with the door. The sounds of knocking, doorbells, or the door opening and closing can become her trigger. If she is very reactive to these sounds or actions, start with finding these sounds on YouTube and playing them at a very low level while giving her high-value treats. Slowly increase the volume until you reach full intensity over time.
  2. Now, pair the sound of the doorbell or knocking with opening and closing the door. Start slowly. In fact, you may start just by placing your hand on the knob or walking towards the door. Continue to provide treats during this time and ensure that she remains below her threshold.
  3. Open the door and pretend to greet your imaginary visitor in a normal volume and context. “Hey, come on in…”
  4. Add a person to the procedure. Try to pick someone with whom your dog is familiar and comfortable, but that doesn’t live in your home. Continue to keep her below her threshold and administer high-value treats liberally. 
  5. Work your way up to having an actual stranger (to her – not a rando you found on Craigslist) enter your house.
  6. Have your guest eventually come into the house and have a seat. Make sure they ignore your pup. It may feel quite threatening if your guest approaches, makes eye contact or tries to talk or interact with your dog. Your guest should just come in, sit down in a non-threatening fashion, and keep her focus on you. 

Again, it may be useful to do all of this work while she is on her mat, so teach this behavior first.

A similar strategy can be used for a dog who barks at people and animals passing by outside. Reward calm behavior until your dog makes the connection that barking gets her nothing while being quiet and relaxed gets her treats!

Desensitization Plan for Dogs Afraid of Cars, Bikes, Skateboards, or Other Rolling Things 

Lots of pups are worried about things that roll, such as bikes, cars, skateboards, scooters. And — from your dog’s perspective — it’s easy to see why! These things are all fast, unpredictable and unusual. Sound the alarm! 

  1. Try to find a skateboard or bike park nearby. Make sure there is a ton of room so that you can appropriately distance yourself. Also, try to choose an “off peak” time so that there may only be a few people, rather than large groups of rolling things.
  2. Allow your pup to observe the skateboards or bikes from a distance. Give her some high-value treats and then walk away. 
  3. Lather, rinse, and repeat while keeping her below her threshold. 
  4. Slowly over a period of days, weeks, months, work your way closer to these rolling objects, while doling out the treats and ensuring that she never becomes stressed or reactive.
  5. Work your way to a close but safe distance over time, and be sure to practice in many environments rather than just one space.


Do you have a dog who is fearful of something? Many dogs have at least one thing that makes them more stressed or worried than usual. Let us know what your pup is fearful of and how you’re working to overcome this fear!

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Written by

Erin Jones

Erin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. After completing her MSc in Anthrozoology, Erin moved to New Zealand early in 2019 to complete her PhD at the University of Canterbury – New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies. Her research focuses on the ethics and social constructs of the human-dog relationship and humane training practices. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her husband and their dog, Juno.


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My rescue barks at the TV when there are animals… sometimes its the sound (a moo or whinny), sometimes its the animal (cows, horses, sometimes birds), sometimes all of the above…. How do i get him to stop barking at the TV?
Animals appear spontaneously on TV, so its not a controlled situation like walking….

Ben Team

Hey there, Darlene.

We’d recommend trying Erin’s plan for dogs who’re sensitive to other dogs — just use the TV instead.
You may need to rent or stream a movie or documentary with lots of animals in it, which you can pause as need be.

Best of luck!

Jenna Sisk

This is super helpful! I have a dog who we rescued who is so fearful and has suuuuch a low threshold, I don’t know how to begin. If it is within his line of sight (people walking by our apartment, or if on leash, literally anything, dog, person, car, you name it) then he is already above his threshold. There is literally no space that is far enough away where he actually notices the trigger and doesn’t react in a barking, lunging, growling, etc. manner. Where is a good type of place to work with him?

Ben Team

Hey, Jenna. Glad you found the article helpful!

When I started trying to desensitize my pooch to people and dogs, I found that really big, really empty parks worked well. It’s not always easy to find one that has sufficient space and enough triggers to practice desensitization, so you may have to hunt around a bit.

It may be helpful to experiment with different times of day — there are often “windows” of time during the middle of the day when most people are at work/school that work best.
Best of luck!

Kathy Larsen

Great information! Looking forward to learning more. My pup, now 10, will urinate in the house when in fear or anxious. She was adopted at age 1 with many issues. She’s improved with time and patience. She’s not treat motivated. I’m looking forward to applying your recommendations.

Ben Team

Glad you liked the article, Kathy! Good luck working with your pooch!


I read through your array of great desensitization articles but failed to find what I need.

My 2yo AKC Yellow Lab, Scooter, is ultra-friendly (i.e., his socialization is over the brim) and I need to tone him down. I’ve trained him to be a polite, obedient and otherwise well mannered pup except in that arena.

I’d like for Scooter to be as calm as a service dog in the presence of others, be it the vet, my daughter or my girlfriend…


Ben Team

Hey there, Uvaldo.
It sounds like you’d probably need to work directly with a trainer at this point, but we’re glad you’d had success with the rest of his training.
And honestly, being too friendly is certainly not the worst problem in the world! Just take a look at some of the other issues owners struggle with in our comment section.

Also, keep in mind that Labs are often ridiculously friendly anyway, and some dogs simply have more exuberant personalities than others — he may never quite be “service-dog calm.”
Best of luck!


I adopted a shelter dog a month ago. He’s been abused and is scared of everything. I’m going long distance to visit my son and his family, coco loves me and I’m worried he will be different around my grandsons. 3 and 5. Please help me learn how to introduce him to my family. I have gotten him to calm down around my neighbors, but, children no. What do I do?

Ben Team

Hey, Len.
We’d urge you to be very careful if you think there’s any chance your new pooch may react negatively toward kids.
You should probably work directly with a trainer to help your dog build confidence, before introducing him to little ones. We’d also recommend giving our article about introducing dogs to babies a read. Babies obviously aren’t the same as young children, but many of the same principles will apply.
Best of luck!


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