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Introduction to Canine Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Introduction to Canine Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Written by
Billie Groom
6 min read

We love our companion canines, and want to provide them with the best of everything, including the best training methods. When challenged by behaviors common in the adolescent stage, or when integrating rescued into families, it can be frustrating. It is common to blame oneself, the trainer, or simply feel the dog is not the right fit, leading to the reliance on unsavory methods, surrender, or euthanasia. 

In fact, the problem most likely lies within the method.

Conditioning Dogs

Conditioning

Currently, conditioning methods dominate mainstream dog training. These include operant, counter, and classical conditioning, of which positive reinforcement training, (one half of operant conditioning) is the most popular. Conditioning methods are often effective with puppies, but can fall short with dogs in the adolescent stage, or with adopted dogs. 

Why is this? 

Conditioning methods are particularly effective with puppies because they are designed to teach right from wrong and instill positive thought patterns.

Through the use of reinforcements, puppies learn expected behaviors, and often behaviors associated with anxiety and aggression are prevented through proper socialization techniques. 

Dogs over the age of six months, and dogs with unconventional upbringings, have preconceived thought patterns which drive their behaviors. To effectively work with these dogs, we need to adhere to a methodology that is designed to harness these emotions and thought patterns. 

UPWARD Dogology is an evidence-based methodology grounded in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), making it effective with dogs whose behaviors are stemming from cognitive skills. 

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a scientifically proven methodology for addressing behaviors commonly derived from thought patterns and perceptions generated by learned behavior.

CBT takes a holistic, proactive approach by addressing the reason for the behavior, not the behaviors themselves.

CBT changes perception by harnessing cognitive skills, establishing platform exercises, and providing options. CBT is grounded in communication, and is, inherently, non-aversive and force free.  

How Are CBT and Conditioning Methods Different?

How Are CBT and Conditioning Methods Different?

Both Conditioning methods and CBT are defined by a structured set of principles and practices. These guidelines are designed to achieve different goals. 

The goal of Conditioning methods is to teach, and to encourage or discourage wanted and unwanted behaviors (respectively) through the use of reactive reinforcements. The conditioning platform assumes dogs want to learn, do not know “right from wrong”, are eager to learn expected behaviors, and are encouraged and discouraged by reinforcements. 

The goal of CBT is to replace existing thought patterns with ones which allow for change in behavior. UPWARD Dogology is a methodology, or a formula, that adheres to the principles and practices of CBT. CBT is designed to take a proactive approach, and relies on transferable skills to change established thought patterns driving behaviors. Canine CBT (CCBT) provides skills allowing dogs to monitor stimuli, process situations, make decisions, and, in turn, change their behavior. It is flexible, and adapts to each individual dog, allowing us to work at the pace of the dog. UPWARD Dogology is, inherently, non-aversive, force-free, creative, logical, and adaptable. 

Why Is Canine CBT Effective With Dogs Over Six Months of Age?

At approximately six months of age, the cognitive abilities of dogs develop. Cognitive abilities include memory, object differentiation, emotional intelligence, object placement, and the ability to think, process, and make decisions to a higher level then that of puppies. Whilst puppies have cognitive abilities, these abilities commonly act in our favor, allowing us to teach and bond through reactive reinforcements. As dogs mature, these skills can lead to behaviors deemed challenging, obstinate, unruly, and even aggressive. By continuing to apply approaches and techniques adhering to Conditioning methods, cognitive abilities are suppressed, bonding decreases, and unwanted behaviors increase.

CCBT harnesses thought patterns and cognitive abilities. The UPWARD Dogology formula is flexible and adapts to the personality and disposition of individual dogs. When dogs enter into adolescence, or a higher level of maturity, they need to know we respect their intelligence by not always teaching, but rather by creating a two-way communication that allows us to better understand their needs. 

To learn more about adolescent dogs, read my article The Adolescent Dog — Upward Dogology

Who Needs Canine CBT?

Who Needs Canine CBT?

CBT is particularly effective in addressing behaviors associated with anxiety and aggression, and ones common during the adolescent stage (6-20 months approximately), and behaviors resulting from change in lifestyle. Some Conditioning methods can address these behaviors as well, so it important to be flexible and knowledge on the options available.

What Are the Benefits of CCBT?

  1. CCBT Strengthens the Human-Canine Bond: through exercises that reach the cognitive side of the brain, we develop a bond by showing dogs we understand what is important to them, respect their emotional intelligence, and  communicate our needs in a calm, clear manner. There is nothing more bonding then harnessing cognitive abilities. Simply ask anyone who enjoys canine enrichment, agility, scent detection, or trains service dogs, to name a few! All of the activities harness cognitive skills, and are proven to be bonding. 
  2. Decrease Behavioural Surrender: The number one reason for surrendering a dog is the perceived inability to address behaviors, in particular, behaviors associated with the adolescent stage, anxiety, and aggression. Majority of dogs surrendered have been exposed to conditioning methods provided by qualified trainers. By changing our approach to CCBT, pet parents no longer feel the need to surrender, thereby reducing the number of dogs in shelters and rescue organizations.
  3. Eliminate the Perceived Need for Physically Harmful Tools and Emotionally Traumatic Methods: When people are frustrated by the inability for common methods to effectively address behaviors, they often resort to methods or “quick fix” tools which, although effective in the moment, can cause long term detrimental issues. It is vital people are made aware of force free, non-harmful, effective options, such as CCBT.
  4. Increase Successful Adoptions: Many people want to help dogs, but are nervous to adopt or foster dogs over the age of six months for fear they will not be able to easily bond with them, integrate them into their life, or address potential behavioral issues. The UPWARD Dogology program is proven effective in quickly adapting dogs to new environments, preventing potential problems, and creating the necessary bond, therefore eliminating the need to wait three months, which can deter good people from fostering or adopting. 
  5. Prevent Behavioral Euthanasia: Shelters euthanize an enormous number of dogs every day for behavioral reasons because of behaviors deeming them unadoptable or unfit for rehabilitation. Dogs deserve to be exposed to CCBT before the decision to euthanize is made. Veterinarians are forced to euthanize dogs when methods they recommend are unsuccessful in addressing aggression or anxiety, causing themselves, and their clients, a great deal of sadness and stress. Veterinarians and their clients deserve to know their options. 

UPWARD Dogology has saved the lives of hundreds of dogs every year for three decades. Canine cognition,  and the need to recognize the benefits of the human-animal bond, is now in the forefront.  Mindsets are changing toward the foundation of CCBT – that of providing options, taking a proactive approach, acknowledging emotional intelligence, respecting individual thought patterns, and addressing the reason for behavior, not the behaviors themselves. To achieve these mindsets and approaches, we must adhere to a methodology grounded in these principles. 


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Frequently Asked Questions

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Where Can I Learn More?

For more information on CCBT and UPWARD Dogology, please visit www.upwarddogology.com , listen to our podcast – Dog Training DisrUPted, Upward Dogology, or find our book, The Art of Urban People With Adopted and Rescued Dogs Methodology; Rescued Dogs, on Amazon and at Friesen Press. 

Summary

Introduction to Canine Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

At approximately six months of age, the cognitive abilities of dogs develop. Cognitive abilities include memory, object differentiation, emotional intelligence, object placement, and the ability to think, process, and make decisions to a higher level then that of puppies. Whilst puppies have cognitive abilities, these abilities commonly act in our favor, allowing us to teach and bond through reactive reinforcements. As dogs mature, these skills can lead to behaviors deemed challenging, obstinate, unruly, and even aggressive. By continuing to apply approaches and techniques adhering to Conditioning methods, cognitive abilities are suppressed, bonding decreases, and unwanted behaviors increase.

Billie Groom
Written By

Billie Groom

Expert in Canine Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CCBT), award-winning book author, & podcast host. Eliminating behavioral surrender & euthanasia through UPWARD Dogology. Join me & help dogs in need!
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