Lesson 01: Systematic Desensitisation

We trainers and dog-guardians talk a lot about “getting closer,  gradually   …but what does that mean? Let’s really break this down.   


The word “systematic” is often overlooked, and it’s a shame! It’s 50% of this equation so it really holds some weight. To be systematic is to have a plan, to be methodical. Far too often, I see people (guardians and trainers alike), flying by the seat of their pants and not following a plan. Heck, I still fall into this trap more often than I’d like to admit!   


In psychology, desensitisation is a process that reduces the emotional responsiveness to a stimulus after repeated exposure. Now, let’s not kid ourselves and put this in the same bucket as “flooding”  (think Fear Factor, the TV show). Desensitisation is the opposite of “sensitisation” – to become more  sensitive.   

So let’s put the two together and we have a process that methodically reduces the emotional responsiveness to a stimulus after repeated exposure.   

As a young trainer, I spent 99% of my time flying by the seat of my pants and that was at the expense of my clients. Had I followed a training plan and tracked data, I would have made progress faster and with fewer errors. Fast-forward thirteen+ years and I’m a data-tracking freak who obsesses over the details.  

What does this mean for us? It means that we have to get a little nerdy.   

As our dogs’ emotional responses towards their triggers improve, we don’t want to remain stagnant – we want to keep making progress, which means closing the gap, getting closer to the triggers, and perhaps even interacting with them at various levels.   

The same rules still apply – your dog must be under threshold (not reacting) in order for them to learn and retain information.   

We’re going to talk about this a little more, but for now let’s map out our dog’s comfort level or threshold with their triggers. Get a pen/paper and jot down your dog’s triggers. To the right, jot down the distance at which they reacted before you started this course. The right of that, jot down the current distance at which they are reacting. This is important data as it tells us what to do, and how, next!  

Lessons in this Course: