Glossary

Stuck on the lingo? Let's get clear! 

Here are some terms that are typically used in the work we're doing with our distressed dogs:


Aggression - a response to a trigger that results in injury. see "reactivity" 

Desensitisation - a gradual experience to reduce the sensitivity to the stimulus. Also known as Systematic Desensitisation. 

Distress - signs may include: frantic barking/yelping, trying to escape, cowering/hiding, air snapping, lunging, loss of control of bladder/bowels, vomiting, expressing anal glands. see "stress"

Currency - that for which the dog works; food, access to resources, play, affection, etc... 

Flooding - a technique that involves exposing the patient/dog to their trigger at a level that is overwhelming with the idea that their panic will peak and then eventually lessen or disappear. (Remember the show Fear Factor? Not terribly effective in the treatment of fears, right?) Unfortunately, for dogs who are experiencing leash-reactivity, being exposed to the trigger for an extended period of time without an opportunity to escape is the very same thing. Certainly not as entertaining as was that show!

Habituation - the technical term for "getting used to it" and unfortunately many dogs don't do this very well. Instead, they sensitise; they become more sensitive.

Management - the term used to describe trigger-avoidance. This may include adjusting the time of day that walks occur, avoiding busy streets, using window film to block the view of the sidewalk, moving the mailbox to the end of the driveway, disallowing visitors, using a Calming Cap in the car, etc... 

Primary Reinforcer - stimulus that is biologically important to an organism, such as food, water, sleep, shelter, safety, pleasure, and sex. It leads to an involuntary response, such as recoiling, drooling, and trembling. see "secondary reinforcer"

Punishment - (effect) any change that occurs after a behaviour that reduces the likelihood of that behaviour occurring again in the future.

Reactivity - an over-reaction to a stimulus. see "aggression"

Reinforcement - (effect) any change that occurs after a behaviour that increases the likelihood of that behaviour occurring again in the future.

Reinforcer - (stimulus) any event (stimulus, object) that strengthens the frequency of the behaviour that precedes it. 

Secondary Reinforcer - a situation wherein a stimulus reinforces a behaviour after being previously associated with a primary reinforcer or a stimulus that satisfies basic survival instinct such as food, click, toys, play*, affection*, praise, tricks/behaviours, etc. see "primary reinforcer"

Sensitisation - a learning process through which repeated exposure to a stimulus results in the progressive amplification (increasing strength) of the reaction to the stimulus. 

Stress - signs may include: Hyper-vigilance, lip-licking, yawning, lowered head, trembling / shaking, lifted paw, pinned ears, unnaturally erect ears (pointed forward), walking slowly or freezing, panting, anorexia (food avoidance), mild or intermittent vocalisations (whine/bark), growling, showing teeth. see "distress"

Sub-threshold - the zone where we are training - below their threshold so that they are learning stress-free. see "threshold"

Systematic Desensitisation - a methodical, gradual experience to reduce the sensitivity to the stimulus. Also known as Desensitisation. 

Threshold - the point at which the dog moves from a relaxed state to a stressed or distressed state. 

Trigger - a stimulus that evokes a reactive response. 


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