Chris Shaughness

author, speaker, animal lover

Obedience,  All Articles

Flooding

Okay, I’ve really tried to be good. I’ve restrained myself for a very long time and I can’t any more! I’ve had enough of Cesar Millan and his horrendous training techniques. Last month, a very upset man hired me to help his dog overcome her fear of the kitchen. It seemed that every time he was cooking, his dog panicked. She drooled and paced and was generally overwrought. It all started when the toaster startled her – a very simple fear of a noise which could have been resolved easily by a professional. Instead, her owner decided to use one of the Dog Whisperer’s (sic) favorite techniques called ‘flooding’ whereby the dog is exposed to the fearful situation over and over again. Can you guess what happened? Of course! This poor dog now associates anything in the area of the kitchen with complete terror. Let’s discuss flooding and why it’s not such a good idea to do if you are not trained in the technique.

Flooding involves incessant exposure to something that causes a fear reaction, with no possible means of escape. It could be a noise, an object, a place, etc. For example, let’s say you’re afraid of snakes. To help you overcome that fear, flooding involves having you sit in a room with a bunch of snakes and you cannot leave. Of course, the snakes do not hurt you – you are simply very close to them. The idea is that your fears become so overwhelming while in this situation, that you have no choice but to give up. Your mind shuts down in order to get relief from the mental anguish. For some people, this technique works. For many, however, it creates even more problems: fear of the place that this flooding session occurred, anger at the person who put them in this situation, and even more terror of the snakes.

The same scenario can be demonstrated for dogs, using a different fear as an example. Let’s take my client whose dog was fearful of the toaster. My client and his friend sat the dog in the kitchen and constantly popped the toaster up and down, giving the dog no means of escape. Prior to the flooding session, she was able to be in the kitchen without any fearful reaction, except for when the toaster popped up. Now, after this flooding session, she begins to withdraw into a fearful, panicked state when she sees her owner go into the kitchen. She paces, drools and wants to go outside to get away from the situation. If he is cooking for an extended time, she has to stay outside because she is so upset. The flooding technique caused the dog to associate terrible things with anything in the area of the ‘flood zone.’

I cannot fault my client for trying to help his dog. He thought he was doing a good thing by following the advice of someone who claims to really understand dogs. Cesar Millan has no magic powers with dogs. His magic exists in the editing process of television. Please don’t try his techniques at home!

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