Sometimes you adopt a dog that has a pre-existing behavior issue that shows up only in a home environment. For example, your new pup barks at men with beards. If this is the case, then desensitizing your furry friend is an excellent way to eliminate the issue.
Desensitization means exposing a dog to such a low level of stimulus that s/he does not react: this technique can be applied to any number of situations.
Take the example of men with beards. The first step is to identify that a bearded man is a trigger that sets your dog barking. Once the trigger is identified, what can be done? For the facial hair phobic dog, this means finding a distance at which the dog sees a bearded man but doesn’t react. That might be 5, 10, 20, or 50 feet away. The actual distance doesn’t matter, because what you want to do is reward your dog’s calm behavior in the presence of a bearded man.
You can enlist the help of a bearded friend or a fake bearded friend. Let your dog see the man and when he does not react, praise and reward him. Have your assistant move closer, and if no response from your dog, repeat praise and reward.
If the dog’s body language changes, such as they step away, hackles rise, head drops or ears go back, then before s/he starts to bark get them to sit as your bearded assistant calmly walk away.
The next session restarts with the bearded assistant at a distance that doesn’t provoke a response.
Keep desensitization sessions short, fun, and rewarding. In this way, your dog will learn to re-associate new things with calmness and positive experiences.
Your patience is crucial. The key to the desensitization process is to help dogs re-associate previously stressful or highly emotional situations with something calm and positive. Go slow, going too fast can scare your dog and cause them to become even more reactive to the things you’re working to desensitize them too.