Monday, March 29, 2010

My first real counter-conditioning success

Elo freaks out at windshield wipers. Actually, let me put that in the past tense--Elo USED TO freak out at windshield wipers. As soon as you would turn them on, he would bark, growl, lunge, be all over the dashboard biting at the windshield and would take awhile to calm down and stop growling after they were turned off. Ok, a little funny, but not so funny when you forget your wiper-reactive dog is sitting next to you in the car, go to clean your windshield out of habit, and nearly have a heart attack when he explodes next to you. Not so funny when you have the choice of not bringing that dog along when it's raining, or bringing him along and hoping you don't crash for lack of ability to see out your windshield.

So, I set out to fix it. My first issue was how to get Elo under threshhold. In the car there was no way to keep him from reacting, and I didn't think he would react outside of the car. I was wrong about that, I found out--he reacted from like 10 away from the car (he was in the backyard, the car was in the driveway), but got over it much faster.

I grabbed a bucket of yummy treats, a clicker, and sat in the driver's seat with Elo outside the car on the ground next to me. He could hear the wipers, but couldn't see them very well from where he was. I swished them once and immediately clicked and treated before he even had a chance to think about reacting. That was most of our first session. Towards the end, I sped up the tempo a little. It actually went really well! After the first ten reps or so, he started to view the wipers almost as if they WERE the clicker and looked for his treat each time. We ended there.

In the next session, we started where we ended the first session for a little review. Then I had him get in the car. He was a little concerned, but we backed up a bit and he quickly realized we were playing the same game. Within a few minutes, I had him sitting calmly with the wipers on full speed!! We took a short break and then went for a drive, during which I ran the wipers intermittently, still clicking and treating for calm. It was a complete success! I know we will need to practice more to solidify the change in behavior, but I'm calling it a win!


  1. yay, congratulations!!! wow, it seems like the change was so fast! I can't say that i've ever fully counter conditioned something though. I guess Vito was pretty reactive as a wee puppy and I worked hard on it, but i'm sure it was a combination of growing up, attention training, and a whole bunch of stuff that helped. Anyway, that's really great news!

  2. The results were definitely nice and a dramatic contrast to what I started with, but I think I had a pretty easy project to begin with. I think the issue was simply fear based on unfamiliarity with the wipers combined with some motion-reactiveness. Elo is not a fearful dog in general, he has a pretty steady temperament. He just needed to calm down enough to think it through, then once he did he realized it was all fine.

    What about working through Vito SA? I really admire what you did with that. That was a long process that I don't think I would have the patience for even if I had the time.

  3. Way to go Tania and Elo! Good work!

  4. What's a clicker?
    My pup is equally passionately anti-windshield wipers and I haven't figured out how to work with her on this issue.

  5. Hi Walker. You can read more about clicker training here:

    My dogs are clicker trained and really understand what the clicker means. But keep in mind that the clicker is not essential in this process. You can do the same thing without the clicker. It's mainly about pairing the "wipe" with food so that your dog learns to associate the scary wipers with good things. The hard part is you have to start from a distance where your dog is NOT going to go crazy at the wipers (either the back seat or even outside of the car) and gradually get closer once your dog has made the association between the wipers and the food.