Flooding Therapy for Dog Behavior Issues

Updated on November 15, 2016

What is Flooding in Dogs?

Flooding is a full immersion training technique applied both in humans and animal psychology. It consists of forcefully exposing the dog to the stimuli that triggers its fear and provoked the original trauma. This method of behavior therapy may bring fast results, but it may be traumatic and may come with some risks.

In a recent episode, Cesar Millan treated Kane, a Great Dane who was terrified of walking on shiny surfaces after slipping on a shiny floor and hitting himself on a glass door. The pet parents were desperate to ease this dog's fears but could not find a way to make him gain confidence again. Cesar, pointed out that nurturing the dog when it displayed fear was only making matters worse. Instead, he takes Kane by the leash and walks him with confidence over the shiny floor. Kane, appears disoriented, but in a few minutes he is back to walking normally on the shiny surface. This is an example of flooding used with success (if the dog healed completely), but watch the dog's many stress signals. Was it really worth it?

In the human world, flooding is used to treat fears and phobias. A good example, is launching a child scared of water in a pool. While, this may not appear to be the best approach, it appeared to work when the children's instinctive survival skills kicked in and they swam across the pool to get out. It is also used when psychologists bombard their patients with detailed descriptions of the situations they fear until they end up losing their fear of those situations.

Flooding in Dogs: a Risky Procedure

In flooding, the dog cannot escape from the situation until it is released. This makes it a highly stressful situation. However, eventually, the dog's arousal level will diminish and the dog's reactive state may shut down. While this may look like success, it is only by looking at the long term results that this can be determined. Quick fixes might work in fixing a sink but are not common in solving dog behavior. And not always will flooding techniques be successful long term.

When is flooding commonly used in dogs? Hunting dogs fearful of gunshots may be placed close to a firing range. Farm dogs fearful of horses may be placed in a horse stable for hours. Dogs fearful of thunder may be exposed to prolonged recordings of thunderstorm put at high volume.

While flooding may help in some mild cases, when it does not, the dog may turn into an emotional wreck and be prone to sensitization, which causes an increase in fear. There are, therefore, far better approaches granting higher rates of success.

Desensitization for instance, may take longer but it provides far more reliable results. Instead of forcefully exposing the dog for prolonged periods of time to the stimuli causing the dog's unnecessary fear, the dog is gradually exposed to its fear and therefore there are higher chances of putting the dog up for success.

Patience and gradual exposure is therefore a much preferable method.

The use of flooding is almost always inappropriate... exposing a fearful or fearfully aggressive dog to a stimulus of which he is afraid of but cannot escape, will make the fear worse.

— Karen Overall

Questions & Answers

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      • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

        3 years ago from USA

        Thank you MarieLB, I am happy to hear you enjoyed the read! Best regards, Adrienne

      • MarieLB profile image

        MarieLB 

        3 years ago from YAMBA NSW

        Thank you so much for sharing your deep knowledge of dogs with us, who also love dogs very much. It is a great article and in time I shall be reading other articles and learning from you.

      • Eileen Hughes profile image

        Eileen Hughes 

        7 years ago from Northam Western Australia

        Great article, so many dogs suffer from anxiety these days but it is hard to find a cure. Our blue heeler was okay until he had a tooth removed. Now when in car he trembles non stop.

        And when we stop he goes and does his business and races back to get in the car dragging me with him. He has enormous strength even pulls my husband over and he's not little. Our vet put him on 50mg of Endep and still does not slow him down. We try to be patient with him. thanks for sharing this idea with us great hub

      • K9keystrokes profile image

        India Arnold 

        7 years ago from Northern, California

        alexadry~ I personally do not favor the flooding technique. It seems better suited for a prisoner of war camp than for a healing session for your dog. You make a wonderful option availabe to your readers when advising;

        "Desensitation for instance, may take longer but it provides far more reliable results. Instead of forcefully exposing the dog for prolonged periods of time to the stimuli causing the dog's fear, the dog is gradually exposed to its fear and therefore there are higher chances of putting the dog up for success."

        My personal feeling is this technique provides for a better relationship with the dog and his alpha human in the long run with less chance of a 'snap' back to the fearful place due to PTSD that may be lingering behind the behavior modification.

        Outstanding work and advice here, I offer my respect to you for a well done and dog friendly hub! UP and awesome.

        K9

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