Haven’t heard of remedial adaptation? That’s ok. I made it up. Not without good reason though. I am a canine behavior specialist. My clients’ dogs can chronically feel anxious, fearful, stressed, over-aroused, or any number of other unhealthy negative emotions. If you’ve ever had such a dog, you may have employed someone like me to plan and implement a behavior modification program. But what does that mean?

Simply put, behavior modification is the systematic approach to changing behavior through various learning techniques. That is not to say that behavior modification is only teaching dogs how to act better. A large part is also helping dogs feel better about the people/dogs/noises/places/etc. that currently give them negative emotions. And there are lots of ways to do that.

The behavior modification program that I develop for my clients’ dogs always includes elements from three areas: (1) behavioral wellness, (2) prevention & management, and (3) remedial adaptation. Behavioral wellness addresses a dog’s unmet, or under-met, needs including nutrition, physical exercise, and mental stimulation. Prevention & management involves changes to the dog’s environment or routine so that they cannot rehearse undesirable behaviors. Remedial adaption consists of helping the dog feel better AND do better.

In developmental psychology, ADAPTATION is the ability to adjust to new information and new experiences. It is through adaptation that we acquire new behaviors to enable us to endure and accept change. To do this, dogs must learn emotional resilience and behavioral flexibility. That is, we want our dogs to recover quickly to changes in their environments (emotional resilience) and also process changes in their environments and adjust their actions accordingly (behavioral flexibility). More simply we want our dogs to feel safe, secure, and confident and to have the ability to make good choices.

So why REMEDIAL adaptation? Because in an ideal world, these dogs would have learned these skills as puppies and, for whatever reason, they didn’t learn them or they lost them due to unfavorable circumstances or events. We need to remedy this. Remedial adaptation is not as simple as doing it right the first time. Nor are we guaranteed to fully heal the dog. The goal of remedial adaptation is to help the dog feel as confident and secure as possible and to teach the dog to make good choices even if they don’t feel better about a particular trigger. Remedial adaptation is essentially therapy so the dog can feel better and training so the dog can do better.