Have you ever heard of opposition reflex? Maybe you’ve heard of the term but you don’t really understand how it affects dog training in a practical sense. I’ll give you a hint, you might experience it every time you take your dog for a walk.
What is Opposition Reflex?
Opposition reflex was discovered by Ivan Pavlov, the physiologist who also discovered classical conditioning through his experiments with dogs. It’s a reflex that occurs when a dog feels some type of physical pressure and it stems from their predatory instinct to fight, flight or freeze. To put it simpler, when a dog feels physical pressure, they oppose the pressure with counter pressure. You may not realize it, but you’re already very familiar with opposition reflex because us humans have it too. If someone were to lean on you, you’re likely to lean or push back or if someone pulled you towards them, you would likely pull away. That’s opposition reflex and our dogs react the very same way.
Examples of Opposition Reflex
Why Should You Care About Opposition Reflex?
First, it’s beneficial to understand the reflex so you know why your dog might be resisting you at times or pulling on the leash. When we physically force a dog to do something while they’re resisting (rather than using an incentive), it may break the trust and bond we have with our dog and it can cause them to oppose us more often. That can make training even more challenging and frustrating.
Another reason to care about opposition reflex is that it’s possible to reduce the level of the reflex in dogs. This would be nearly impossible with most wild animals as they have very strong opposition reflexes, but domesticated dogs can often be conditioned to respond or yield to light pressure through positive reinforcement training. Here’s an example. I’ve trained Haley to turn or change directions while walking on the leash by giving her very light pressure on the leash combined with the command “This Way!”. She’s learned to yield to the pressure instead of pulling against it.
Finally, opposition reflex can be put to use in positives ways, such as training service dogs to open or pull things. Sledding, cart-pulling and skijoring dogs rely on the reflex to do their jobs. Even a spirited game of tug-of-war with your pup is a positive way to use their opposition reflex.
“By understanding opposition reflex, we can find ways to work with our dog’s nature and instincts to make training easier and promote a stronger bond.”
One of the most frustrating issues dog owners complain about is they can’t stop their dogs from pulling on the leash. Yep, that’s definitely something I can relate to with Haley, so I’ll be tackling that topic in my next post, Is Your Dog Always Pulling on the Leash?
What examples of opposition reflex can you relate to with your dog? Share your thoughts and ideas with us!