Updated: Oct 5, 2021
Believe it or not, using fake but life-like toy dogs (decoy dogs) during training and practice sessions, is not only believable to the dog when handled properly, but it can be an invaluable tool for treating serious behavior problems such as aggression/reactivity, resource guarding, barrier frustration, and inappropriate social skills!
For example, the behavior of barking or lunging at other dogs on leash is commonly fueled by fear and anxiety, where exposure to a real dog can result in too much social pressure for a fearful dog, a decoy dog does not react at all, relieving some of that pressure. The use of a decoy creates a valuable middle step for confidence-building using desensitization and counter-conditioning. Using decoy dogs we can gradually introduce controlled exposure where the dog believes the decoy is real, however, the handlers have full control over the “behaviors” that the decoy dog displays.
As pet parents, it is difficult not to feel a similar stress when encountering dogs on a walk. I know all too well the dread of experiencing a surprise situation, and worrying about how to respond in the moment. Using a fake dog, is not only about practice, repetition and success for your pet, it can also help you! Using setups you control the variables, you can practice in an environment where you feel safe and comfortable, creating reflexive and habitual responses to help you manage surprises in real life.
Another benefit to using a decoy dog is that you have access to the resources you need to practice and employ the skills learned in your training program, on your schedule. You will not need to coordinate with neighbors and friends, or rely on the ever unpredictable public. When working with a decoy dog, it is helpful to maintain the realism of that “dog” to keep it consistent for your pet. Her