Classical Conditioning of an Otoscope for Veterinary Exam



classical conditioning for husbandry - preparing for the vet's officeThis video series shows Pamela Rhodes working with her dog Buster to help prepare him for stress-free veterinary visits.  Pamela had been working with the guidance and coaching of Debbie Jacobs, trainer and author of A Guide to Living With and Training a Fearful Dog.

The goal of this training is to create a positive conditioned emotional response (+CER) to the otoscope before beginning training for the procedures that a vet would perform with the object.  By taking the time to develop this +CER, the rest of the training that follows should go quicker.

This training can be used to create a positive conditioned response to other equipment, the examination tasks themselves, and much more. Canine Behavior Science uses classical conditioning and positive reinforcement to help dogs overcome fears of strangers, other dogs, and many other things as well as vet procedures.  Contact us to help you with your dog’s behavior issues.  


The videos and the description are Pamela’s.

According to Pamela, the entire process took just over a day, with random exposures adding up to a total actual training time of around 2 minutes (adding the videos together). These videos show the only exposures he had to the otoscope by each stage in real time.

Pamela does so many things right here that allow rapid development of a +CER.  She focused on making a clear connection between the otoscope and the yummy treats by paying careful attention to the other variables that might muddy up the association, by:


  • using special yummy food that Buster doesn’t normally get.
  • using both containers to reduce the smell of the food, or let the smell permeate the room, so that the smell of the food did not predict the receipt of the food.
  • introducing the object in different rooms, so Buster would not associate receiving the yummies with the location.
  • making the appearance of the otoscope a surprise by doing one trial at a time, spread out throughout the day.


This first video shows the first time Buster saw the new pocket otoscope that I purchased for training. He had no prior negative experiences with this particular object so was happy to look at and sniff it, but since he didn’t know what it was he had no reason to get excited about it. As soon as he saw it I opened a small can of cat food (that he hadn’t been able to smell in advance) and made surprisingly awesome food arrive out of ‘nowhere’, along with some happy talk to encourage him further.


This time the opened food was hidden in the fridge to allow Buster start to make the association that it was the otoscope (and not the food smell) that was making the food appear. As you can see, at this stage he hadn’t yet understood it (not that it would have expected him to) but he was very happy to see the awesome food reappearing.


This time we were in a different room in the house, to further demonstrate to Buster that it was indeed the ostoscope that was making the food appear, and not the location. The food was in a sealed container but probably could still be smelt by Buster, so I left it lying around for a short while  – he was therefore used to it and unlikely to associate the smell with the appearance of the otoscope. At this point, he looked more interested in the appearance of the otoscope.



This is another room of the house.  At this point his body language had started to brighten a little more, suggesting that the association between otoscope and food was becoming more established.


The excitement was building a little, and interestingly he initially went towards the other side of the room – this is where food is normally supplied from so would be the most likely place the look for it if he expected it to come from somewhere. Actually, it was in an unusual location within a new sealed can so he wouldn’t have been able to smell it.



This time his excitement is very visible – he is jumping up towards it. It seems he now sees the otoscope as a predictor of great things so we are ready to start operant conditioning training with it.


Copyright Pamela Rhodes (with Buster) – February 2017