Resilience Conditioning

Resilience Conditioning

Oct 17, 2022

The Broaden & Build Theory

The Broaden and Build Theory suggests that when people feel positive emotions, their behavioral repertoire broadens. They are more likely to engage with the people around them, be open to new experiences, and be more creative. Furthermore, the theory suggests that experiencing positive emotions may also build psychological resilience. 

When people feel negative emotions, their behavioral repertoire decreases. They are less likely to engage with the people around them and less likely to try new things.

I believe that animals have a similar experience with positive and negative emotions. For example, a puppy who has had mostly positive experiences is more likely to greet other people and dogs with enthusiasm, explore new environments without hesitation, and is more likely to engage in play.

An animal who has had mostly negative experiences is less likely to do any of the above and their behavioral repertoire can be reduced to purely defensive behaviors like hiding, cowering, biting, or running away.

If the Broaden & Build theory holds true, it stands to reason that we can help our animals become more social, more confident, and more psychologically resilient by ensuring that most of their experiences are positive ones.

You can read more about the Broaden & Build Theory here.


Most people understand to some extent that they need to socialize their animals so that their animals will be “good” with other animals and people. This is talked about most often with puppies and too some extent, kittens. Unfortunately, this “socialization” is often done by simply exposing their animals to lots of different situations, without much thought going into how the animal is experiencing these situations.

One of the problems with taking a quantity over quality approach is that you simply cannot expose your animal to every thing that they may encounter in their lives. Worse, if your animal is repeatedly overwhelmed by experiences that are less than pleasant, they’ll come to expect unpleasant outcomes in future situations and you’ll get the opposite of what you intended— a poorly socialized animal.

New experiences should be introduced with the intent of building confidence and conditioning resilience. Each new experience should be a positive experience, designed to broaden your animal’s behavioral repertoire.


This is a term used frequently amongst horse owners. The idea is to desensitize your horses to all of the scary things they may encounter throughout their lives. Often times though, people do more flooding (exposing the animal to their fear at it’s highest intensity until the animal stops reacting to the trigger) than they do desensitizing, leading to either increased sensitization or a shut down horse. Unfortunately, many people see shut down horses as “bomb proof”, which is what they want, without realizing the psychological damage they’ve caused.

The way many people approach desensitization is similar to the way they approach socialization. Once again the goal is quantity over quality, but similar to socialization above, you can’t possibly desensitize your horse to every single scary thing they’re going to encounter in their lifetime.

Instead, desensitization should be combined with classical conditioning or classical counter conditioning, creating a positive experience for the animal, with the intent of, once again, building confidence and conditioning resilience.

In both socialization and desensitization, when new things that the animal encounters usually result in good outcomes for the animal, and new experiences are usually positive experiences, the animal becomes more social, more playful, more confident, and their natural curiosity is allowed to flourish. Even better, they become more psychologically resilient, so when they do have an unpleasant experience, they are able to recover quickly and continue to maintain a positive outlook on life.

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