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In brief, counter-conditioning is when you start a flow of treats or other good things as soon as your dog notices another dog, and stop the treats as soon as the other dog disappears.
While you do want to avoid having your dog become reactive or barking and lunging, do not try to "pre-empt" your dog's acting out by asking him to "Look" before your dog notices the arousing animal or object.
Desensitization is exposure to a fear-evoking stimulus (strangers, for example) at a sub-threshold level (far enough away that the dog notices them, but is not upset).