Ahimsa Dog Training, Seattle

How Behavior Adjustment Training Works

I’ve moved the contents of this post to http://ahimsadogtraining.com/blog/bat, but I wanted to keep the post so that the great comments people wrote were still available.

Written by Grisha Stewart, Ahimsa Dog Training, Seattle [Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon] Tweet This Post!
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32 Responses to “How Behavior Adjustment Training Works”

  1. MaryH,CPDT Says:

    Hi Grisha, thank you SO much for this blog post. Ever read something and just know intuitively, “YES! That’s it!” In this blog, you hit upon issues that a lot of people have had with CAT. As a fan from the beginning of the CAT process, I still worried more than anything about stress to the dog – and seeing the stress first hand in my own dog, I knew this was a legit concern. You take key points and tweak and improve upon them – keeping the dog’s welfare first and foremost in mind. Three things really jumped out at me as correct: one, allowing a fearful dog to retreat vs having the decoy retreat; two, avoiding the flooding aspect by working extra hard to stay sub-threshold; three, making it ok to end the trial when the dog reacts vs sitting there and waiting for extinction to occur.

    I am really anxious to see how this continues to develop, as well as use your BAT modifications to test them out for myself. I’ll be back to read the follow-up posts as well as the comments of others.

  2. Grisha Says:

    Thanks, Mary! You really hit the points that mattered most to me, too.

    When you do this with your dog, I’d love an update, either as a comment here on this article, or if you’d be willing to write a blog article about it, I could make it a guest post.

  3. Grisha Says:

    Comment received by email from Robi:

    Hi Grisha:

    Thank you for writing something about this that makes sense (blog). I saw this demo by Pat Miller about a year ago in Cleveland. She wasn’t able to give a good explanation as to why it wasn’t flooding. I must admit I haven’t worked with it only watched the DVD Pat was selling and it didn’t seem to sit right with me. I think your approach makes much more sense.

  4. Charleen Cordo #5801 Says:

    I do not know whether you read my post about a basket muzzle but what you describe here is exactly what I have been doing. I have been working with this particular client and dog for 17 weeks. We use clicker and treats. If nothing else the owner felt good about rewarding the dog. The dog is starting to show major improvement. This improvement began when I made the sessions shorter by having breaks. The last lesson the dog was loose in the yard and I was outside the yard and the dog was offering me behaviors for a click. There was total calmness. This, to me, was a tremendous breakthrough. I will not see her again until Friday. The last lesson also included clicking the dog for offering any non-stress behavior. The dog came and took a treat from me when I offered it but on the second treat or if the dog was stressed it turned and looked to the owner for reassurance. I love the fact that someone else is seeing these same occurences. I guess I have been using BAT as well without knowing it. Thank you for your wonderful, precise post. Charleen

  5. Carol Byrnes, CPDT Says:

    BRILLIANT. You have put on paper exactly what I was feeling when we did trials of CAT and my frustration at the seminar, painfully watching your dog way over threshhold over and over. I’d seen the value in the system – but not like that.

    Our experience has been using the “go” signal to the actor dog/person as a “click” that predicted for the dog the leaving of the actor. We also encouraged the handler to congratulate the dog for their awesome choice following the dogs’ awareness that their behavior did result in the space they were asking for. It felt right – and your putting it in writing so clearly makes it obvioius why. GO BAT GIRL!!

  6. Grisha Says:

    Hi Charleen,

    Thanks for your comment! Can you put a link to your blog post here? i haven’t read it and would love to do so.

  7. Grisha Says:

    Thanks, Carol! I completely hear you on, “painfully watching your dog way over threshold over and over.’ I was so disappointed. Sagan barked at everything she saw, all the way home from her demo in the CAT seminar. She was an angel on the ferry on the way over and barked at *people* (not her usually m.o.) on the ferry on the way home. I had specifically not done any CAT stuff with her so it would be realistic. grr…

    I love that you’re praising the dog’s choices – and still leaving them time to notice they’ve gotten the distance reward.

    Does Bat Girl have some great phrase to say, like ‘may the force be with you,’ only different? 😉

  8. Carol Byrnes, CPDT Says:

    “May the choice be with you”? *S*

  9. Jill Says:

    Hi Folks,
    I’m Jill, Sagan’s owner, and I wanted to add my thoughts regarding our CAT demo in Sequim, to offer other trainers who may be doing CAT (or BAT) a client’s perspective on what happened before, during and after the session.

    I realized that this wasn’t a “real” CAT training session, but a demo that was being filmed. As such, I didn’t want to behave like a “real” client, but rather just intended to let Jesus do whatever he wanted to do, as long as I felt Sagan was safe. I was surprised and disappointed when he failed to have any contact with us before we started – I got no introduction, no instructions – and therefore he got no information about my dog.

    During the session, he was far across the room from us. I could barely make out what he was saying. I kept receiving mixed messages – interact with my dog, no don’t interact with her. During the two hour session, I was not asked once, not a single time, for my interpretation of my dog’s behavior or my opinion as to how the session was progressing. I felt ignored at best, and blamed for any failures (“you’re sitting too close to the dog”) at worst. It was an incredibly frustrating experience.

    Not that there wasn’t ample time for adjustments. The session was very, very, very long. Jesus could have come and talked to me at any time, or during one of the several, lengthy breaks. He never did. As a person who had lived with my dog for nearly 9 years, my thoughts and feelings and feedback was apparently irrelevant.

    After the session, Jesus came over and said he thought it went well and that I should notice an immediate improvement in my dog’s behavior. Again, he didn’t ask me for my feedback. I left the session, feeling exhausted and disappointed and frankly, a little used.

    And during the long ride home back to Seattle, it was apparent that the demo session actually had some damage. My dog was barking at everything that moved outside our car. She was hyper-aroused, unusually so. I now regret putting her through what was a very stressful and unpleasant experience…for both of us.

    Would I do it again? No. I think Jesus was much more interested in talking to the audience and making a video than actually doing anything beneficial for my dog. I applaud him for continuing to work on alternative training methods – but if you’re not going to do it right – don’t do live demos. First, do no harm.

  10. Carol Byrnes, CPDT Says:

    Hey Jill – here is the **(((gigantic hug)))** that I wanted to give you at the seminar for being so brave and so stoic throughout. I have to wonder what a different experience it would have been if Kelly hadn’t been called away? We can’t know, but I would hope it would have been a more positive experience for both of you – more “constructive” at any rate! Good to meet you and I hope we will again soon!

  11. Grisha Says:

    You’re so sweet. Jill says thank you!

  12. Silvia Says:

    Very interesting blog. The issues addressed I had as well when I attended a CAT seminar in Ottawa. Specifically the point that I want my dog not to unlearn signaling nervousness with a stimulus.

    I do teach my client’s dogs retreat as a first step. And I do use food. One of the “games” I play is to toss treats for the dog to find – initially without triggers. Once the dog wants to play, I toss a treat away from the trigger and the dog retreats controlled. With many dogs, treats can tossed toward the trigger soon, and approaching becomes part of the game.

    Like you all, the comfort of the dog is priority and building on successes makes most sense to me – and often leads to real quick progress

  13. Angela MSc CABC Says:

    Thanks for such a great post Grisha.

    I started thinking about employing CAT earlier this year, but like you had some serious reservations with the levels of stress for the subject dog, (and the actors when dealing with dog/dog.)

    I do clicker training so typically for aggression cases I will use a combination of classical/operant conditioning, D&CC. The client dog always learns sub-threshold, so I didn’t see why CAT should be any different.

    I think the modifications I have made are very similar to yours, but just to summarize:

    I give the client a pre-treatment plan; this is what I call laying the foundations, so for 3 months prior to treatment the subject dog will learn:

    sitting and giving handler eye contact makes good things happen
    impulse control through games
    a small repertoire of cued behaviours, hand targeting, sit, bow, away (retreat), and head turn left/right

    During this 3 month period, I will also accompany the client on a regular dog walk so that I can be aware of the dogs pre-stress signals, or rather low level stress signals.

    To be honest I do this foundation work for many cases not just aggression, but I could see how applying these during a treatment would be beneficial in keeping the client dog in thinking mode, and when a dog is in thinking mode, it’s not reacting.

    I’m fairly new to C.A.T. having only done 6 so far, but all have been successful. I’ll briefly outline modifications:

    I use walkie talkies with headsets to communicate to the owner handling the subject dog, and the actor handler. This allows me to give them space.

    I will have a close up of the owner and subject dog simply by using wide focus binoculars

    A colleague will do same with actor and handler

    The actor handler will also wear a vibrating collar, yes the human not the dog, (and I’m told they quite like it!) This is a measure I take to ensure an immediate stop and retreat as we progress in proximity. The slightest change in how the subject dog is holding his/her muzzle, a change in the pupils, a shift of the front legs, averting eyes, a blink, slight turn of head etc. I need the actor handler to stop immediately, I then signal to retreat as soon as an alternative acceptable behaviour is offered.

    So I use this to communicate a stop, therefore prevent any outburst, and to retreat. I want the reinforcement to be immediate. I don’t rely on the actor handler being able to notice the subtle changes in body language of the subject. So I give all the cues, the buck stops with me. :)

    So these are the safety measures I take to make sure the subject dog is learning sub-threshold, and is therefore able to offer an alternative behaviour.

    Throughout the process if I think the subject dog is asking for a break, I will ask the owner via the walkie talkie to first take his/her dog through a few of the pre-trained cued behaviours. I do this because the dog finds these fun to do, it gives some positive interaction with the owner, and it engages the dogs mind. Both dogs will then retreat and have a break.

    I don’t always wait for the subject dog to ask for a break, if I think a break is due, we take a break, but again I ask the owner to go through a few cued behaviours.

    When I start to see a pronounced change toward crossover (but not quite there yet), I will actually introduce a few short breaks. Again the subject dog will go through some cued behaviours with owner, but the actor will be doing same. So it’s a bit like synchronised swimming, but on dry land, at a distance :)

    What I find interesting at this point, is that by adding a few short breaks, the subject dog starts showing an eagerness to get back to it.

    So really, I’m not doing CAT at all, the only similarities are, operant conditioning, long sessions, numerous trials, reinforcer is the same, behaviour changes, emotion changes.

    So if I may, I will call it BAT

  14. Grisha Says:

    Yes, you can call this BAT!

    I like that you:
    1. Give frequent breaks, both when you decide to have them and when the dog needs one.
    2. Are creative in your approach to keep the dog sub-threshold. Have to think about the vibrating collar idea. It’s definitely a quick way to signal an immediate retreat. I also am a big fan of rewarding the dog for the first signal, rather than continuing to a line that I’ve drawn in the sand. To teach persistence, I do deliberately ignore the first response and keep going until we get the second (or hit the Point B line), but I like giving the dog the clear feedback that this works before adding that in.
    3. Do ‘synchronised swimming’ in the midst of it. They do need to move!
    4. Do pre-training to get the dog in learning mode and build up a set of core behaviors. I need to do more of that.

    Walkie talkies or cell phones with headsets are a must for this, at least for the dogs than need big distances to get started. It definitely takes more distance than CC/DS, for example, because there isn’t a constant stream of food to distract the dog. I like something with a headset – the walkie talkie scared my dog when we first got started. It adds in unusual stimulus conditions.

  15. Debbie Jacobs Says:

    If only I could get my husband to read (and understand) this post! 😉

  16. Grisha Says:

    Debbie, just for your hubby, I made a new description that should be easier to read at http://ahimsadogtraining.com/blog/2009/08/20/bat-in-englis/

  17. Jude Says:

    My dear friend who finds me willing decoys among his friends and family
    worked with Dusty and me this morning. I wanted to try some of the things I
    read in Grisha’s recent posts and on the blog post. (Dusty is a Belgian maliinois. He’s almost 3 years old.)

    We worked at his friend’s home, outdoors. It was a one hour drive. When
    Dusty got out of the car and saw the decoy, he was very fearful and tucked
    his tail and wanted to jump back in the car, which surprised me b/c the
    decoy wasn’t even near us and Dusty is usually not bad with people at that
    particular distance. So I walked him around the street a bit until his tail
    untucked and he seemed interested in his surroundings.

    When Dusty seemed better, we started to work. We did several things and
    mixed them all up. The decoy walked towards us; we walked towards the
    decoy; we did parallel walking; we did pass-bys. Sometimes, my friend (who
    Dusty doesn’t bite) walked with the decoy on the parallels and pass-bys.
    Most of the time, the decoy walked alone.

    We did each option 5-7 times before moving to another option. Each trial
    showed improved demeanor on Dusty’s part.

    We rewarded with several things. Dusty and I moved away either walking or
    running. The decoy moved away while Dusty and I were stationary. Sometimes
    Dusty got a treat or several treats while he watched the decoy moved away
    (retreating people are a trigger for him – if I can change that with CC or
    whatever, I will; and I don’t care if I’m mixing protocols if it works for
    my dog). I often praised Dusty for making good decisions (to me,
    communicating with my dog is real world stuff, and I don’t care if I’m
    mixing things as long as I get results). Distance was always part of the
    reinforcement and it was usually the sole reinforcer.

    Behaviors that were rewarded included every visible degree of relaxation
    (unfurrowing his forehead, relaxing the jaw, soft eyes), relaxed blinking,
    eye contact with me, watching the decoy move without stiffening, air
    scenting in the decoy’s direction, passing the decoy without any sign of
    lunging or trying to pull me toward the decoy or past the decoy (in other
    words, relaxed passing by).

    We took a break and then did a few more trials with Dusty and me standing
    next to my friend and his dog near the front porch as the decoy came out of
    his house, walked past us, and around a corner.

    During the trials, Dusty started his lunge routine a few times and we
    repeated the same style of trials at slightly more distance. For each set
    of trials, there was never more than one slight lunge attempt and I always
    said, “Nope. Try again.” and then he seemed to know that we needed a
    different behavior. The decoy never stopped, so the lunge attempt was
    actually rewarded with distance, but that didn’t stop Dusty from abandoning
    that behavior for a better one on the next trial.

    At one point we stopped fairly near the decoy and we three humans were
    discussing the trials, and Dusty sat calmly next to me and suddenly started
    to play LAT with the decoy. It was pretty funny, and I let him play and
    treated him for each round of LAT.

    What I loved about this entire session was that Dusty was totally engaged in
    the work and was happy to try to figure out the right responses to get to
    run away, to get the decoy moving, to get a treat, etc. This whole
    experience was so obviously a very good one for him. It’s what I had hoped
    for when I first tried CAT.

    Another amazing thing I noticed is this. After every CAT session we did,
    even though there were very few times he had outbursts, Dusty was super
    reactive the rest of the day and the following day. I attribute this to
    being tethered; and even though he had walking around breaks during the
    sessions, the tension mounted from staying still with me practically
    ignoring him. Today, we stopped at a park on the way home. There were a
    bunch of kids and their parents on the playground. We walked the dogs
    around the perimeter and Dusty was absolutely relaxed around the people
    including those walking past us (I kept at least a 15 foot distance for

    Suddenly two teenagers ran straight for us from only about 30 feet away, I
    braced myself for Dusty to lunge and bark and was about to do a fast about
    turn and run away. But Dusty looked at them, stood still, and calmly looked
    at me as they were VERY quickly approaching. His look said, “Can we run
    away now, Mom?” and we did just that. I was shocked that he figured this
    out and remained calm with just the little work we had done an hour earlier.
    Yesterday, people running towards us at that distance would have sent him
    over the edge instantly.

    Needless to say, I am absolutely thrilled with everything that transpired
    this morning. I have a happy dog who apparently had some fun figuring out
    ways to work the environment to his advantage and comfort. What more could
    I ask for? Can’t wait to do this again. Thanks for the great ideas,


  18. Grisha Says:

    Thanks for posting that here, Jude. Excellent, excellent, excellent. You made great choices with Dusty!

  19. Jim Says:

    Hi Grisha, I’ve read the BAT blog and dialog exchange and decided to share the following observations. Regardless of the likelihood they will be taken in the wrong light by some, I felt that you would objectively appreciate the perspective. So, O.K. here we go:

    The fact that there haven’t been any comments from the other gender team might have some bearing on the way methodology descriptions are being presented and ideas exchanged. No negative criticism intended; this may simply be akin to what others refer to as the Venus/Mars differences in communications. Where are all the other men who are still not yanking and cranking anyway? 😉

    My thought and perception on the BAT commentary – and CAT as well – is that it is being expressed in an over-complicated or micronized version of what was simply stated by Premac a long time ago and practiced by many behaviorists and trainers in the field for some time. I think this can be substantiated through some of the posts by others. The basic principals are there but I suppose one could make, “the devil is in the details argument” to some degree.

    All the above aside, I agree that, no matter whether you want to call it CAT, BAT or RAT it is a valuable set of behavior modification/conditioning tools to share and promote. And I do applaude you for your efforts to break it down and sort out some key points to consider for a most successful implementation. … Keep up the good work!!

    You might want to hold back on that “Bat Girl” thing unless you’re willing to be known as that “Old Bat” in a few more years.. haha Jim

  20. Grisha Says:

    Hi Jim,

    Good point about the Old Bat thing… :)

    Can you tell me how it would be best said, in guy-speak? How about “BAT is the use of environmental rewards in a low-stress environment.”

    Regarding it being a “micronized version of Premack” – it’s not really just the Premack Principle. That principle states that a high probability behavior will reinforce a low probability behavior, and that’s only part of the picture. When you Permission to do X as the reward for doing Y, and X is more probable than Y, you’re using Premack. Permission to chase squirrels (high probability) can reinforce heeling (low probability). That’s Premack.

    When you use “walk away from the scary monster” as the reward for signs of friendliness, that’s probably Premack, too, although in order to be Premack, “walking away” would have to be more probable than “turning head away from scary monster” I guess if you look at it as “walking away when mom says let’s go,” then that *is* usually more probable than “turning head away from scary monster” unprompted. I still think it’s less likely to be a Premack thing than a negative reinforcement thing – relief of social pressure.

    But if the dog’s own behavior is not part of the reward, it’s not Premack. “Scary monster leaves” is not a behavior the dog itself does, so the fact that it’s rewarding is definitely not because of the Premack Principle. It’s just regular old negative reinforcement.

  21. Dennis Fehling Says:

    As a male trainer and one of the few who actually is veery heavily involved in the ttouch program. We are out there as far as the non yanking and cranking people. This is really hat i wanted form CAT all along was ” choice” in my opinion CAT never reallyk allowed for real choice from the dog. It was either you give me this or give me that or the sacry thing is not going away. Pure negative reinforcment. IF we could only ask the dog ” what do you want” this is why i have applied the ttouch priciple to CAT and have given choice to the dog. I love how BAT will hopefully change some opinions out there about differrent approaches to aggression work. I had used CAT for well over a year with very little success with a certain dog that was over the top aggressive and had put 4 other dogs in the hospital. (most of the time the attacks were initiated by the other dog. In just two session applying BAT and ttouch ground work I have made so muchg more progress that we had done in over a year with the traditional CAT approach. Yes I’m guilty of putting this poor dog through something that clearly was not and never could work for him. I can tell you he is on his way to being a much happier and healither dog. Thanks Grisha for taking this to the next level.

  22. Madeline Gabriel Says:

    A friend pointed me to your website, knowing I was interested in CAT. Your explanations are great, and I love how you’re thinking about and experimenting with what will make it make more sense to the dog. I did some fairly by-the-book CAT with my dog a year or so ago.

    My dog was about 11 at the time and she’s generally good with other dogs in “real life,” but will bark and lunge at times on leash. What struck me about this approach was the idea that by having the decoy walk to a point and stop, the gift I’m giving my dog is the opportunity to “pause and consider” while she’s still able to think and make a choice about what to do.

    It’s not an escalating situation where the other dog keeps coming and my dog is busy gearing up for what she’s going to do when the dog gets to her.

    Even though we didn’t do that great of a job trying it all out, I still found a great improvement that has lasted. I don’t really have to manage with click/treat very much at all. Often, she’ll see another dog and choose to turn away and sniff a bush and not want/need anything from me to make it OK for her. She’s mostly very happy and relaxed.

    I agree with your point that a dog that is allowed to remain over-threshold is harder to work with and often more sensitized to the decoy. Plus, the dog is kind of wrung out and it’s harder to keep going in the session. I like the idea of the owner/trainer being partner in “conversation” with the dog: “That’s too hard for you? OK, let’s try it again a different way and see if it’s better.”

  23. Bunny Eisele Says:

    I have rehabbed a fear aggressive cattle dog who was scheduled to be put to sleep for fear aggression and basically did the BAT but didn’t know it had a name. He has learned that he can walk away from the scary stuff and that I will take care of it. It has worked like a charm. I never thought this dog could go to a dog park or be taken into large crowds of people but he has learned to deal with the “scary” stuff and we have even been ambushed by a “scary” person and he dealt with it. He now has a CGC and is learning to do rally. We no longer require treats or clicker. Usually he comes by me if he is stressed or something is making him nervous and he has learned that he is safe by me and a pet is usually all he needs.

  24. Training Fearful, Reactive, Aggressive Dogs | Never Shock A Puppy Says:

    […] (as in Behavior Adjustment Training … called “BAT”) the reward is more “functional,” like getting to move […]

  25. Wisconsin Laura Says:

    I’m curious how BAT could (or maybe it can’t?) be used for dogs that bark at people and/or dogs while riding in the car? Obvioulsy crating the dog up to reduce visual stimulus wouuld be ideal, but for situations where this is not possible, any ideas???


  26. Grisha Says:

    It can be used for that. You definitely want to block the view for times when you’re not training, as you mentioned. The functional reward is still distance, which can be done by the other person/dog walking away or by letting the dog out of the car to walk away. I’ve done it both ways and I think they prefer the latter.

  27. Paula Says:

    I’ve been watching the videos trying to gauge whether or not I think BAT will work for my dog, but since the dogs are all being kept under threshhold, it’s hard to imagine it working for my barking, hackling, lunging monster. It would be interesting to see where the dogs are starting at when they’re over threshold.

  28. Grisha Says:

    It’s all a matter of degree. The dog has the same needs whether he’s reacting at 100 feet with snarling, snapping, lunging etc. or at 10 feet with a curled lip. All of the dogs in the videos are reactive over threshold (lunging, barking, growling, or worse).

    Just try it for a few sessions and see the trend in your dog’s behavior. If it’s improving, great! If not, it’s still not necessarily BAT’s fault – you may be working too close, not taking enough breaks, or the dog is actually playful and wants to go closer, so you use that (1 step) as a reward.

    If you are not working with a pro who is familiar with BAT, find one! It’s very helpful to have experienced eyes when you are first starting.

  29. Amy Says:

    I’ve just stumbled onto this discussion and wondered how BAT will work with a happy, goofy, extremely friendly dog who generally employs a menacing “charge” towards dogs and people as a means of greeting. He is reactive and aggressive, just not in a vicious way. He doesn’t know he looks menacing, but I see how others react—body posture and facial expressions for people; various nervous or aggressive behaviors in dogs.

    When we are out on a walk, all on his own he will lie down when he sees another dog approaching (quite impressive, really), wait until they get within range, and then lunge at the dog in a way in which I know is inviting play, but is unnerving to both dog and owner. Often, I step on the leash when he is in that down position to minimize his reach once the other dog and owner are next to us.

    Other times, we just walk in a different direction to avoid contact altogether, resulting in my dog whining and looking over his shoulder or practically walking backwards to keep the other dog in view. As long as he can see the other dog, I cannot get him to pay attention to anything else, even if I say “leave it.”

    When greeting people, he does that “charge” thing, and though I haven’t lost any friends because of it, for their sake and for the sake of my dog’s social nature, I’d like to see him get past this disturbing behavior.

  30. Grisha Says:

    Yes! Just pretty much use the same version of BAT that you’d use with a Frustrated Greeter. You can also do other general impulse control exercises.

  31. Monstermom Says:

    I just wanted to thank you for this wonderful method! I’ve been struggling with my Monster’s reactivity for a long time now, and tried to dabble with BAT myself. I couldn’t get it to work, but yesterday my trainer showed me how it’s supposed to be done (as opposed to how I was doing it), and it was amazing! Sure, we’re still very far from problem free, but it really showed great promise in just the one session. I’ve been trying it on my own too since, and it’s still there! (Although it’s not going as well as it did with help…)

    I WISH I could come to the seminar in March/April, but unfortunately I can’t leave Monster alone… Still, I hope I’ll be able to learn more anyway, even if it’s not the same.

    Thank you!

  32. Grisha Says:

    You’re welcome, and thanks for the feedback!! The devil’s in the details sometimes, so I’m glad you found a professional trainer to work with. Good luck!

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