If your dog could talk, he would tell you what he’d do anything for. If you could just get it for him, he’d be your adoring fan and do whatever you want. That’s the core of a training philosophy called BAT, or Behavioral Adjustment Training.
If you pay attention, you can figure it out anyway. Those things that you call ‘distractions’ are actually powerful training rewards. Here are some things your dog may already be doing:
He works to get to the squirrel in the tree ahead. (by pulling on leash)
- He works to chase the mailman off. (by barking)
- He works to get away from those scary people. (by lunging at them)
- He works to get to those people he loves. (more pulling)
- He works to get you to notice him. (by jumping up)
Your dog isn’t dumb. He knows what he wants and he knows how to get it. He wouldn’t do it for long, if it didn’t work. Unfortunately, the ways that are working for him right now are annoying to you.
Enter BAT – Behavior Adjustment Training. I think we can all agree that if our dogs suddenly adjusted their behavior in the above scenerios, we’d be thrilled. For example:
- He works to get to the squirrel in the tree ahead. (by looking adoringly up at you and trotting along on a loose leash)
- He works to chase the mailman off. (by going to lie down on his bed)
- He works to get away from those scary people. (by turning his back on them)
- He works to get to those people he loves. (more lovely walking)
- He works to get you to notice him. (by sitting at your feet)
At some point in his life, he tried a whole variety of things to get what he wanted, and he stuck with the behaviors that worked the best.
To adjust the behavior, to replace it with something better, we can’t just put him in the full-blown scenario of having the mailman arrive. He knows barking should work to get rid of the intruder, and he will try it until he exhausts himself. That is stressful and a waste of time.
Let’s call the situation that sets your dog off a ‘trigger.’ A fancier word is an ‘antecedent.’ In the above set of behaviors, possible triggers would be:
- Dog sees or smells a squirrel
- Dog hears mailman on the porch
- Unknown person approaches, looking at the dog
- Known person approaches, looking at the dog (funny how that’s almost the same as the above, right?)
- You turn the key
So let’s go back to the scenario of greeting a stranger. We can’t just have the stranger come over to pet the dog. That trigger is too sensitive. So you set it up so they are 30 feet away, or 100, or whatever it takes for the dog to look and say, ‘no big deal, I can just turn my head and pretend they’re not there.’ The next more exciting trigger is the person from 25 feet away, or the person at 30 feet talking, or the person at 30 feet reaching toward the dog. Gradually, though, you morph the trigger into the real deal. You never want to push the dog into being overly stressed, and if you see it starting to happen, distract your dog and get out of there. Don’t give a leash correction or yell at your dog. This is your mistake.
If we could adjust the behavior to whatever you wanted, what would it look like? Be specific, not just ‘I want a good dog,’ but behaviors, like sniffing the ground, turning his head, leaning in for a scratch, blinking calmly, etc.
Now it’s simply a matter of:
- Giving the dog a small version of the trigger
- (Stopping and rethinking if your dog messes up)
- Waiting for a good response
- Giving the dog what he wants.
In our example above, that could look like:
- Owner and dog walk 15 feet toward a cooperative ‘stranger’.
- (calling the dog and going 30 feet away if you get barking).
- Dog blinks, sniffs the ground, or otherwise relaxes or looks friendly.
- Walk back to where you started, or have the stranger walk away.
In this case creating distance between themselves and the Scary Monster is the reward.
With a squirrel and a pulling dog, it might be:
- Mom stands with a stuffed toy at the end of the block.
- (Stop or turn the dog away from the toy if she pulls hard).
- Dog looks at you or remains close enough to you to not pull.
- You walk toward Mom and the stuffed toy.
Eventually, you can do this with a bouncing tennis ball or a squirrel in a tree, but start smaller so that your dog has a higher chance of success. More successes = more learning, because dogs learn more from success than failure. Staying well below you dog’s Freakout Threshold is extremely critical if you are using BAT for aggression and/or fear. When in doubt, happily distract your dog and walk away to regroup.
The greatest part of all of this is that it’s easy to maintain the training once you’re done. With the mailman, in fact, you don’t have to lift a finger, because the mailman always leaves. Your dog never has to learn that it’s not his calm behavior that’s making him go!
We’re constantly asking dogs to do what we want them to do, and expect them to work for whatever we give them, like attention, petting, food, or toys. Those things are great, and I use them all the time, especially in classes. They are also great for pre-training the dog on the skills they need before you switch to doing BAT, or even together with BAT.
But to permanently stop your dog from being annoying or scary, notice what they get out of doing it, and use the reward they are already working for to pay for good behavior.< \strong> otherwise, we are just using second-rate rewards. If they scratch your back, it’s only fair if you scratch theirs.Tweet This Post!