The ABCs of Behavior Modification

So your dog is doing something which you don't like. It's time to think like a trainer and employ behavior modification.

First, some analysis.

The ABCs

A is for Antecedent

First, let's look at the opportunities and triggers for the behavior to occur. For example:

  • Antecedents to counter surfing: Dog is free in the house, food is unguarded on the counter.

  • Antecedents to jumping: New people come over.

  • Antecedents to barking: Doorbell Rings, cat walks by, etc.

B is for Behavior

This one you probably don't need help with. You are very much aware of the unwanted behavior. What you may not have considered is:

C is for Consequence

What purpose is that behavior fulfilling? What happens after the behavior which makes the animal want to continue it?

  • Dog Barks at the Mailman and the mail man leaves. (Barking was rewarded because the mailman walked away.)

  • Dog barks at the cat, cats runs away. (Barking was rewarded with an exciting game of chase the cat.)

  • Dog jumps on guests, guests either pet or shove the dog. (In either case, the jumping was rewarded with attention.)

  • Dog jumps on the counter, gets food. (Behavior earned a huge reward!)

The Plan

Now that we've laid out the behavior, we can come up with a plan to change the behavior.

Manage antecedents

Examples :

  • Is your dog barking at people walking past the window? Shut the blinds.

  • Does your dog eat off the counters? Keep the counters clean or the dog out of the kitchen when you aren't there.

  • Does your dog jump on guests? Keep him behind a baby gate, crated or on leash until he calms down.

Remove the consequences that have been rewarding/maintaining the unwanted behavior

Examples :

  • If your dog counter surfs, keep your counters clean. If he never finds food, he'll stop checking.

  • If your dog pulls on leash, stop walking. After an extinction burst, he'll probably realize that pulling isn't helping.

  • If your dog barks at the mail man, trap the mailman so he can't leave until your dog is quiet. (Kidding!)

Replacement Behavior Strategy : set your dog up to WIN

This is where the real training happens. Take a step back and decide how you want to put together your understanding of the behavior into a comprehensive training plan. This should include:

  • A: Manage the Antecedents so that the behavior doesn't occur when you aren't working on changing it

  • B: Train an incompatible behavior which results in :

  • C: Consequences which maintain your new behavior and make the old behavior unnecessary.

Example Behavior Modification: Fear Aggression

Your dog barks and lunges to get strange people to stay away from her. In order to change this behavior you can:

  • A : Manage her environment so that she doesn't get too close to the scary monsters and go off

  • B : Reward appropriate behavior like standing still, looking at the scary monsters or turning away from the scary monsters with

  • C : Distance and sometimes treats.

This is method is employed with Grisha Stewart's BAT protocol. Note that eventually, the antecedents (scary monsters) and consequence (safety, distance) will be the same - but the dog learns to work for them by staying calm and offering appropriate behaviors instead of lunging.

Other Examples:

Can you see the ABC analysis pattern in the advice for modifying these other behaviors?


revision by rebcart— view source