Dog Training is Simple, as Long as You Change
Do you want to change or do you want your dog to change when dog training? Los Angeles California families are often shocked to hear that they must change if they want their dog’s behavior to change.
Imagine walking unhappily into a psychologist’s office, seeking positive, healthy changes in your life because you are discontent with specific circumstances and outcomes in your relationships with others. The psychologist speaks with you for a few sessions, gets to know you better, analyzes your issues and experiences to get to the root of what and why something is bothering you. Weeks later, you are elated that your therapist now knows what the problem is, and has valuable information that will help you to “fix” the problem. He/she lays out their plan for you and the course of action you must take for you to be happier and to achieve the change you so desperately desire. However, after hearing what the therapist has to say, you realize that his/her suggestions require you to change your routines, schedule, actions, thoughts, environment, responses and habits. However, you are set in your ways, unwilling or uninterested in changing. You simply want everyone else to change, not you. Sigh! In this scenario, how much lasting positive change will occur?
The above anecdote is analogous to dog training and behavior modification. A Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) is with your pup for a very small amount of time in comparison to you, your family and staff. So it is imperative that you and the people who interact with your pup the most change and understand how to behave and what is needed to be done to create the change you are looking for in your dog. A trainer can teach a dog new operant behaviors and tricks and work desensitization and counterconditioning (D/CC) behavior modification techniques with you and your dog however if the pet parent does not practice these on a regular basis, with the three C’s in mind -clear, concise and consistent – the dog will soon regress or not learn what the trainer taught, modified or practice what is desired of them.
This is why we mention many times to pet parents that dog training and behavior modification success and lasting results are contingent upon pet parents’ compliance and practice. If we want to change our dog’s behavior, we must change our behavior first. So how do we change a dog’s behavior?
What is the Humane Hierarchy of Behavior Change?
The Humane Hierarchy of Behavior Modification Intervention begins with Least Intrusive Minimally Aversive (LIMA). Health, nutrition and medical checkup come first followed be the antecedent arrangement. If your dog trainer or behaviorist explains how to put on a choke chain, prong collar or shock collar, you have encountered a fraud. If they tell you how it’s important to walk outdoors first and be the leader of the pack mixed in with other nonsensical BS such as you must eat first, sleep in highest and best sleeping places ask them to leave, immediately! If your dog trainer or behaviorist tells you to “correct”/punish your dog by leash popping, poking the dog or physically manipulating your dog in any way, you have an uneducated laymen on your hands and it would behoove you and your dog to continue your search for a qualified professional before more damage occurs. Rant over.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) the technology of behavior change begins with:
Functional Assessments (FA)
In line with KISS dog training (keep it simple stupid) the ABC’s of a Functional Assessment is the smallest unit of breakdown to understand a behavior fully. Behaviors do not happen in a vacuum or just “because”; they have meaning and serve a purpose for all animals. In order to change a dog’s target behavior, we must change the environment, the antecedent stimuli and/or the consequences.
A. Antecedent – (2) What is the antecedent? The antecedent is the trigger/s or stimuli that set the occasion for the behavior to occur. A thoughtful antecedent arrangement makes a preferred behavior more likely to occur. What are the distant antecedents? They predict the occurrence of a behavior but don’t directly cue the behavior. What are the immediate antecedents? They immediately cue the behavior in question. The antecedent should be functionally related to the behavior.
B. Behavior – (1) Analyzed and written down first, with no judgments, must be a verb, as are all behaviors. Not labels and hypothetical constructs and concepts such as my dog is dominant, aggressive, spoiled or stubborn but operationally defined. We focus on overt, measurable behavior from the target learner whose behavior we would like to change.
C. Consequence – (3) What is the consequence of the behavior being analyzed? The events, stimuli or conditions that occur immediately after a behavior are the consequences for that behavior. The consequence outcome will increase or decrease the strength or frequency of the immediately preceding behavior.
Antecedent Arrangement + Consequences = Behavior Change
If you want a dogs (or any animals) behavior to change we must change antecedent stimuli, environment, triggers, and consequences. The A and C of the ABC Functional Assessment represent 2/3rds of the whole. Consequently, 2/3rds of the change you desire in your dog occurs when you change. Since it is typically the pet parents that provide the consequences and the environment it is imperative for the parents to change before we teach the dog alternative behaviors. Thus we focus on the environment and consequences prior to moving on to obedience, D/CC, and other training. As the world renowned Bob Baily sagely mentioned, “It is more important not to allow or to reinforce undesirable behavior than it is to forget to reward a desirable behavior.”
Dog training and behavior modification are simple but not easy! It is not easy because people are reluctant to change, dogs are not. For change to occur, people have to be open-minded, to listen, follow instructions and be malleable, just like their dogs. If a person is resistant to change so will their dogs, and consequently, their pup’s behavior will not improve greatly.
Dog Training and behavior modification involve both animals at either end of the leash but relies mostly on the willingness of the pet parents to be involved and to change. The only thing constant in life is change, don’t be afraid.