'Not only is punishment risky, but it also fails to teach the dog an acceptable alternate behaviour. The dog does not learn what to do the next time he is in the same situation. He only learns to fear the situation.' Emma Parsons, Click to Calm p73

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Behaviour Adjustment Training (and what it means for us).

Behaviour Adjustment Training, or BAT, is a training method used on fearful or aggressive dogs. It was developed by Grisha Stewart, and the core idea of it is that it gives dogs the ability to control their environment in a non-aggressive manner.

Reactive dogs have often learned previously that, when they are feeling socially pressured (because another dog is too close, or a person is looming over them, or a jogger passes by) that aggressive displays will serve to increase the distance between themselves and the trigger. BAT changes that - handlers do not remove their dogs upon the dog giving an aggressive display, but rather when the dog is non-aggressive. Thus, the dog is helped to understand that it has choices: it can react and be interrupted, or it can be non-aggressive around a trigger and be permitted to move away from the trigger.

In time, BAT helps to show dogs that they can get what they want--the social distance they show that they want by reacting--by not reacting. Their job is to simply offer behaviours: the handler moulds and works with these. You can read more about it at the Ahisma Dog Blog.

For Lola, Look At That (LAT) and BAT are perfect for her. She loves to be in control - for example she is offended, and often upset, if I 'manhandle' her into a certain position. Her 'leave it', taught through It's Yer Choice, involves her removing herself from temptation: from the first time I introduced it, she didn't just ignore the distraction, but actively worked to distance herself from it, to give herself room to make the correct choice without the additional pressure of closeness. In fact, I've actually had to work on Lola moving closer to food once she's been cued to 'leave it'; she instinctively wants to keep her distance.

LAT and BAT are both helping her to learn that interrupting and redirecting HER OWN BEHAVIOUR are fantastic ways to earn what she wants - food, toys, social distance, handler approval. If we had access to people and dogs that would work with us (though I have a plan, for the next time my mother is off work for the day, to try and needle her into taking Jess out to the quiet field nearby so I can practice Lola on Jess), we would be working more on BAT. Since we've started doing BAT, I have noticed that her behaviour toward other dogs--which is reactive edging more on aggressive--has gotten better.

We began simply, and with what she already knows: look at the dog, look at me, and then the difference: we can move away and party (so we get to walk away, and then her behaviour is reinforced with additional reinforcement, which also serves to increase the inherent reinforcing nature of the walk-away). I've been keeping at this step for a while because I have no access to dogs to work with - it's hard to remember everything in a random encounter with a strange dog.

Our next steps will be (not in any order): marking and rewarding for bodily turns toward me, which she often already does; for any calming signal she displays; for any displacement behaviour she displays; for offering tricks without cues; for breaking eye contact with the other dog to sniff the ground, to look away (away from me); for softening of the body, face, tail set and ear set when looking at the other dog; and for any other behaviour in proximity to another dog that is non-aggressive.

More and more I'm coming to realise that dog training, especially when you're working with a reactive dog, is about choices. You need to encourage your dog to make the 'right' choices, so that they don't resort to the behaviours that they know work but which you do not want them to use. Over time, the 'right' choice becomes more appealing than the 'wrong' choice - because the 'right' choice has been reinforced with distance, food, play, praise and the 'wrong' choice is merely ignored or interrupted, and so doesn't get the consequences that they desire. The dog begins to replace Trigger > 'Wrong' (to the handler) Behaviour > Consequence with Trigger > 'Right' (to the handler) Behaviour > Consequence; and as time passes and their experience with this game continues, even in the presence of increasingly high distractions, they become ever more likely to display the appropriate behaviour.

It is easy, with hindsight, to look back at things you did right and wrong. I wish I had never taken Lola to either of the puppy classes we attended. She learned to display her frustration at not being able to greet the other dogs by barking in the first, and began to learn that posturing and nipping at other dogs got her increased social space in the second on the forced greetings. I know where I've gone wrong - and I know what I need to do to start putting everything back together.

I'm not asking her to become best friends with every dog and person she sees. That is unattainable, and it isn't her. But she must learn to be polite - I would much prefer a polite disinterest in dogs and people to a lunging, snarling mess at the end of my leash. It is easy to look back, but hard to look forward and think: how am I going to change this?

I'm lucky that Lola isn't worse than she already is. With another handler, perhaps she would be - or perhaps not. Punishment would have broken her: it sounds dramatic, but it's true. She is far, far too soft to put up with any mishandling, and she would shut down completely. But perhaps another person would have forced the issue when she was a puppy, and taught her immediately just how great other people are. I failed in that department, and I failed by not removing her immediately from the negative environments of our training classes.

I know all of that now, but I can't go back and change the past. I need to change the present to change the future. In a year, perhaps two years: I hope she will be able to pass through a moderate environment, with rewards, with no reactions whatsoever. I want her to learn that she holds the power to affect what happens to her: that she can walk with me and I will protect her, and I will support her. I want her to stop fearing her environment, and to start learning what it means to be a dog.


Sara said...

BAT is great for Oreo, because distance is the greatest reward on the planet for him. Plus, he NEEDS to be able to look at the person.

I often run all the woulda, shoulda, coulda stuff through my head about the past. It's hard not too. But I guess we should learn from our dogs, and live in the moment, not the past.

You are doing a wonderful job with Lola, and I know you two will continue to make great strides.

Lola is a lucky girl to have you.

Ci Da said...

I'm glad BAT seems to be working so well for you. It sounds like when you're interested in something you don't half-ass it. Big congrats on all your progress.

Not all dogs are durfy easy animals. The more challenging ones can teach us immensely valuable lessons that will last all our lives.