Behavior Adjustment Training QAT)

What is BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training)? BAT is a desensitization protocol invented by dog trainer, author and founder of Ahimsa Dog Training, Grisha Stewart CPDT-KA. It is mainly used for cases of reactivity, but can be applied to many other behavior problems in dogs too. BAT rewards good behavior and helps dogs make good choices. The dog is basically exposed to a known trigger under threshold and is rewarded for offering “cut-ofF signals meant to diffuse a tense situation (in this case, by turning the body away and moving away from the

trigger). However, unlike Constructional AggrTot i n away, in this case the dog is the one moving away.

Confused? The following paragraph will show a reat case case study in which I used BAT, and should make things much clearer.

An Example of Behavior Adjustment Training

This is a real case study I was called to work on a while back. The owner’s name and dog’s name are fictional to respect privacy.

Bob called me on the phone quite frantic. His Mastiff called Cora continued to bark and chase cars, trucks and even the average child walking down the road. He explained to me that the dog was not aggressive and did not have a bite history, she just had this strong desire to chase

— but being a mastiff, the people in town were concerned, and some children were obviously

  BAT requires good observational skills.  

frightened. The main issue was that his yard was unfenced, so Cara got to rehearse the unwanted behavior over and over.

When I showed up to their property, Cora immediately greeted me. Her tail was wagging and she accompanied me towards her owners. I immediately sensed this was not going to be an easy case, since the yard was unfenced and I wasn’t sure if they were really willing to put up a fence. I had the impression that they were expecting me to give them a miracle solution.

I asked them to put her on a long line and keep it loose, so I could observe her natural behavior. A truck passed by and she was getting ready to chase, but perhaps the line inhibited her a bit so she had a startle response and then was easily re-directed. But I did get an idea of her behavior and saw that she preferred to chase the truck once it was past her rather than the moment she saw it. If she saw the truck as an invasive trigger entering her territory, her chasing behavior was reinforced, as it felt to her that she was successful in chasing the bad truck away. Cora one point, truck zero. It was clear that we had to put this behavior to a stop before something bad happened. I thought I would give BAT a try.

So we took her to a distance from the road at which she acknowledged the trucks, but wasn’t aroused enough to chase them. This was quite a distance at first. As soon as she saw a truck I would click my clicker or say “yes” to capture her attention (Cora was already trained to respond to clickers and verbal markers), then jog the opposite way and give her treat. By doing this Cora was rewarded in two ways: She got to get away from the invasive trucks (functional reward), and she was given a treat.

We then progressed to step 2. In this case, when she acknowledged the trigger, I would wait for her to naturally offer an alternate behavior to barking and chasing. This alternate behavior was often sniffing the ground or turning her head the other way. The moment she gave this signal, I would click or say *yes” and then jog away and give her the treat or a toy to play with.

In stage 3, we weaned the dog off treats and relied solely on the functional reward of taking her away from the trigger. So as soon as she acknowledged the trigger, I would wait for her to perform an alternate behavior other than chasing. The moment it happened, I would say “yes” and jog away.

The more we practiced this the better. I often relied on set-ups for BAT by using other dogs or volunteers to act as the trigger, depending on what the trigger was. Since Cara wanted to chase our SUV, I had my hubby drive back and forth repeatedly that day. We also asked for some children to walk by and exposed the dog to a few joggers at a distance. The owner was impressed and I was happy to see they decided to follow my advice of using a long line when the dog was out to prevent a rehearsal of the unwanted behaviors. After several sessions, Cora was reliable enough to offer alternate behaviors, even without the long line on and at doser distances from the trigger. It’s all about watching engage/disengage behaviors (engaging with the trigger by recognizing it at a distance without reacting and deciding to disengage by turning away from it) and rewarding the good choices promptly.

The Pros and Cons of Behavior Adjustment Training

As with other training methods, there are pros and cons of using BAT to modify a dog’d behavior. You’ll find trainers who embrace BAT and others who prefer to use desensitization and counterconditioning. Following are some pros and cons of BAT.

Advantages of Behavior Adjustment Training:

Wanted dog behaviors (like looking away from the trigger, turning away) are marked and rewarded, so they’re reinforced and likely to happen again.

Training progresses quickly as the dog is naturally drawn to want to avoid certain situations after he’s shown how.

Treats are often not always necessary (in the later stages) since the functional reward of getting away from the trigger can replace them.

Disadvantages of Behavior Adjustment Training:

Requires the assistance of a professional for correct implementation. Good timing and understanding is important.

The dog is put “under some pressure” tnrougn negative reinforcement. In otner words, in order to work, the dog must feel somewhat stressed by the presence of the trigger so that he can feel relieved when he leaves after displaying the alternate behavior. It may be difficult at times to create proper set-ups to ensure proper desensitization and avoid the dog from going over threshold.

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