Whale Eyes (Half Moon Eyes)

The tern Whale eyes” was labeled by author, dog trainer and expert on dog aggression Sue Stemberg. It’s used to refer to when the white portion of the dog’s eye shows (not to be confused with a dog’s third eyelid). Also known as “half moon eye” whale eye in dogs is mostly seen when the dog turns his head slightly, but his eyeball remains turned to the side, fixed on something. When this happens, the white part of the eye, the sctera, appears as a white crescent-like shape in the comer of one eye. You don‘t normally see much of the white of a dog’s eyes other than in certain particular circumstances.

An example of whale eyes in a dog.  

Ar’iatomy of Eye

Interestingly, when it comes to the white portion of the eyes, humans come well equipped compared to dogs and other animals. In humans, the sclera of the eye is very visible, not only because of its contrasting white color, but also because the iris is relatively small compared to other animals.

Ever wondered why our entire eye isn’t all the same color? One theory is that our sclera is so visible for communicative purposes, so others can see where we are looking and we can use our eyes as a form of non-verbal communication.

Interestingly, research on dogs has revealed that during the process of domestication, dogs have relied on picking up visual cues from our eyes too! Indeed, when it comes to picking up visual information, dogs seem to rely more on human eyes than the eyes of each other. After all, dogs don’t rely much on eye contact amongst each other (steady, direct eye contact may mean trouble in the dog world), therefore that may explain why a dog’s sclera is just a narrow rim of white connective tissue that’s much less noticeable than in humans.

A Look a Context

Paying attention to what is occurring when the dog shows whale eyes is important to help you prevent putting the dog in a similar situation in the future. What is happening when the dog shows whale eyes? Is the doe   ‘ng hugged? Photographed? Is a person or dog getting too close to his toy or bone? Is another dog invading his personal space?

Whale eyes are most often seen when the dog is in a situation that makes him feel uncomfortable. The dog doesn’t want to stare directly, so he’ll avert his head the other way, but at the same time he doesn’t want to take his eyes off of what is concerning him. You may see it when a dog is cornered, guarding a possession or in an uncomfortable situation, such as when he*s being photographed or hugged. The dog may feel stressed, anxious, fearful or defensive.

just A Puzzle Piece

As with other doggy body language, it’s a good idea to look at the context, but it’s also worth paying attention to the overall body language versus singling out only one signal.

Whale eyes are often accompanied by tense facial muscles, a tightly closed mouth, dilated pupils, a stiff body, and sometimes more evident signs such as some growling and a cuJed lip. For more body language signals of fear and stress see this article.

Whale eye may be seen just a split second before a dog is about to snap (or in a dog who‘s considering snapping should things escalate). The dog may turn the head away, while showing whale eyes and then may decide to snap.

If you notice whale eyes in your dog, it’s time to give the dog space and plan how to avoid putting the dog in a similar situation in the future. Consult with a behavior professional for guidance on how to reduce stress in the dog and prevent situations from escalating.

No Rule of Thumb

Paying attention to context and other accompanying body language can tell us a whole lot of what may be going on. Just because we notice the white of our dog’s eyes, doesn’t necessarily mean that our dogs are stressed, fearful or uncomfortable.

Dogs may show whale eyes for several other reasons. Whale eyes may appear just because dogs are moving their eyes to took at something, but they don’t feel like moving their head. For instance, a dog may be lying down with his head resting on the floor and he may not feel like moving his head, but may still want to keep an eye on what his owners or other dogs are doing around him.

A dog may show whale eyes as a sign of a pinched nerve in the neck, as dogs with this painful condition are reluctant to turn their head. Some dogs are also anatomically built in such a way that their eyes have the sclera that shows more without anything stressful happening. For example, dogs with short snouts and shallow sockets may have a more visible sdera compared to other dogs.

Einstein Says: Did you Mow? Patricia McConnell, in the book “For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend” mentions that the tern “whale eye” first came from a dient of dog trainer Susan Stemberg, who noticed how the eyes of whales she had been observing showed their whites no matter which direction their head was pointing.

Conditioned Orienting Remex (CORO)

Both dogs and humans are subject to a simple, innate phenomenon known as the

*orienting response” or“orienting reflex.” This response is reflexive, meaning it’s involuntary. If you are sitting on your couch watching television and your door suddenly opens, your head will automatically turn that way as you respond to the stimulus. You don’t really think much about turning your head that way, it just happens.

This phenomenon was first discussed by Russian physiologist Ivan Sechenov in 1863 in his book “Reflexes of the Brain.” The term was coined by Ivan Pavlov who called it simply the “what is it?” reflex. In order to qualify as an orienting response, the novel stimuli must not be intense or sudden enough to cause another reaction known as “the

startle reflex,” which is meant to facilitate escape from a life-threatening situation. So a “what is it” reflex should be more an opportunity to “take information in” so it can be processed further, and should not be confused with an “OH MY GOD! what was that?!” startle reflex where you — yes — literally startle.

In dogs, you can see an orienting response in several scenarios. Here are a few examples of an orienting response in response to different stimuli affecting a dog’s senses:

Your dog pricks his ears and tums his head upon hearing a noise. Your dog looks in the direction of a person walking by.

Your dog turns around upon feeling a leaf fali on his back.

Your dog sniffs the air when a smełl captures his attention.

Generally, you are seeing an orienting response when your dog adjusts his senses (pricking his ears, turning his head, dilating his pupils) in order to fix his attention on a stimulus. There may also be accompanying actions to ensure his senses are focused. For instance, in order to focus better, the dog may close his mouth and stop panting, hold his breath, or adjust his body in a certain way.

Interestingly, if the stimulus occurs over and over, the dog stops responding to it, and the orienting response no longer appears towards that particular stimulus. This is known as “habituation.” Basically, the senses get used to a trigger and no longer respond to it, a phenomenon not to be confused with the more systematic process known as desensitization. In other words, the dog’s senses relax.

For example, the first day you adopt a dog, he may tum his head repeatedly (orienting response) towards the sound of the dishwasher. However, day after day he may respond less and less up to the point where he will just fall asleep and ignore it, as if his senses went numb. This is mostly a survival process, it would be taa tiring and stressfuł ifthe body would respond over and over to tńggers that are not a threat. Yet, wait for that noise to change and become more intense one day, and you’ll see the orienting response come back to pay a visit.

Using the Orienting Response for Training and Behavior Modification

The best thing about the orienting response is that it can be used to your advantage both in training and behavior modification. I like to train a conditioned orienting response to smacking noises (such as the one we learned about in the Look into MyEy    galas), because they are salient to dogs and grab their attention so you can re-direct them to more appropriate behaviors. I call it CORO training and use it in many, many circumstances. The best thing about it is that because the conditioning reflex towards the stimuli is rewarded, it’s quite resistant to

habituation and your dog should respond to it every time. I have used it for years with my dogs, and they have never gotten tired of it or stopped responding! Here is how I do it:

Make a smacking noise with your mouth.

When your dog turns his head towards you, praise him and immediately give him a tasty treat. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

After some time, the moment you make the smacking noise, your dog will turn his head to you in hopes of receiving a treat. I then use this sound on walks to grab my dog’s attention if something distracting is coming up or if I need my dog’s immediate attention. I have noticed this sound works much better than using a name. Yet, I have also noticed that if you make the sound too often without giving a treat, the orienting response to the sound weakens, so it needs frequent reinforcement with treats in order to keep it working well.

Clicker training also creates a similar conditioned orienting response. When you clicker train, the dog will continuously tum his head and move towards you for the treat that follows the dick. But with COR you don*t need to carry a clicker, and it’s not used to mark wanted behaviors; rather, I use it mostly to classicallyego n a dog to scary stimuli, and then I move to differential reinforcement with the auto-watch (the dog automaöcally looks at me withOUt bei ›9 asked to do so) once the dog is responding nicety.

In other words, initially I use it the smacking noise to change the dog’s emotions towards a trigger (scary noise, treat!) but then I start raising criteria and expect the dog to use more and more his brain by expecting him to voluntarily make eye contact upon seeing the trigger (without the smacking sound), which is ultimately a behavior that is incompatible with reacting to the Tigger.

tronstructional Aggression Treatment (CAT)

Constructional Aggression Treatment, a behavior modification method by Dr. Jesus Rosales- Ruiz and Kellie Snider, is a different approach compared to the popular dog desensitization and counterconditioning techniques. Rather, CAT is not all about counterconditioning, but more tailored towards the Operant component of behavior. The theory here is that yes, the dog is sing giddily  to the trigger that elicits aggression, but the matter in which the dog resolves the conflict falls under operant conditioning.

In other words, in CAT, the dog‘s outward manifestations of aggression are primarily addressed. The foundation of this method is that “behavior that is reinforced will increase.” In other words, in the case of a dog fearful of the mailman, the dog’s lunging and barking is

reinforced by the mailman leaving. In this case, the mailman leaving becomes a functional reward (a reward the dog attains as a result of a certain action in a specific situation), as the dog’s behavior is reinforced. The dog thinks “every time I bark, I make the mailman leave, so I’ll continue barking as it’s elective.” In CAT, the functional reward is only removed once the dog calms down. Confused? Let’s look at an example below.

An Example of CAT (Constructional Aggression Treatment)

So how does CAT exactly work? I used CAT a while back, when I first started offering behavior consultations. This is how it was 1aught to me years ago, but now it looks like there has been some progress and more guidelines for keeping the dog better under threshold are being implemented. I no longer use this method and will explain why in the next paragraphs. Anyhow, here is how I applied it. For privacy reasons, I will use fictional names of dogs and owners. This was a real case I worked on.

Case Study: Misty the Barking Mad Dobie

When Mary called me she had to leave on vacation and was worried about finding a good petsitter who wasn’t afraid of her dog. Her dog was a Doberman mix called Misty. Apparendy, this dog had issues of trying to attack guests who came over to her house. The pooch didn’t have a bite history, but the behavior was scary as she used to bare her pearly whites, growl, bark and lunge.

When I first visited, I was indeed greeted with that scary display. The dog was leashed and at a distance. I started applying CAT immediately. As I showed up by the door, Misty barked at the top of her lungs, but I didn’t leave. I just stood there and pretended I was a statue. This sure was something unusual for her since she was used to people running away. This made her bark even more due to how dog behavior works. In other words, Misty started barking louder and more aggressively because she was likely reasoning “hey! Usually people leave when they see me act like this, what*s up with you? I’ll increase my barking behavior in hopes that you finally get my message… bark, bark, bark!” In behavioral science this is known as an extinction burst and it’s totally normal behavior.

After several minutes, Misty started realizing her method didn’t work — at least not with me! This was an important moment to capture and cherish so I had my feet ready to leave. The moment she took a breath and stopped barking, I calmly left as fast as I could. After a few minutes, we repeated the whole scene again. Of course, she barked again when I showed up again and again, and as before I always waited for her to catch her breath and stop barking to make a quick about turn and leave. After several repetitions, it was starting to click in Misty’s mind that Parking no longer worked in sending me away, and after several repetitions, she started realizing instead that

being quiet and calm made me immediately leave.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using CAT

As seen, in CAT the dog is exposed to the trigger, and the trigger is removed only when the dog offers an altemate, more acceplable behavior. ldeally, to prevent excessive stress, the trigger should be presented sub-threshold. In the case of Misty, I was at the door rather than inside the home, where according to the owner, the behavior really tended to escaïate. Nowadays, and with more experience, I would have worked much more under threshold, to the point where she wasn’t barking but showing just the very first Signs of stress that were barely perceptible to an inexperienced eye. Perhaps I would have stayed behind the door instead of at the doorstep, or staY  iFl the yard and have her see me from the window — however, this may have been impractical in many ways. However, it’s also true that nowadays, I would have most likely used a different approach. Let‘s look at some advantages and disadvantages of this method.

Advantages:

There is no need to use treats. The functional reward of the tñgger being removed provides reinforcement for behaviors.

The owner’s job is minimal since he/she doesn’t have to do much. No need to mark behaviors or give praise or rewards, just hang on the leash.

The process is quite quick, with results often seen in the first few sessions.

Disadvantages:

The trainer must be well-versed in reading the dog, working under threshold and recognizing §jgns of stress and calming signals.

The trainer must be knowledgeable in knowing when to progress and how quickly to do so. This is something that should only be done by professionals familiar with this method. It requires a hands-on approach, not something that can be accomplished by reading an article. Do not try this at home!

To help the dog ganefattzg, this method requires different decoys under the form of people or dogs depending on what triggers the dog.

As with other fast methods, there are rioks that the results are not as reliable as slower metnods.

As the trainer gets closer to the dog, there are rishs for incidents if CAT is not performed correctly.Safety is paramount. An extinction burst may lead to a dog trying to bite rather than barking louder!

There is an inevitable level of stress in this process. If you are using decoy dogs, stress can occur both in the aggressive dog and the decoy dog. It’s important to have several decoy dogs that have a high threshold to ensure they are not exposed to prolonged stress. Not all dogs are good candidates for being decoys. The wrong type o1 decoy may jeopardize the whole process and swipe away any history of improvements.

If done incorrectly with the dog over threshold, the dog rehearses the aggressive behavior. Fear is known for producing adrenaline, whereas, anger causes the secretion of adrenaline and another hormone known as noradrenaline, explains James O’ Heare in his book the Canine Aggression Workbook.” This chemical bath can be quite addicting, which is also a contributing factor as to why you see aggressive behaviors repeat over and over.

This training method is based on negative reinforcement. To learn about this, read about the four quadrants of dog training at the end of this article.. Basically, the dog’s behavior is reinforced by the remova! of the trigger. The dog learns that the trigger is removed (that‘s what the “negative” means) when he behaves a certain way, and therefore that behavior reinforces and repeats more and more.

This training method remains a subject of controversy. There are several trainers who believe that dogs cannot team when under stress. On the other hand, some trainers claim that dogs can learn quite well under stress, especially when it comes to rehearsing avoidance behaviors. The question is: Is there a way to totally avoid stress when performing behavior modification? This question remains a hot subject of debate among many trainers/behavior consultants.

Dominance (“Alpha Dog Syndrome’3)

In order to understand dominance theory, you will have to first learn what dominance really is. This is where you start wading in murky waters, as many so-castled “experts” label dogs as dominant without even truly understanding what this term really entails. You will often hear that dogs who behave in certain ways are acting dominant or trying to achieve dominance.

Here are just a few examples of circumstances where dogs are often labeled as dominant:

If your dog pulls on the leash he is acting dominant because he wants to lead you.

If your dog jumps un at and licks your face he is trying to achieve a “higher” status. If your dog rest assured he is trying to assert dominance.

If your dog, he is telling you he is the boss.

The fact is, all of the above are labels that often btur the real intentions of the dog. For example, dogs who on the leash are simply pulling

because they want to explore and meet other dogs, dogs who jump on you and lick your face are really just tryine t•  Ely °hello,” guarding food and toys is mostly a trust issue, humping can have several causes such as frustration, anxiety and play etc. More on this can be found on the APDT website here: Dominance and Dog Training.

So not only does labelling dogs as dominant blur the reat intentions of the dog, but it also causes owners to feel that they must harshly correct their dogs because they’re at stake of being stepped all over by them and becoming victims of “door mat syndrome.” On top of that, the real meaning of the term dominance is misunderstood and those who label dogs as dominant for acting in certain ways haven’t gone in depth on understanding the real meaning of the term. So what does dominance really mean? Let’s take a look at what the real experts in the field have to say…

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) defines dominance as not a personality trait but rather as “a relationship between individual animals that is established to determine who has priority access to multiple resources such as food, preferred resting spots, and mates.” It’s important to note that in order for a dominant/submissive relationship to take place, there must be that one individual who consistently submits.

What’s the purpose of this relationship? It’s to maintain order. In the wild, too much energy would be spent on fighting over food, resting spots and mates. This would end up being counter-productive as energy must be conserved for more important things like searching for food, mating and basic survival. A hierarchy helps to keep things running smoothly, since it helps determine which individuals will get priority of access to resources, especially when limited. This leads to a reduction in conflicts that may lead to aggression. For instance, the AVSAB describes how in a group of bulls, fights over mating are minimized because subordinate males avoid conflict by allowing only the dominant bull to mate.

How Did Dominance Theory Relate to Dogs?

One must dig into history and studies in order to determine how the belief that dogs are continuously trying to establish dominance was crafted. A major role was played by the tendency to base dog behavior on the behavior of wolves observed in studies. One of the first studies was conducted in 1947 by Robert Shankel, who observed a pack of wolves at the Zoological Institute of the University of Basel in Switzerland. His observations brought forth the conclusion that the dominant alpha wolf status was established through violent rivalries. Back then, dog behavior was believed to be closely related to wolf behavior; therefore, it was quicMy assumed that dogs who misbehaved did so

because they were trying to attain a dominant position. The solution for owners and trainers was to correct such attempts through the use of force, leading to an era of dominance-based training for the purpose of keeping the dog in check.

  Is your “dominant dog taking charge of your credit ard?  

Luckily, better, more extensive studies conducted on wolves in a natural setting revealed a totally different perspective. Wolf expert David Mech provided significant contributions by observing a pack of wolves in 1986 on Ellesmere Island, Canada. These wolves in a natural setting behaved in a totally different way compared to Shenkel’s captive wolves. Mech soon noticed that the pack of wolves behaved more like a family unit composed by a breeding pair and its offspñng. Mech, therefore, compared Schenkel*s captivity studies as the equivalent of studying humans in refugee camps. This, along with the publication of Karen Pryor*s book “Don*t Shoot the Dog,” and the APDT’s promotion of reward-based training seemed to temporarily put to rest the “alpha wolF dominance theory.

However, a resurgence in dominance theory was later observed with the airing of Cesar Millan’s “The Dog Whispered” show. Dog behavior was once again based on wolf behavior along with the belief that dogs were constandy attempting to attain the “alpha” role. However, the show soon obtained lots of criticism from acclaimed dog trainers, respected behaviorists and dog owners.

Why Dominance Theory is no Longer Valid

In modern times, a better understanding of dogs has provided us with many valid points as to why dominance theory is considered outdated and no longer valid. For starters, let’s debunk a few myths that still seem to prevail, but are now fortunately being debunked by many educational organizations, books, position statements and articles.

  “Dominant dog” using my credit card to go on a shopping spree online.  

Dogs are not Wolves!

Yes, dogs seem to share many similarities with wolves, but also many differences! Classified as “Canis familiaris” by Linnaeus in 1758, the domestic dog was later reclassified in 1993 as a subspecies of the gray wolf, and therefore, re-named “Canis lupus familiaris” by the Smithsonian Institution end the American Society of Mammatogists. This reclassification may suggest that dogs are closer to wolves than we imagine, yet, even though they are a subspecies of the grey wolf, it would be misleading to assume that dog behavior emerges from wolf behavior.

Despite sharing the same amount of chromosomes and the capability of giving life to offspring, let’s not forget the thousands of years (about 14,000 or 15,000) that separate one species from the other. Alexandra Horowitz in her book °Inside of a Dog” sets the differences apart by claiming: the key to a dog*s success to living with us in our homes is the very fact that dogs are not wolves.” A further effective comparison is made by lan Dunbar: “Trying to train dogs by studying wolf behavior is like learning how to raise a child by watching chimps.”

Dogs Don’t View Us as Their Pack

If dogs and wolves are different in many ways, imagine how different dogs and humans are! Yet, many still believe that dogs are pack animals and when they come into our homes, they behave as they would in a “wolf pack,” trying to assert their dominance over us. As we have seen in the previous paragraphs, this model is outdated and still based on the old Shenkel studies. But even if we compare to David Mech*s family packs, this doesn’t match our domesticated dogs, because domestic dogs have a history of scavenging more than hunting. And even feral dogs don’t usually fom traditional social packs. Perhaps a more appropriate tern to depict a group of dogs living together is a “social group.” Indeed, perhaps the only “packish” trait dogs have inherited from wolves is the desire to be social beings with a strong interest in being around others — other dogs or humans alike — though this varies between individual dogs and breeds.

https://www.braintraining4dogs.com/members/archive/dominancel                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Dominating isn’t on Rovefs Agenda

As we have seen earlier, dogs aren’t constantly trying to assert dominance over us as some shows want to make us believe. To debunk this myth, all that is needed is to better understand what motivates dogs to act in certain ways, and more likely than not, it’s because of totally different reasons. For instance, as a dog trainer/behavior consultant I can attest that the great majority of behavior problems owners complain about have nothing to do with dominance. Indeed, I can solve them easily by just identifying what drives certain dogs to behave in certain ways. Many times, dog owners inadvertently reward certain behaviors. Once we identify what fuels the behavior, we work on refining the owner’s ability to influence their dog so we can stop fueling the behavior and replace it with something else.

The truth is, dogs are opportunists. They behave tn ways that bfings something rewardin9 to them or removes them from an unpleasant situation. You*ll see dogs who pull because they get to smell lamp posts, dogs who lU•9e because it sends the maitman away, da9S who bark because they get the aQention they crave after being alone all day, dogs who growl because growling moves that pestering child away, dogs who jump and lick you because they get doser to you to say “hello” and get a«ention (even if negative, which is better than nothing at times).

Dogs Don’t Need Harsh Trairuoq

Dominance theory gave life to harsh and dangerous training methods involving alpha rolls, collar grabs and leash jerks. It also involved harsh training tools such as choke collars, prong collars and shock collars. Still, as of today, you may hear people say that “you must pin your dog to the ground to show him who’s boss,” or that a “prong collar mimics the correction a wolf mom gives to her pups.” These outdated tools and methods are unfortunately still popular.

I often deal with aggression cases, and I must say that I have yet to see a real case of a dog acting out of dominance ag9ression.Even popular dog behaviorists who have worked on thousands of cases have found that aggressive behavior is mosdy due to fear. The dog is simply trying to get out of an uncomfortable situation, and is therefore giving distance-increasing signals (in other words, signals which say “stay away from me!).

Ken Ramirez, animal behaviorist and chief animal trainer at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, claims that dog owners need to learn how to better observe and understand dog behavior so they can reward wanted behaviors, while ignoring or distracting them from repeating unwanted behaviors. That’s reinforcement versus enforcement. The truth is, the cause of most behavioral problems in dogs is miscommunication and not dominance issues,° as Patricia McConnell, associate professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin explains.

To the surprise of many, I solve challenging cases through the use of behavior modification that doesn’t involve any use of pain, fear or intimidating tools. And so far, these methods have oPered a a win-win situation for all.

To find out how to solve your dog’s bad behavior with force-free techniques, check out the rest of the archive. or the Behavior Training for Qggy bonus course.

Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behaviors

The wording appears to be very long and somewhat incomprehensible, but at a closer look, it is easier done than said. If you are an owner ofa dog exhibiting some behavioral problems you should be more than happy to learn how differential reinforcement of incompatible behavior may benefit you and your dog. Let’s closely break down and take a look at the words that compose this training method.

If your dog is sitting nicely he cannot be chasing, jumping, lunging, stealing, counter surfing, etc.!
  1. Reinforcement…

In the world of training dogs, when a behavior is “reinforced,” it means that it will tend to repeat more in the future — in other words it is strengthened. For example, giving a dog a cookie every time he sits reinforces the behavior of sitting, since dogs want to sit more and more to get those tasty cookies! But what is reinforcing to a dog is subjective. A dog may find jumping on people reinforcing if he craves attention and is given attention when he does so. The act of jumping up will thus repeat over time if people continue giving attention and fueling the

On the other hand, a dog may not find jumping up reinforcing if he is a bit aloof and dislikes having people too close to his face. He may, therefore, jump up once and then shy away and stop jumping, because he is not really too comfortable in interacting with people this way. In this case, the jumping up is not reinforcing and will not repeat over time. The act of jumping up may actually extinguish in this case, because the dog found the results of jumping up unpleasant.

  • Incompatible Behaviors…

Incompatible behaviors are behaviors that clash against other behaviors. For instance, you cannot have a dog jump up and sit at the same time, you cannot have a dog heel and lunge towards other dogs at the same time, you cannot have a dog bite and lick out the content of a KONG at the same time, and you cannot have a dog greet and jump up at guests and go to his nlace and lie down at the same time. These behaviors are incompatible, since if one happens, the other cannot happen simultaneously.

The purpose of using °diPerential reinforcement of incompatible behavior” is to reduce a frequent, unwanted behavior without actually punishing it. Indeed, with this method you are actually reinforcing an incompatible response while reducin9 the likelihood of the undesirable one happening. This makes this training method humane and very effective. If this still sounds confusing, it will become clearer as you read on. Now let’s take a closer 1ook on how to use this training method to our advantage.

How to Apply Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior

In order to implement differential reinforcement of incompatible behavior you must abide by the following rules:

You reward the dog when he successfully performs the alternate, incompatible behavior you ask him to do (for example when he sits instead of jumping up}.

  In Jazz Up and Settle Down (from the Brain Training for Dogs œurse), sitting is “incompatible” with acting hyper. In other words, if a dog is sitting still, he œnnot be bouncing around acting hyper at the same time.  

The desirable behavior selected must be incompatible with the unwanted behavior (sitting is incompatible with jumping, going to a designated place such as a rug is incompatible with rowdy greetings of guests, lying down on a mat is incompatible with begging at the table, and so on).

The unwanted behavior must be prevented as much as possible from being rehearsed and reinforced. Remember, the more a behavior is rehearsed and reinforced, the more it repeats. It’s important that your guests do not reward your dog with attention when he jumps up at them, otherwise the behavior of jumping will be reinforced — we only want to reinforce and reward the alternate, desired behavior, such as sitting nicely.

The reinforcer must be salient enough to encourage the dog to engage in the incompatible behavior more and more (in other words, use high-value treats or other things your dog loves to reward the alternate behaviors, especially during the initial stages of learning).

How to Start Using Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behaviors

So how do you apply this training technique? It is very easy, and best of all, it can be used for basically any problem behavior. Let’s say your dog gets too excited when guests come over and he jumps up at them. In this case, you may want to train your dog to sit when guests arrive, which is incompatible with jumping. A dog with four feet on the floor cannot be on two feet at the same time! So, how do you proceed? Here is a step-by-step guide that can be applied to many other behaviors.

  1. Polish the incompatible Behavior

Practice the sit command (or any incompatible behavior, but in this example we will look at sitting) and make sure you polish this very well. Start asking your dog to perfom this behavior in a quiet room. then move to areas with more distractions and practice there. Ask for the sit in the back yard and then on walks, and so forth. Make sure you reward (he sit a lot initially. Make it a habit to say “good boy” or “good girl” when delivering a treat. When you start fading treats (as taugth_hgr ), your dog will rely on verbal rewards to know he has done a good job. Once your dog sits reliably on request, you can move on to step 2.

  • Make the Incompatible Behavior Salient

Equip yourself with high-value treats. While your dog knows the sit command well, you are going to add distractions, and this may cause a setback in training. The use of high-value treats will make your dog more eager to sit despite having guests over. In this case, the promise of treats should override the need to jump and greet guests. The incompatible behavior will be more salient than the guests if your dog is food motivated. The dog is making a choice: “Should I go and greet the guests and lose the chance of getting yummy treats, or should I stick to my owner and receive a yummy treat for sitting nicely?”

  • Set Your Dog Up For Success

Have your dog initially leashed. The less a behavior is rehearsed and rewarded, the more likely it will eventually extinguish. In this case, you need to do your best to prevent the jumping, and when on leash, many dogs tend to act a little bit more under control. With the leash on, you can always move your dog away if things start getting a bit out of hand.

  • Work Undei Thieshold

If your dog appears to be too distracted by the guest and ignores your request for a sit regardless of the high-value treats, chances are you are too close to the guest and the guest is more salient. To reduce saliency, keep the criteria low initially. In other words, try to practice with the guest at a distance from your dog. Have a guest practice knocking and coming in while your dog is leached and held at distance; in this case he may be more likely to respond to your sit command than if he was only a a few feet from the guest. Keep the rate of reinforcement high at this stage by rewarding often with high-value treats. As your dog gets good at this, gradually move closer to the person. Tell the person to totally ignore the dog as you do so.

In this example we are focusing on dogs jumping up at people, where people are the trigger. But in other circumstances the trigger could be anything: Other dogs, skateboarders, the mailman, etc.

  • Reward Incompatible Behaviors, Ignore Unwanted Behaviors

Move closer to the guest and finally include the guest in your training, tell your guest to ask your dog for a sit and have the guest reward the sit by giving the dog attention. Attention is a life reward, the dog )ikes it without having been trained to like it; it is innate if your dog loves guests. If your dog jumps, tell your guest to turn their back to the dog or even leave. With time and lots of practice, your dog will learn that the incompatible behavior (sitting) now yields the wanted attention, while the unwanted behavior (jumping) yields nothing, and even sends the guest away!

It takes some time for this to seep in, especially, if the dog has been practicing the jumping behavior for a very long time. The dog must basically learn the equation: Sitting = attention, jumping = no attention. As opportunistic beings, dogs quickly learn which behaviors are advantageous and which are not.

Expect some extinction bursts at first; basically the behavior temporarily getting worse before it stops happening. Why does this happen? Basically, if your dog was used to getting attention when he was jumping, he may be wondering why his jumping is not yielding attention anymore. The dog therefore thinks: “This is odd, usually I get attention when I jump, maybe I have to try harder!” If you keep up the training, having your guests ignore the jumping, once past the extinction burst you should see a significant reduction in the unwanted behavior.

As seen, reinforcement of incompatible behavior is something you should add to your dog’s repertoire of training. It is gentle, effective, force- free training that, best of all, allows your dog to make good choices and help him be set up for success.

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.