Behavior Adjustment Training (Bat) - Make Your Dog Calm and Less Reactive

In 2009 Geisha Stewart started to practice a fairly new behavior therapy approach called Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT). Although the technique has a short history, it gathers worldwide attention and many dog owners and their dogs were helped by this method.

What is BAT?

Behavior adjustment training developed its systems from earlier programs like:
  • Desensitization 
  • Functional communication exercise 
  • Constructional Aggression Treatment
Apart from these, the idea of behavior adjustment training also depends on using reward training principles like:
  • Clicker training 
  • Negative reinforcement 
  • Multiple rewarding systems 
  • Knowing the impacts and the significance of environmental factors in a dog’s life 
  • Understanding a dog’s signals and behavioral patterns
Behavior adjustment training centers on routines and generated situations to allow your dog to go through them.

The starting point is to let your dog see the trigger from a distance where your dog starts to show a calm reaction to the stimulus, and then wait for your dog to exhibit a new behavior different from his typical fearful or aggressive behavior, something like searching around, smelling things around him etc. after that you have to mark his new behavior and give him reward.

As explained above, there are several reward options used in the behavior adjustment training method and one of the most effective is applying the functional reward.

confident dog eating treat

Functional rewards

Functional rewards are the type of rewards your dog receives every time he correctly performs a certain action. the reward is directly related to the situation, scenario or environment that's causing your dog to react. For instance:
  • An aggressive behavior towards people results in people leaving the area, this is a relief (or a functional reward, if you prefer)
  • Your dog is pulling you on a leash (rewarding him to just go to the direction that he wants)
  • Dogs tend to show their attention seeking behaviors when you take action that your dog requires at that time and can serve as a functional reward.
Where should you begin? 

Applying behavior adjustment therapy is easy, you just need to find the triggers and then determine what will be the functional reward for the behavior your dog showed. To illustrate, if your dog always shows aggression the functional reward would be is for the environment to create an impact in a manner that the stimulus leaves the area. that is the purpose why your dog became aggressive in the first place. Seeing the trigger leaving the area is the functional reward your dog receives after displaying the aggressive behavior.

This is the main reason why it's not easy to handle dogs with aggressive behaviors because to them behaving that way is rewarding, and they can easily learn that by showing their aggressiveness they can have the power to control the environment in the way they want.

Now that you identified your dog's triggers, it is easy to figure out what will be the functional reward your dog wants in that type of scenario. for example, your dog is being disruptive because he wants the trigger to leave the place (can be another dog or person).

You can simply apply this approach and it goes like this:
  • Environment signal (locating the trigger in the environment to which the dog reacts, like seeing another dog)
  • Behavior (marking the response your dog displayed in that situation, in the example above, an aggressive response)
  • Functional reward (the trigger exits the scene or you start taking your dog away from the situation which is, in any case, rewarding for your dog)
This is how you respond to the future scenario
  • Show your dog the trigger at a distance where your dog doesn’t react.
  • Wait for your dog to notice the trigger and to offer his different response, like sniffing the ground etc.
  • After that, mark his behavior then turn around and walk away from the scene (functional reward). you can also offer your dog a different treat after that as well receiving his second reward.
You can better understand how this process works by looking at this formula:

Negative reinforcement > Positive reinforcement > Positive reinforcement

Bart Bellon, a world-famous dog trainer crafted a term to this approach as Ne Po Po meaning negative>positive>positive reinforcement.

Some say negative reinforcement is bad for your dog. but the truth is, it is an important part of the operant conditioning quadrants and all animals are experiencing it every day.

For this one, the fear and pressure that the dog is exposed to when seeing different dog at a low arousal level (the negative reinforcement), the dog learns to calm himself by showing some behavior as explained before and after displaying that behavior he gets the choice to go someplace else (positive reinforcement) and then we give him some treats (second positive reinforcement)

Practicing this approach your dog will learn that by showing different behaviors like sniffing the ground or just staring at an object, he can stay less reactive under pressure, and control the environment like the way he used to do by being aggressive.

This is a relatively fast behavior therapy method because it is driven by the foundations of nature itself; dogs easily figure out how to get rid of the unwanted situation as a way to obtain the reward. Your task is just to manage all the determinants of the training.

less reactive dog

Implementing Behavior Adjustment Training

Since you understand how behavior adjustment training works, you can use it in the real world. But, this is simpler to say than do. Based on your dog’s problems and the environment in your area, you may find it less complicated or more difficult to manage the dog behavior adjustment training situations.

Keep in mind that it is better to get the help of an expert dog trainer when starting a new training or therapy method with your dog.

Though the situations required for BAT is easier to create compare to desensitizing and counter conditioning scenario, there will still be scenarios where the trigger will appear closer than you expected and that your dog will react negatively again like his previous behavior.

If a situation like this happens just take a few steps back (like backing away as many steps as needed, so you can control your dog) let your dog notice the trigger, wait for his alternative behavior, then mark it and leave the scene (give your dog some treats)

As time moves on, you may refrain from using the extra reward (food treat, etc.) and concentrate just on the functional reward.

If you compare the scenarios between desensitizing and counter conditioning and behavior adjustment training you will see just a minor difference in their systems. For B.A.T., you need to engage the trigger at a distance or the trigger come near you, and the end of the training is to leave the stressful situation which doesn't have to be the case with behavior adjustment training.

Things to remember

Similar to other training exercises, behavior adjustment training will be a success if you follow the process properly, as your job is to control the environment, study your dog's signals, know what’s going on at all time of the process, and having the right timing to help you communicate with your dog.

When you are focused on the technical aspect of the training which most people find rather challenging in itself (setting up scenarios, reading your dog’s signals, making sure to mark the behavior at the correct time, etc..), a lot of people often ignore their own language and the other things that occur in those types of situations, like tighten up the leash, waiting for your dog to show the signals, etc.

Always remember that your dog will be affected by your energy and your body language, so keep yourself calm and relaxed. Don't let yourself be the reason for your dog's failures.

Keep in mind that dog owner/trainer are the people who lead and influences the situation, your dog only reacts to it.

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