Applied Behavioral Analysis For Dog People
Effective, humane dog training and behavior intervention starts with behavior analysis. Dog training is not a recipe that you can replicate over and over. Dogs are individuals, and in order to work with them in a way that teaches them so they can understand, you need to observe each situation from a scientific standpoint.
This is a skill that anyone can learn - certified dog trainers, behaviorists, veterinarians, vet techs, groomers, even the average dog owner can learn the basics of behavioral analysis and apply them to day-to-day interactions and long-term training or behavior intervention plans.
What Is Behavioral Analysis?
Behavioral analysis is when you observe the relationship between your dog’s environment and their behavior.
All of your dog’s actions are influenced by a combination of the input from their five senses (sight, taste, smell, sound and touch,) biological factors, such as hormones and genetics, pharmacological factors, which may include any medications they take, and experiential factors, past experiences that contribute to their associations with similar environments.
Becoming skilled at behavioral analysis allows you to look at not only what your dog does, but the motivations, emotions and triggers behind their behavior.
The Art of Functional Assessment
The difference between observing a dog’s behavior and conducting a functional assessment is knowing what to look for.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What undesired behaviors do I see?
- What events happen right before the behavior?
- What does my dog achieve or avoid with this behavior?
- What emotional and instinctive feelings is the dog experiencing?
- What do I want my dog to do?
Types Of Behavior
There are two types of behavior that you’ll quickly learn to recognize, and act on accordingly.
Respondent behavior will only occur if preceded by an antecedent. As the term implies, this is a behavior that occurs in response to a stimulus.
Operant behavior is shaped by a consequence. An operant behavior is one that occurs more often if it precedes a pleasant consequence. Operant behavior can be further broken down into the ABC model of behavior.
More on the ABC's
The ABCs Of Behavior Analysis
Remember your ABCs when analyzing a dog’s actions:
A is for Antecedent, a factor that leads to a behavior.
Examples of antecedents include a doorbell ringing, a squirrel darting across your yard, or a platter of bacon left unattended on the coffee table.
B is for Behavior, what your dog does in response to the antecedent.
Examples of behaviors include barking, running after a squirrel, or stealing a delicious strip of bacon.
C is for Consequence, what your dog experiences immediately after a behavior. Consequences can be man-made or occur naturally without intervention, and may encourage or discourage a behavior.
Examples of consequences include being reprimanded, experiencing the thrill of the chase, or getting spooked when the plate of bacon crashes to the floor.
What is Applied Behavioral Analysis?
Applied behavior analysis is when you use information you’ve gathered with behavioral analysis to strategically create behavior changes - either to increase or decrease occurrences of a behavior.
All of these concepts can be applied to other animals, including humans. They are commonly used in educational settings, workplaces and health care facilities. You can improve your relationships with your significant other, kids and family members, and even yourself, through applied behavior analysis.
What This Means For How You Train Dogs
A science-based approach takes away the emotional aspect of dog training in a way that allows us to be subjective.
When our dogs do not behave as we expect or desire, it can be difficult not to feel a blow to the ego. It can sometimes seem almost as though a dog is defiant or believes they are “the boss.” But taking your dog’s behavior personally does not contribute to their progress.
When you step back and look at your dog’s behavior from a scientific standpoint, you’ll find it very easy to stay cool, calm and collected. Only then can you gain the clarity to develop a
strategic behavioral intervention plan.
Designing A Behavioral Intervention Plan
Before you begin designing a behavioral intervention plan, look back at your ABCs.
How can you change the antecedent ? When possible, eliminate or reduce the dog’s exposure to it, especially if it causes the dog to go over-threshold, so overstimulated or stressed that it is impossible for them to be trained.
Consider redirecting an undesired behavior to comparable, yet appropriate one. If your dog jumps on guests, you can teach them to retrieve a toy for guests instead - they will not be able to do both at once.
Encourage appropriate behaviors with pleasant consequences , like games, treats, toys and/or praise. Unpleasant consequences can reduce undesired behavior, but can lead to fallout. Changing antecedents and encouraging appropriate behaviors with an enjoyable reinforcer is the preferred way to conduct behavioral intervention.
Join The Doggie Residence Forum for help from certified dog professionals. Even those who have been using applied behavioral analysis for years benefit from an outside point of view.
To get help with creating an intervention plan to any behavior issue or training situation, sign up for the Doggie Residence forum and create a new thread. When asking your question, keep your ABCs in mind as you provide background information about your situation.