applied behavior analysis

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 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 Our 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 in our forum and create a new thread. When asking your question, keep your ABCs in mind as you provide background information about your situation.

4 thoughts on “Applied Behavior Analysis – How is it applied to our pet dogs?”

  1. I really like the idea of encouraging appropriate behaviors with pleasant consequences. Some people think that treating a dog harshly is the only way to train the animal. I find that many people resort to a harsh training style when they don’t have the time or inclination to properly train their dog, so they want to take the ‘easy’ way out. It takes time, patience, consideration and dedication to effectively train a dog. I agree that taking a dog’s behavior personally is not the way to go, it’s interesting how many people DO take it personally as opposed to trying to find a solution to the challenge. It’s great that resources like yours are available to people so that you can teach people different ways of doing things than maybe they are used to.

  2. Our golden retriever X beagle is coming up to 9 months old. We’ve had her from 2 1/2 months. We’re seriously thinking of rehoming her because she is still destroying property and biting me mainly and drawing blood. We are 75 husband and 73. We both suffer from bad backs and our little girl needs lots & lots of exercise. Our Vet recommends a Behaviorist. I don’t know if I really want to go through all this. Our Roxi is a beautiful & loving girl when she’s quiet. Snuggles up to you on the bed and lays her head on the pillow next to yours. And as Cute as 10 buttons. We’re between a rock and a hard place, whether our nerves will last out or we should think of ourselves and rehome her while she’s still a Pup. Whichever way is going to take it’s toll. I’d like some views on this. Lynda

    1. I would definitely suggest hiring a qualified trainer or behavior consultant which can be a great help. Sounds like you have a rambuncious teen that doesn’t understand boundaries yet. Also we don’t have a history report of your pups critical/imprint stage which is probably a big part of the behaviors your observing.
      I would suggest if not already teaching your dog alone time where it can be confined and learn it’s ok to be alone. This would help with destroying property or any potty training accidents. Also basic obedience is a must for all dogs it builds confidence and opens a dialogue between you and your dog. As for undesired behaviors such as being mouthy or jumping I would implement some time outs until dog calms down and then try again.

      Please feel free to join our forums and start a new topic so we can follow along and add comments.

      It’s never to late to teach a dog and I see your up there in age which can be a challenge. I suggest looking into a no pull harness for any pulling on leash or even a head halter for strong pullers. My go to is a good no pull harness.

    2. Hi Lynda, I’m new to this page and just reading your post. Do you still have Roxi? She’d be well out of her puppy stages at this point! Hope either way you went, it was the right path for you, your family, and Roxi.
      All the best,

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