Let’s look at the ABCs series thus far, especially this post, and see how we can apply the ABCs to solving a real problem. I like this problem as an example for the ABCs because the components in the formula are clear and easy to identify.
Antecedent -> Behavior -> Consequence
Person Approaches -> Dog jumps up onto person -> Attention is given to dog
The antecedent is “person approaches”. It’s not “dog sees a person.” This is because the dog cannot be part of the antecedent. In more complex situations the tendency might be to describe an antecedent with the dog included such as “the dog sees another dog” but that won’t work since one of our most powerful measures in solving a problem is controlling the antecedents, either as part of a behavior modification plan or even permanently. If we put the dog in the antecedent we’ve lumped the problem together and solving it becomes more complicated.
In this case we are going to control the antecedent in two ways: we are going to avoid greetings as much as possible until we can better control them, and while we are training we will carefully control how quickly people approach and how close they will come.
The behavior is the easiest component to identify. The dogs I worked with Saturday were all exuberant “teenagers” that love people and really want to let them know that when they meet them.
After our rather long talk about counter-conditioning and desensitization it is worth noting that when we see the relaxed/goofy body postures, wagging tails, and what most observers would call “happy dogs” we know that these dogs are not reacting to the approaching people with fear or aggression and that CC&DS is not what is called for. We don’t want to change how they feel about people, we want to change how they react to them.
The consequence is what often confuses people. For these dogs just getting to the people is reinforcing enough to maintain the behavior. Hugging someone who is holding up their hands and saying “Stop! Get off! Down! Enough!” isn’t reinforcing for us, but that’s not the point. It is for the dog and it is maintaining the behavior.
So how do we apply the formula to this problem?
I already mentioned controlling the antecedent. Obviously this is not a viable long-term strategy. Short term we need to curb greetings because the reinforcement is strengthening the behavior, but this is a temporary step.
In this case changing the consequence is tricky. The only way we could keep the “A” and the “B” and alter the outcome would be to make greeting people unpleasant, and this could have obvious side effects. If we teach the dog that greeting some people results in something bad, he will become wary and maybe even defensive around strangers.
But there is a way to manipulate the situation: if the dog (like most) makes it obvious that he will jump up before the person arrives, we can have them stop or move away when he does this. This is the common “red light/green light” or “yo-yo” drill that many trainers use in classes. Done effectively, it actually becomes a way to use DRI to fix this problem.
- Our dog is on leash, held by his owner. Sitting at his side.
- Person approaches, dog gets out of sit. Person turns (dramatically if possible) and walks away.
- Repeat several times.
- Eventually, person approaches, dogs holds sit! Person continues to approach. When very close dog gets up. Person moves away.
- Eventually, person approaches, dog holds sit all the way until person reaches team and can greet human.
This is obviously an ideal scenario, mainly because I didn’t want to write another 500 words just describing the scenario. (I need to film this with a green dog and then edit the heck out of it.)
By starting with a sit and using getting up it as the criteria for having the person move away we focused on what we wanted instead of what we didn’t want.
Sometimes having the handler reward the dog with food is appropriate. Sometimes it adds to the dog’s excitement and makes things worse. Sometimes it even takes the dog’s focus completely off the exercise. It depends. In this rosy scenario attention was the main reinforcer and I went with it.
What problems have you had success with solving? What problems have you stumped? What do you think of this approach to problem solving? Let me know in the comments!