Learn More

Online resources are helpful, but if you really want to learn about BAT in-depth, check out one or more of the Published Resources:

What is Behavior Adjustment Training? (BAT)

BAT reduces reactivity by giving animals socially acceptable ways to communicate their needs. It is a combination of gentle leash/lead handling and systematically setting the animal up to desensitize to triggers and to be able to use active coping strategies. Most of the BAT work is described about dogs, but it works for horses and other animals, too.

BAT Takes a functional approach. When a dog does a behavior, it is usually becausesome event in their environment (“environmental cue”) or internal state that triggers the dog to want or need something. Fulfillment of a need or want that is triggered by the environmental cue is called the functional reward.

Here’s the sequence:
Environmental Cue -> Behavior -> Functional Reward

So the functional reward for behaviors done after seeing a steak are the eating of the steak. The functional reward of behaviors done after spotting the squirrel is getting closer to / chasing the squirrel.

To discover the functional reward of a problem behavior, look at the consequence of the dog’s behavior – what are they earning from the people, dogs, and world around them by doing the behavior?

For example, when dogs bark, lunge, growl, etc., one big consequence is usually an increase in distance from the trigger (they scare it away or are allowed to leave themselves). So we use increased distance—walking away from the trigger—as a functional reward.

Geek note: Technically, consequences only reinforce behavior, i.e., make behaviors more likely to occur the next time, but in everyday English, we often say that we reinforce or reward the dog. It’s just simpler. :)

Basic Steps for Problem Behaviors with BAT

  1. Analyze to discover the functional reward of the problem behavior.
  2. Allow your dog to engage with (look at, listen to) a subtle version of the trigger. Don’t go so close or make it so challenging that the dog does the problem behavior, including panic or aggression. Make it obvious what the dog should do next, but not so easy that he’s not making a choice at all. Breathing should be fairly calm.
  3. Wait for good choices (ex. look at trigger, then look away or stop pulling on leash, etc.). If distress increases, abort the trial rather than letting the dog flounder.
  4. Mark with a word, visual marker (hand flash), or clicker.
  5. Give access to a Functional Reward – fulfill the need that triggered the behavior that you are trying to change.
  6. Optional Bonus Reward, like food or a toy, esp. on walks – distracts from trigger.

3 Necessary Criteria for Taking a Functional Approach

  • You can figure out what the functional reward is for the problem behavior.
  • You can control access to the functional reward.
  • There is an alternate behavior that will reasonably earn the same functional reward in the dog’s everyday life.


2 Responses to Learn More

  1. Pam Garland says:

    Thank you for sharing the basic steps for BAT on your website. I have a 16 month old Lhasa/terrier mix that was charged and rolled over and terrified in a doggie daycare setting. His fear agression has continued to grow since then. I visited a behaviorist who told me he is one of the worst she’s seen and wouldn’t judge me poorly for putting him down. If you would be kind enough to read about the situation and tell me if you agree I would be thankful. We entered her facility and he smelled the environment but did not tense up. He saw a large dog close to him in the area (about a foot away) and did not become agressive but did have a bowel movement immediately. The behaviorist became quite agitated about the mess and since my dog is much like an energy magnet he became tense. This happened very quickly but as she hurried by him to get something to spray on the carpet he sprung at her and tried to bite her leg. He is reactive now to movement and will agressively spring toward someone who approaches without quietly interacting with him. He is no longer the happy, friendly pup I brought home and it breaks my heart to see him so afraid. I just don’ t know who to turn to for help and I can’t give up on him. I don’t know what to do – can you give advice please? Thank you.

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