BATting with Reggie

I attended Grisha Stewart’s Behaviour Adjustment Training (BAT) seminar last weekend. I have been using BAT both on it’s own and in conjunction with other behaviour modification methods since I read Pat Miller’s article on the subject in the Whole Dog Journal in 2010. Since I was first made aware of BAT, I’ve also used elements of it in working with clients and there dogs. The weekend was excellent, loads of new information and I got to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen in a while and meet some new contacts too.

The basic premise of BAT is that it uses functional rewards. These are things which the environment offers rather than we offer such as the feeling of relief a scared dog experiences when a dog it is frightened of goes further away or the chance to play with another dog or sniff the grass. From Grisha’s website http://www.functionalrewards.com, Grisha defines BAT as

“Behavior Adjustment Training, or BAT, rehabilitates dog reactivity by looking at why the dog is reactive and helping him or her meet his needs in other ways. In a nutshell, BAT is a dog-friendly application of ‘functional analysis’ that gives the dogs a chance to learn to control their own comfort level through peaceful means. It’s very empowering to your dog, in a good way.”

Eager to put my new found knowledge into practice, I had a session with Reggie, the adolescent Boxer, the following week. Reggie is a great dog, very typical of a Boxer at his age. He is eager to please, super friendly with people but can lack manners in greeting other dogs. He is very keen to meet other dogs but pulls on the leash to get to them (and this isn’t always possible) so much so that he has ripped his pads a few times against the ground and is now starting to show signs of frustration when he doesn’t get to other dogs quick enough or he doesn’t get to greet them at all.

We met at a great park where I know loads of the owners and their dogs, so I was able to choose appropriate dogs for us to work with. We made some really good progress and it took us about 20 minutes until Reggie was able to approach the fenced in area where there was another dog playing (here in the UK we are extremely fortunate that we can let our dogs off leash in public parks and aren’t limited to using dog parks, but some parks do have fully enclosed dog parks also).

We were about 40 minutes into our session when we met Evan who is about a year old. On speaking to Evan’s owner, he told me that he had adopted Evan from the Dog’s Trust a couple of months earlier. Even is a mixed breed about the size of a Labrador. Evan was also a canine social superstar. His communication skills were among the best I’ve ever seen from a dog. Evan gave Reggie enough signals to convey to him that he needed to approach with a bit less energy than Reggie was accustomed to. It also helped that we had been “BATting” Reggie for about 40 minutes at this point.

Reggie greeted Evan from a side angle, they did their “butt sniffing” dance and then Evan invited Reggie to play by bowing and then skipping away, asking for Reggie to follow. Reggie duly obliged but at about 100mph and with as much restraint as a child in a sweet shop. Evan immediately told Reggie that this level of energy wasn’t acceptable by stopping running and sniffing the ground, which is a calming signal for both dogs.  You could almost hear Reggie thinking

“What happened there, I thought we were playing?”

Reggis started sniffing the ground too. As soon as he did this, Evan bowed again and skipped off, telling Reggie the game was back on. Reggie responded but went straight to 30,000ft and Evan responded by ending the game as before. Reggie calmed down after a few seconds and you could almost hear Evan thinking

“Will we try this again and see if you understand the rules this time?”

Reggie then played but with much less intensity as before. When dogs play chases, they usually take turns chasing and being chased. Some dogs like being chased but if they do, you can usually tell by relaxed body language and not a panicked look in it’s eyes. If you seen this from your dog when it is being chased or when your dog is chasing another, you need to intervene and stop the chase as it is no longer fun for the “chasee”.

At this point, Reggie stopped chasing Evan, bowed very slightly and then hopped off with Evan chasing him. Real progress. They then played for several minutes and I asked Bryan, Reggie’s owner to call him a couple of times during this time and then release him to go and play with Evan again, so Reggie was still paying attention to him. The whole exchange from initially seeing Evan and Reggie bowing to Evan took less than three minutes. It was a joy to watch, and I wish I had my video camera with me so I could have captured it.

It took us about 40 minutes for Reggie to begin to understand what the rules were when we were trying to teach him. Evan did it in about 3 minutes. We don’t always have superstars like Evan available, but we can use them when they appear. Other than that, the 40 minutes it took Reggie the first time will become 30 minutes before long and when he really understands the rules of what we are trying to teach him, will quickly take less than 10 minutes, then 5 and before we know it and with enough practice, will become his normal behaviour. It’s worth it for Reggie’s sake, for the sake of our own joints so we aren’t getting our shoulders and backs hurt and for other dogs and owners because we owe it to them to raise and teach a sociable dog.

Reggie enjoying his Kong after training
Reggie enjoying his Kong after training
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