Behavior Adjustment Training (B.A.T.)

Behavior Adjustment Training (B.A.T.) is considered to be a fairly new behavior therapy approach developed by Grisha Stewart, MA, CPDT-KA who started publicly practicing this type of approach to dog behavior problems back in 2009. Although it has a short history, this therapy technique has already spread throughout the world and many dog owners and their dogs have benefited from it.

What is BAT

Just like desensitizing and counter conditioning, behavior adjustment training (B.A.T.) has its roots in the methods that we use in other fields, such as:

  • systematic desensitization
  • Functional communication training
  • Constructional Aggression Treatment

In addition to these, the concept of behavior adjustment training (B.A.T.) also relies on the use of rewarding training principles such as:

  • clicker (marker) training
  • negative reinforcement (I will explain this later on the page)
  • multiple rewarding system (not primarily based on the use of treats like desensitizing and counter conditioning )
  • understanding the effects and the importance of environmental factors in a dog’s life
  • understanding a dog’s signals and body language.

Similar to the desensitizing and counter-conditioning process, behavior adjustment training (B.A.T.) is based on repetitions and created scenarios in order for your dog to go through them.

The base is to work at a distance from the trigger where your dog displays a mild reaction to the stimulus, and then you wait for your dog to offer an alternative behavior other than the usual fear/aggressive response, something like looking around, smelling the ground, etc. at that moment you would “mark” that new behavior (clicker training principle) and reward your dog.

As mentioned above, there are a few reward options used in the behavior adjustment training (B.A.T.) approach and one of the most commonly used is the functional reward.

Functional rewards

Functional rewards are the type of rewards that we give to our dog (or that the dog gets as a result of a certain action), that are directly related to a certain situation, scenario or environment. For example;

  • An aggressive behavior towards people results in people moving away, this is a relief (or a functional reward, if you prefer)
  • A dog is pulling you on a leash (the reward in this case is moving in the direction that he wants)
  • Most of the attention seeking behaviors exist because you do something that your dog “requires” at that moment which serves as a functional reward

So where to start?

The scenario is simple, locate the triggers and locate what the functional reward is for that particular dog behavior. For example, in most dog aggressive related behaviors the functional reward would be in creating an impact on the environment in a way that the stimulus (whatever the dog displays the aggression towards) moves, or leaves. That is the purpose of the dog’s aggressive approach in the first place. Seeing the trigger leaving is the functional reward that comes after the aggressive behavior.

This is also one of the reasons why it is difficult to deal with some behaviors like aggression because they are “highly rewarding” for the dog; he quickly learns that by displaying this type of behavior he can control the environment in the way he wants.

Now once you know the triggers, you can figure out what is the functional reward that the dog is seeking in that particular situation. For example, an aggressive dog is looking for the removal of the trigger (another dog or person).

There is a simple formula that you can follow and it goes like this:

  • Environmental cue (the trigger in the environment to which the dog reacts; for example, another dog)
  • Behavior (the response that the dog offers in that situation, in our example, an aggressive response)
  • Functional reward ( trigger leaves or you end up removing your dog from the situation which is either way rewarding for the dog)

The scenario you would use instead, in the future would be:

  • Expose the trigger at a distance where the dog doesn’t react (low arousal level)
  • Wait for your dog to look at the trigger (stimulus) and to offer an alternative behaviour, like looking on the side or sniffing, etc.
  • At that moment mark that behaviour then turn around and leave (functional reward). You can also offer additional treats to your dog after that, as well (second reward)

To better understand why this process works I will need to explain the formula of the process which is:

Negative reinforcement → Positive reinforcement → Positive reinforcement

This approach became familiar to me quite some time ago, during a seminar with Bart Bellon, a world famous dog trainer who described a training method that he refers to as “NE-PO-PO” (short for negative-positive-positive reinforcement).

As mentioned on the corrections in dog training page, negative reinforcement is not necessarily bad or evil. It is a part of the operant conditioning quadrants and all animals have some exposure to it more or less on a daily base.

In this case, the stress and pressure that the dog is exposed to when facing another dog at a low arousal level (this is the negative reinforcement), the dog learns to shut off by offering some behavior like explained above and based on that he earns the freedom to leave the situation (the first positive reinforcement) and then we offer a treat (the second positive reinforcement).

Your dog will learn that by offering new alternative behaviors like looking away, sniffing, etc. he can shut off the pressure, and control the environment in the same way that he use to do with aggression.

This is a relatively fast behavior rehabilitation process simply because it is based upon the foundations of nature itself; dogs quickly learn how to get rid of the unwanted scenario in order to access the reward. Your job is just to control all the aspects of the exercise.

Using Behavior Adjustment Training (B.A.T.)

Now that you know how behavior adjustment training (B.A.T.) works, you can apply it in the real world. However, this is easier said than done. Depending on your dog’s issue and the environment where you live, you may find it easier or more difficult to organize the dog behavior adjustment training (B.A.T.) scenarios.

Also remember that it is best to seek the help of a professional dog trainer when embarking on a new training or therapy approach with your dog.

Although the scenarios for this type of training may be easier to set up then in the classic desensitizing and counter conditioning scenario, you will still run into situations where the “trigger” will pop up closer than you expected and that your dog will react in the way that you don’t want him to.

If this happen just take a few steps back (remember that leaving the scene is the functional reward for your dog so you just want to back away, as many steps as necessary, to gain control over your dog) turn your dog toward the trigger, wait for the moment your dog offers an alternative behavior, mark it and then leave the scene (give your dog the functional reward).

As time progresses, you may stop using the secondary reward (food treat, etc) and focus just on the functional reward.

One of the differences in the scenarios between desensitizing and counter conditioning and behavior adjustment training (B.A.T.) is the slightly different blueprint of the scenario. For example, in the B.A.T. therapy, you are approaching the trigger, or the trigger approaches you, and the end of the exercise is leaving the stressful situation which doesn’t have to be the case with the behavior adjustment training therapy approach.

Things to keep in mind

Just like any other exercise, the success of the behavior adjustment training (B.A.T.) process will mostly depend on you, as your job is to manage the environment, read your dog’s signals, understand what is going on at every moment of the process, and you need to have good timing in order to communicate with your dog.

Once you are focused on the technical part of the exercise which some find quite challenging in itself ( organizing scenarios, reading dog’s signals, making sure to mark at the correct time, etc.), many people tend to forget about their own language and about secondary things that happen in those types of situations, like tightening the leash, holding your breath, etc.

Always keep in mind that your dog will react to your energy and your body language, so keep yourself relaxed and calm. You don’t want to be the reason for your dog’s failure.

TIP: Remember that you (dog owner/handler) are the one who controls and influences the situation, your dog simply reacts to it.

Again, I would like to recommend the materials and articles from Turid Rugaas (Norway) she is a world renowned dog trainer and her programs will help you understand your dog’s body language, especially the calming signals. I think that every dog owner should invest time in learning a dog’s body language; this is a great help and beneficial knowledge that will help you in numerous situations throughout your life.

**Please note that Grisha Stewart has revamped the technique and in 2014, she released B.A.T. 2.0. The article above is my review of, and references, the original Behavior Adjustment Training technique and is not based on B.A.T. 2.0. For more information about the changes to the technique, please visit Grisha's website B.A.T. 2.0 **

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