Sharing a lesson from the field:
The other day, at an appointment with a new dog training client, one of the problems she had mentioned was how her puppy – a terrier mix – would bark A LOT at squirrels Ellie saw out this one window in the living room. If you have a dog prone to this behavior, then you more than likely can empathize with my client. You probably never knew you had so many active animals outside until you brought a dog into your life. You may even look forward to evening darkness when finally, you have some quiet.
Think about it from that dog’s perspective. Having to be on alert all day, watching out for those critters who could be scampering through the trees at any moment can make you pretty tense. And then, just when you are able to relax, well, there goes another squirrel!
Anytime you are working to modify behavior, it is really important to manage the environment so that your pet does not get practice of that unwanted behavior. The scientific term for this antecedent arrangement, which refers to arranging the environment so that whatever is serving to set that behavior into motion is, well, not available; or so that your pet has less motivation to do that behavior.
In terms of the humane hierarchy, a ranking of training methodologies going from least intrusive for the learner to most intrusive, antecedent arrangement is a high #2 on that list, just below ‘addressing medical, nutritional and physical environment variables’.
And, there are many times where antecedent arrangement is enough to modify the behavior. I give examples in this blog post.
Ellie is yet another example. I just got off the phone with my client who told me she followed my recommendation to eliminate Ellie’s access to that window; and she has seen a dramatic change in her dog this past week. In addition to the lack of barking, Ellie has been better able to focus on other things and she is overall very much calmer. I can’t wait to go back for our second appointment.
This is my challenge to you: when your pet is exhibiting a behavior you do not like, an important question to ask yourself as your begin the journey of behavior modification is this, “What I can I do right away to make a change in the environment so that behavior won’t be set into motion because every behavior that gets practiced, gets reinforced.”