I had a very proud moment awhile back (well, I have had many of them but I wanted to write about this one).
A client was having a behavioral issue with her puppy, and with information I had taught and shared with her about behavior, she was able to develop a plan to successfully move from a problem to a solution. It was really awesome. I was beaming from ear to ear.
This family (I will call them the Smith family) had one crate for their puppy, Fred; and at night time, they would bring that crate along with Fred to their room where he could sleep by their bed. Their routine had been to have play and television time together before settling in for the night. That had been all well and good until one day, Fred decided he would no longer follow them when they called him to come into the bedroom at night. Instead he would continue to lay in his spot on the family room rug.
Was this a case of a stubborn, alpha dog?
Here is the thing that is very important to always remember about behavior. It ALWAYS happens for a reason and that reason is to get the animal something it values. Dogs do not do things to purposefully annoy or dominate us. They simply do what works to get them a consequence.
Applied behavior analysis is a systematic approach to solving behavior problems by changing the environment in which the behavior occurs. It involves looking at the very specific behavior (such as a dog barking) in terms of what is giving that behavior purpose and value. What happened *immediately* prior to the behavior (antecedent) to set the whole ball rolling? And what happened *immediately* after the behavior to reinforce it (consequence)? It is how I have been taught to look at behavior.
With this in mind, let’s go back and revisit the Smith’s situation and why Fred suddenly chose to continue to lay still instead of following his friends into their bedroom. What had experience taught Fred would be the consequence if he DID follow them at that time of night?
Let’s describe what had been happening this way.
Background: It is dark outside and around 10:00 pm. Fred has been with his family, interacting with them and engaged in toys or simply laying by their side and getting back rubs. The Smiths go into their bedroom with his crate, and come back out to call him 10 to 15 minutes later.
A (antecedent – the setting event for the behavior to occur): Mary called Fred’s name
B (behavior): Fred followed Mary to their bedroom
C (consequence): Mary locks Fred in his crate and opportunities for interaction/play are gone
Prediction: WHEN Mary comes back into the family at night after taking Fred’s crate into their bedroom and calls him to come, IF he follows her, THEN all opportunities for fun and interaction are taken away.
Hmm, can you see now why Fred’s past experience has taught him that following Mary at that time of time is not in his best interest?
So, knowing that, what was the Smith’s plan for modifying Fred’s behavior in the most positive, least intrusive way?
Initially they made plans to go into their bedroom early one night so as to have extra time for Fred. Then Mary called Fred into their bedroom with a tasty piece of meat in her hand; and once he was in the bedroom, they had playtime. They got him engaged in activities that were positive to him, and then gave him a bone to chew on and settle with in his crate with the door open. When they were ready to turn off the lights, Fred was already asleep and they closed his crate door for the night.
The new ABC looked like this:
A: Mary called Fred
B: Fred followed Mary into the room
C: Great play ensued – mental/physical stimulation, human interaction
(which led to this)
A: Mental/physical stimulation and human interaction
B: Fred chews on bone in open crate
C: Opportunity for needed rest
Can you see how this simple change has taught Fred that now experience tells him following Mary into the bedroom at night is again a behavior worth repeating? In fact, it was such a positive experience that Mary said it only took one time before Fred was back to coming with them at night. And she no longer carries meat with her to call him to come.
Important to remember, however, is that there is always the possibility for Fred’s association to change again if he goes back to having negative outcomes from following the Smiths to their bedroom at night.
Keep in mind that behavior is always the study of one and what solved this issue, may mean having a different plan for you and your pet.