Can you guess the theme for today? Yep, that’s correct BAT or Behavior Adjustment Training. BAT is a behavior modification protocol developed by Grisha Stewart who trains out of Ahimsa Dog Training in Seattle, WA. This protocol has quickly become one of my absolute favorite modification protocols for reactivity, aggression, and fear. The gist of the protocol is to teach the dog that they can control their environment through offering desired behaviors. Clear enough? Okay, to clarify, dogs will learn that they can be removed from a stressful situation if they choose to offer an appropriate behavior instead of getting overly stressed and reacting or aggressing–and through the process the stress itself goes down. “Before” BAT, dogs learn that reacting, aggressing or causing a fit will cause the trigger to go away… “after” BAT dogs learn that when they are feeling stress about a stimuli that if they offer a look away, ground sniff, shake off, etc that they will get to move away from the stimuli.
BAT is, at its core, all about changing behavior but I’ve found there are also desensitization benefits as well. When working BAT the goal is to keep the dog under threshold. The dogs should be working at a distance where they are just below the level of stress where they would react–in other words, they are working at a distance where they are stressed but still capable of thinking and responding. It becomes a process of reducing that threshold while continuing to reward desired behaviors with adding distance between the dog and the stressful stimuli. So through the process, the dog will have a multitude of good (sub threshold) experiences around other dogs and learn how respond to their stress in a new manner. Both of these, I think, help desensitize and change the emotional response to a given stimulus.
What I love about BAT is that there is a ridiculous amount of freedom to work within this protocol. It can be used for such a wide variety of purposes from aggression to fence fighting and from fear to more proper greetings and no two BAT sessions will necessarily look alike–it is tailored to the dog. In all the different uses, the dog is at the helm and their well being and stress levels are regularly monitored and taken into account.
I feel like BAT teaches the dog how to work through their stress to an extent. The dog starts to feel stress and it has two options–1. to stare/ pull/lunge/react or 2. offer a calming signal and be rewarded. The former increases the stress level and causes the dog to continue to get worked up and react; so as that dog stares their heart rate continues to increase, blood pressure goes up, stress chemicals are released in the brain until he reacts and releases the energy and causes the stimuli to go away. The latter, however, does not allow the stress to grow and boil over; the dog offers the calming signal when they are stressed and their stress is reduced by adding distance between the stimuli and then the optional bonus food reward (and we know how food and chewing/licking effect brain chemicals). So, the dogs, to an extent, are actively learning how to react to stress in a new way and, in turn, how to lower their stress in a different manner.
What is BAT exactly (you might be asking by this point)? Although BAT sessions are all a little different, depending on the dog and the triggers, you essentially set up a situation where your dog will encounter a trigger at a distance and will mark and reward any calming signal by turning around and walking away (a life reward). I choose the distance based on when I see the first sign of stress… for example, if at 60ft your dog couldn’t care less about the trigger you’d want to go a little closer, if at 50 ft your dog starts to get stiff and stare, but doesn’t go into a full blown reaction and can respond to a cue easily and still eats, this is probably a good distance to start. You set up a situation where you walk toward the trigger and when your dog notices the stimulus and offers a calming signal (look away, sniff the ground, lip lick, shake off, etc), you mark the behavior and reward by turning around and walking away. If the dog gets over threshold and has a reaction (which is not ideal but does happen), the handler interrupts the reaction by calling to the dog as he/she starts to walk away (the handler turns and encourages the pup to follow and get the heck out of Dodge–you can see this in the video). Here is a youtube video by Grisha to give you a good visual of how this works…
This is so extremely valuable I can’t even put into words. Shayne is not dog aggressive, and really wasn’t too reactive–she would pull and stare and only react if another dog started (she has a pretty classic approach avoidance with some lack of socialization LOL). Her problems really manifested if she were to greet a dog, she would get stuck nose-to-nose and would freak out and react. She wanted to greet the dogs but was not comfortable and was concerned about it at the same time. If she were to greet nose to nose she’d get stiff, the other dog would get stiff and she would react to the stiffness with a reactive display. She really didn’t know how to offer a calming signal in the situation to keep the other dog calm. This has been my project … teaching Shayne to offer a calming signal during a greeting so we can end the greeting without a reaction. This isn’t exactly what Grisha developed BAT for but I was totally inspired by BAT and could see it (with little to no modification) being able to help Shayne learn to greet more appropriately while also teaching her to offer calming signals at a distance and not staring. It’s still a work in progress but we’ve made quite a lot of progress.
To my point, AT LAST (it just took me 853 words to get to my point, hmm), Grisha has a book coming out this fall “BATting 1000” and I totally encourage everyone with a reactive dog or a fearful dog or an aggressive dog to look into the book. It is illustrated perfectly by Lili Chin–the cartoon illustrations express movement and body language so well and are super cute! The book is written in a style that is appropriate for both owners and trainers (which is not an easy thing to accomplish).
If you are interested, she is accepting pre-orders of her book (with an autograph option which is pretty cool). Once I get my copy and have a chance to read through it, I’ll formally review the book, but I am anticipating the book like a child on Christmas Eve and can’t wait to have it in my hands. You can learn more details about the book and pre-order it HERE.