BAT is a process not a product.
While Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) has soared in popularity as a school of thought in dog training its reputation is still sharply focused on one key issue: Reactivity.
Reactivity is a common issue that countless dog owners struggle with, leaving them feeling frustrated, embarrassed, and often helpless. It's not just a challenge; it's a test of patience, understanding, and love. On top of that, when reactivity is intertwined with past trauma, it can become even more complex to address.
Fortunately, there's a remarkable training method that not only excels at tackling reactivity but also proves to be a blessing for dogs living with the effects of trauma. This method is called Behavior Adjustment Training or just BAT.
For the basics of what BAT is check out this article.
In this post, we will delve into why BAT is an excellent approach for reactivity and explore why you should consider it for your reactive dog.
But it also makes me an expert.
Understanding Reactivity in Dogs
Reactivity in dogs is the tendency to overreact to certain stimuli or environments.
Reactivity is a complex behavioral issue that can manifest in various forms, from barking and lunging to cowering in fear. While the symptoms are often apparent, identifying and addressing the root causes of reactivity are crucial for effective and lasting solutions.
Guided by BAT principles, we will explore the understanding of why dogs exhibit reactive behaviors and how addressing these root causes can pave the way for transformative change.
While this is not meant to be an exhaustive list the following are the most common causes of reactivity that I see in my work:
Fear and Anxiety: The Bedrock of Reactivity
At the heart of many reactive behaviors lies an emotional foundation of fear and/or anxiety. Dogs, like humans, have individual triggers that evoke these primal emotions. Whether it's encounters with unfamiliar dogs, loud noises, or unsettling environments, the fear response can lead to reactive behaviors as a coping mechanism.
BAT Insight: BAT recognizes fear as a primary driver of reactivity. By acknowledging the dog's emotional state and providing tools to address fear and increase feelings of safety, BAT empowers dogs to make healthier choices that actively reduce unsafe feelings, fostering a calmer response to triggers.
Socialization: Building Blocks for Canine Confidence
Insufficient exposure to various stimuli during a dog's critical socialization period can contribute to reactivity. Dogs that haven't been adequately socialized may perceive new experiences as threats, triggering defensive responses. This lack of confidence in navigating the world can manifest in reactive behaviors.
BAT Insight: BAT emphasizes the importance of gradual exposure to triggers and social skills training. Through its desensitization and counterconditioning techniques, BAT provides a framework for expanding a dog's comfort zone, promoting confidence in new situations. Pro-social and pro-exploration behaviors gradually replace the anti-social ones without the need for confrontational methods.
Past Trauma: Lingering Shadows Impacting Behavior
Dogs with a history of trauma may exhibit reactivity as a manifestation of their past experiences. Trauma can heighten fear responses and create lasting negative associations with specific triggers. Responses to these triggers can form habitual trauma survival behaviors that become very difficult to work with using traditional methods.
BAT Insight: Trauma-informed, BAT respects the emotional boundaries of dogs with past trauma. Its gentle approach, use of freedom of choice and natural behaviors coupled with functional rewards, allows traumatized dogs to have a say in their feelings of safety. BAT students help their dogs gradually overcome their fears and build positive associations at their own pace of healing.
Territorial Behavior: Protecting Herd and Home
Dogs are naturally protective animals and reactivity can stem from a perceived need to protect. This is very common in the large dogs that I work with many of whom are from guardian breeds. Whether bred to protect family, home, or flock this protective genetic need can lead to startling displays when confronted with perceived threats.
BAT Insight: BAT acknowledges the genetic needs of dogs and focuses on empowering them to make safe choices that satisfy their needs through exploration and play. By relying heavily on functional reinforcement BAT ensures that breed-based needs are not only satisfied but harnessed in training.
Lack of Communication: Canine Frustration Expressed
Reactivity can arise from a dog's frustration when communication breaks down. Dogs that do not heave healthy two-way communication with their human may resort to barking, lunging, or other less desirable behaviors to express their needs or discomfort when their attempts at subtle communication go unheeded.
BAT Insight: BAT encourages clear connection between dogs and their humans and deliberately fosters two-way communication. By learning to read our dogs and allowing them to make choices about their bodies we build trust. It is through that trust that we learn to communicate to them when they are safe to let us guide them through discomfort.
The Power of Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT)
In deeply dealing with the complex issue of reactivity in dogs BAT stands as an authoritative guide. By understanding the emotional foundations of fear and frustration, addressing socialization gaps, respecting past traumas, acknowledging genetic needs, and fostering clear communication, BAT provides a holistic approach to transforming reactive behaviors.
Dog parents, armed with the insights of BAT, can navigate the intricate landscape of reactivity with empathy and leadership. Through gradual exposure, freedom of choice, use of natural behaviors, functional reinforcement, and a commitment to addressing root causes, BAT empowers both dogs and their owners to embark on a journey of transformation.
Behavior Adjustment Training takes a fresh and holistic approach to address reactivity and emotional trauma in dogs.
The Process of a BAT Program
BAT is a process, not a product.
In the early stages the dog is given a “stress vacation” through clever management, and foundation work is begun to build bond, focus, and trust while the human learns about all about BAT. Training protocols are put into place to build the dog’s emotional resilience.
Critical skills are built both for the dog and the human. The dog learns a series of important safety cues while the human learns a leash-handling system and methods of avoiding / managing stressful incidents on walks.
BAT techniques are then actively employed on special training walks that embrace a dog's natural learning processes. Instead of relying on obedience concepts, it encourages the dog to think and learn independently, creating a deeper understanding of appropriate behavior through exploration. The dog and human learn to explore as a team and adeptly seek out training opportunities in real life - while skillfully avoiding situations that would be too much.
For more serious cases or longer-term training goals special training sessions called BAT Setups are employed which combine premeditated use of an enriching environment, BAT techniques, and training assistants handling dogs or other triggers. While often more difficult and costly to arrange they provide an amazing learning experience for the dog as well as the human.
Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) is a remarkable and versatile training method that is particularly useful for Reactivity. It offers a solution to the complex challenges of reactivity and extends its benefits to dogs living with the effects of trauma.
By respecting emotional boundaries, building confidence, and focusing on natural learning, BAT empowers dogs to heal and transform. If you have a reactive dog or a dog with a traumatic past, consider BAT as a compassionate and effective approach to help them lead happier, healthier lives.
Robin Wong is a certified dog trainer, a graduate of the prestigious Victoria Stilwell Academy, and a Certified Behavior Adjustment Training Instructor (Knowledge Assessed). He founded Holy Sit to provide trauma-informed behavior work and positive dog training in London Ontario.