In my previous post, I explained how Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) works. We haven’t been using it for very long, but in the past week I’ve noticed something interesting: Spencer has started applying the technique spontaneously.
Although our BAT set-ups focus on people. Scary People are his major trigger, but, for obvious reasons, the consequences of his reacting against people are much more serious than the way he reacts to another animal.
In the past week, I’ve seen him stop in the street on several occasions, look at a Scary Person and then position his body to indicate a desire to turn back the other direction. I try to pay attention to these signals and reward him by going the other way immediately, even if we sometimes come back and make another approach.
I’ve also seen him do the same thing with a strange dog. Ahead of me on the leash, he air-sniffed to gather information about the other dog and then scurried back to my side.
But the most flagrant example I’ve seen all week was Thursday morning at the Parc du Sceaux. Now that the temperatures have risen, the sheep are back out in their pasture. Spencer and I were on the neighboring lawn, exploring and frolicking when he caught a whiff of them. He turned towards them and took a cautious step or two forward. Since he was on the long lead, he had a lot more liberty to manage the situation than when he is on the leash.
Ears up, he peered at the sheep — including the strange, new black sheep that weren’t there last year — and sniffed, and then turned around and trotted happily past me like we were playing. So I trotted too, congratulated him in the Happy Voice, and when we got far enough away for him to feel safe, clicked and rewarded him. A minute or two later, he moved forward again, and we repeated the cycle.
We did that a few more times until he signalled that he was done, so we then headed back to the car.
It was one of those moments that seem inconsequential to a bystander and positively immense to someone with a reactive dog. He wasn’t just responding to a command that kept him out of trouble. He was actively (and successfully) applying a coping mechanism he had learned to a novel situation. This strengthens his understanding of the benefits and also contributes to his ability to generalize the usefulness of the technique.