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  • 05 Apr 2018 10:47 AM | Joanne Tudge (Administrator)

    There are always rumblings on social media about different dog training methods and their names and acronyms. Everyone seems to have comments and opinions on why one method is better than another. In some cases, in fact long Facebook threads, arguments breakout that become extremely aggressive and rude.  Comments like

    • I never use ....  because it functions on the use of negative reinforcement.
    • That method is punishment based
    •  My method is superior because it works on the application of positive reinforcement.

    I am often asked what do I think? Do I approve of this method or that method? Well I never get pulled into these types of conversations or share my opinions and thoughts on one method versus another for a couple of simple reasons.

    1.      We are often talking at odds about the procedure with no shared meaning or visual to analyze
    2.      We have different takes on a procedure because we are discussing it in theory only
    3.      We have different beliefs about what is considered an acceptable procedure

    So, I just don’t do it, I don’t think we can make these kinds of general statements about a hypothetical dog training method because of reason x, y or z!  

    I remember one discussion about a method that had two different people passionately promoting it. Both individuals provided links to videos they had of their training in action.  When I watched the videos of their actual training session and I functionally analyzed what was happening they were both very different. One was a -R protocol and one a +R protocol, yet both were promoting the training method as examples of great positive reinforcement training protocols.

    So, to summarize.

    Rather than make general sweeping statements about one of the many training protocols methods or philosophies, is it not more accurate to observe a training session and functionally analyze what is happening.

    • 1.      What is the targeted behavior?
    • 2.      What are the consequences and how are they affecting the behavior?
    • 3.      Is the behavior as a direct result of the consequences increasing or decreasing?

    And for me, the most important factor in determining if the training protocol should be used is “Is the animal enjoying it?” 

    Then you can quietly decide if it’s a protocol you would choose to use in you practice.

  • 03 Apr 2018 10:43 AM | Joanne Tudge (Administrator)

    The Respondent Conditioning Process

    The graphic below  shows how a neutral stimulus, through conditioning, becomes a conditioned stimulus that elicits a conditioned response. In this situation we are going to look at a neutral stimulus which is a bell. Through the pairing of the bell with chocolate, which is an unconditioned stimulus the bell can then become conditioned to elicit salivation.


    NS = Neutral Stimulus – Does not elicit a response, is neutral.

    UCS = Unconditioned Stimulus – is naturally relevant and elicits a response

    UCR = Unconditioned Response – happens automatically

    CS = Conditioned Stimulus – through the conditioning process has now developed an eliciting value

    CR = Conditioned Response – the response to a conditioned stimulus

    Now here is the important part. Respondent conditioning takes place when an unconditioned stimulus that elicits an unconditioned response is repeatedly paired with a neutral stimulus. As a result of conditioning, the neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus that reliably elicits a conditioned response. Each single pairing is considered a trial. In respondent conditioning, the presentation of the two stimuli (neutral and unconditioned) occurs regardless of the behavior the individual is exhibiting. The behavior elicited is a reflex response (Chance, 2008, p.64).

    Another aspect of respondent conditioning is called high order conditioning. High order conditioning takes place when a well-established conditioned stimulus is paired with a neutral stimulus to elicit a conditioned response. It takes place in the absence of an unconditioned stimulus, and many more stimuli can come to elicit conditional responses, not just those paired with an unconditioned stimulus. This enhances our adaptation and survival ability. But high order conditioning also affects and influences many emotional reactions, such as fear. We should thus be aware of it in the workplace. (Chance, 2008).

    The wonderful thing about respondent conditioning is that when we grasp the scientific principles behind it, we can then use it in the workplace and our training lessons to modify a trainee’s behavior. The graphic below shows how conditioning can be used to create a pleasant or enjoyable response to a stimulus. This conditioning process is called counter-conditioning.

    Let’s now look at an example of operant conditioning and respondent conditioning in the work place and how they can work together. Figure 4 shows them side by side in terms of timeline and how the stimulus affect behavior.

    An Example of Operant Conditioning

    Let’s say a competent and highly-trained dog walking employee performs to an excellent standard and clients provide gratuities accordingly. Each time a specific client service is reinforced with a gratuity, the employee’s likelihood of repeating that same standard of client service will be strengthened. In other words, the behavior has been strengthened by its consequences. The behavior has been positively reinforced.

    An Example of Respondent Conditioning

    Now let’s look at how respondent condition can affect the workplace. Let’s say that a supervisor’s appearance in your business has been paired continually with overly critical feedback to one of your employees. This will more than likely condition a problematic emotional response because, whenever the supervisor appears, it elicits a feeling of anxiety – or similar – in your staff.  The supervisor and the staff may both be extremely proficient in their skill delivery but their attitudes are going to negatively impact your business. The supervisor is having a problematic effect on the employees’ attitude which will be reflected in their customer service.

    Learn more about training and developing employees through the application of learning theory  in my book Training Big for Small Businesses 

  • 03 Mar 2018 10:52 AM | Louise Stapleton-Frappell (Administrator)

    Walking nicely is a life skill that when missing can negatively impact the human-canine relationship resulting in fewer walks, less exercise and a decrease in social exposure.

    Whether legislation dictates that a pet dog guardian cannot leave home without leashing the dog or a guardian has the freedom of access to lots of off-leash areas, walking a dog on leash can offer lots of benefits. Leashes provide information and they offer guidance. The leash provides boundaries and helps the dog understand how far he can wander, thus keeping everyone safe. The leash adds an extra layer of insurance preventing such behaviors as dashing out of the door into the street; pulling away to get to another dog or person; chasing bicycles, cats, squirrels...  

    Good leash skills not only help the dog to pay attention to the leash, focus on the handler and seek out reinforcement, they also lead to an increase in walks and the pleasure derived from those walks. The relationship between the dog and handler is strengthened and the skills learned have a positive effect on other aspects of the dog’s training and family life!

    Condition it well!

    Previous learning history could mean that the dog (or other species) associates the leash with pulling to move forwards, with confusion or even with punishment. The leash may have become a poisoned cue. Whether just starting out with a puppy’s leash skills or working on an older dog’s ‘problematical’ leash behaviors/a poisoned cue, respondent conditioning should be employed to engender a positive emotional response to all aspects of walking on leash and to teach the learner to associate the leash with a feeling of joy.  Here is a short list of some of the stimuli we recommend you condition:

    • —The sight of a collar, leash, harness
    • The sound of the clasps
    • Wearing of the collar/harness (the conditioning should be 'micro-sliced')
    • The weight of the leash fastened to the collar/harness (please note our preference is for a non-restrictive harness)
    • The feeling of dragging the leash
    • The feeling of standing on a loose leash (while the leash is being held).

    Micro-slicing Leash Walking  

    When teaching good leash skills, handlers should put the foundations in place so that they are in a good place to start working towards the goal behavior.  We never usually start with the goal so why would leash walking be any different? Endeavour to use constructional learning and a step-by-step approach to learning how to Walk This Way.

    The Leash is Full of Cues

    Here are a few examples of some of the cues that come from the leash and what they mean:

    • Pulling on the leash results in the handler standing firm with the leash. This is information. It means ‘try something else’.
    • Light pressure (caused by dog moving away) is something to move into, not pull away from.  It means that if the dog moves towards the handler, a click and a treat is on the way!
    • Loosening of the leash (learner moving in) communicates to the learner that they are doing the right thing. Click and reinforce!
    • Stroking of the leash (a slight vibration) means redirect focus towards the handler, a click and a treat is on the way!

    The leash is a positive cue that leads to positive reinforcement!

    Teach and Test

    Set up puzzle moments to test understanding of the skills you have taught.  For example: Gently stroke the leash causing a slight vibration.  Can the learner solve the puzzle and work out what to do to gain reinforcement? The learner moves towards the handler,  click and reinforce! The learner strains on the leash?  Reduce the criteria, there is more teaching to do – the learner was unable to solve the puzzle.



    Add the Walk This Way Instructor Program to Your Business Services

    Teaching a client to teach their dog to walk nicely is one of the skills that is so often not fully mastered in a group class curriculum when trained alongside the other important pet dog skills such as come, stay, off, take, sit, down etc. DogNostics developed the Walk This Way workshop options to support you, supporting and educating clients and pet dogs in your community.  

    The Walk This Way program is a complete professional trainer's workshop, available in three package options. Each package option is fully flexible and can be used as a workshop, for private appointments or to support a group class curriculum. 

    • ·      Level One: Walk This Way Comprehensive Skills, Knowledge and Proofing Workshop
    • ·      Level Two: Walk This Way Practical Skills Workshop
    • ·      Level Three: Walk This Way Proofing Games Workshop

    If you would like to learn more about the Walk This Way Program, please go to for more information.


    Attend a 2-Day Walk This Way Workshop & Qualify as a Walk This Way Instructor

    Register for the "Walk This Way" 2-Day Instructor Certification Workshop with Louise Stapleton-Frappell and Niki Tudge

    • Working Spots & Auditor Spots Available
    • When: Begins 22 Oct 2018 9:00 AM, EDT. Ends 23 Oct 4:30 PM, EDT
    • Where: 9122 Kenton Road, Wesley Chapel, Florida

    During this two day workshop, we will cover the skills and knowledge that you need to successfully run ‘Walk This Way’ group or private classes and workshops, thus increasing your service offerings and business revenue! We will guide you through the Walk This Way curriculum, sharing the tools that you need to effectively and positively teach your clients the skills required to make walking their dogs the pleasure it should be. We will not however, just share the requisite skills for teaching dogs to walk nicely on leash, we will also show you how to transfer the knowledge and skills that you learn to a group class setting, as well as sharing the core concepts of On Task Skill Coaching for pet professionals with you!

    The knowledge you gain in this workshop can be applied across all your service offerings from group to private classes and will help you to differentiate your business from your competition. You will leave the workshop ready to launch new service offerings thus increasing your business revenue by fulfilling a demand for the one thing all dog guardians want – dogs who happily walk nicely when on leash.

    The workshop will culminate in the opportunity for you to gain your professional ‘Walk This Way’ Instructor Certificate!  More information and online registration can be found here:


  • 29 Dec 2017 2:26 PM | Joanne Tudge (Administrator)

    The words we choose to use in our training and behavior change sessions and written client plans impact the way we are perceived.

    Our words Impact our credibility and thus our ability to work alongside our peers and our industry partners, particularly those who hold more senior credentials such as Board-Certified Behaviorists and Veterinarians.

    In any profession whether you are a presidential speech writer, a career orator or an individual service provider working with clients transferring skills and knowledge, words really do matter. The nomenclature we choose to use matters and impacts how we are perceived. This perception can impact our effectiveness as educators, our individual credibility and the trust that resonates and reflects on us all as professional animal trainers and behavior consultants.

    We should always consider how we choose to communicate with our clients, across our different peer groups and with professionals in our industry, particularly professionals with a recognized higher-level of knowledge or skills. The latter are the very professionals that we may need to refer clients too or be helped or mentored by.  

    There are several terms in our industry that can be, quite rightly, ‘hot buttons’, as they are terms that are reserved for medically qualified individuals because they have specific clinical definitions. Examples of these hot button words are prognosis, diagnosis & treatment.

    A simple definition of ‘prognosis’ is the likely course of a disease or ailment.  To ‘diagnose’ is the identification of the nature of an illness or other problem by examination of the symptoms and ‘treatment’ is the medical care given to a patient for an illness or injury.

    We as dog trainers and behavior consultants also have a specific language that is appropriate for us to use, the language of applied behavior analysis. We can speak to antecedents, consequences, behavior and its topography, the different observable dimensions such as frequency, intensity and duration and of course not forgetting latency!

    We can analyze and pull apart components of the antecedent package such as motivating operations, setting events and eliciting or evolving stimulus.  We can focus in on the postcedent package using functional assessments to pinpoint the all-important consequences. If necessary, we can develop single subject experiments whereby we functionally analyze stimuli and the effects they have on the target behavior, so we can build effective and efficient counter conditioning and desensitization plans.  

    We really don’t need to, nor should we, infringe on the terminology used by the medical community. Let’s be transparent folks and use the correct words to help us gain credibility and ensure accurate meaning for ourselves and our profession.

    Checkout the DogNostics ABA Dictionary


  • 27 Dec 2017 11:54 AM | Joanne Tudge (Administrator)

    We all know that many of us set New Year’s Resolutions and as the year progresses they begin to fade. This leaves us feeling frustrated, first we have not accomplished what we set out to do and then we feel like a 'loser' as we have failed our own expectations. 

    I don't know about your but in our home, I always put other things as a priority before myself, 'they say as women we tend to do this".  Anyway, this year I thought it would be fun to develop some New Year’s Resolutions for my pets as I never let them down. So, I now know if all else fails with my other resolutions I will at least have accomplished some.

    Here are my top 6 New Year’s Resolutions for you to accomplish with your Dog. They are not in order of priority, just the way they came out when I began to think about it.

    1.     Enhance Your Canine-Human Relationship “The DogSmith's MTR training eBook is a fantastic resource for all families who are looking to build and maintain basic manners, skills and most of all bonds!  This easy to use step by step guide is beautifully designed in a way that invites success for both owner and dog.  Once you have this in your hands you will know exactly what you need and how to begin teaching your dog in a fun and rewarding way. You can Download the free e-book at The DogSmith website
    2.     Get Your Annual Veterinarian Examination. Many pet owners underestimate the importance of an annual physical exam because their pet seems healthy.  Annual exams provide an opportunity to prevent diseases, detect them early, or even avoid them altogether. Many diseases and ailments such as heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes are not often evident in early stages. Your veterinarian can conduct a comprehensive exam that includes a lab analysis, heart check, and dental exam to ensure top physical shape and optimum health for years to come. As your pets get older I recommend having a senior wellness check done every 6 months, problems can be detected sooner and therefor treated more quickly.  
    3.     Become a More Responsible Pet Dog Owner. I believe owning a dog is a privilege not a right.  It should be a privilege to own one and a responsibility to care for it. So, in 2018 enroll your dog into the Pet Dog Ambassador Program. Not only will your dog learn some really nice manners and be awarded a certificate, but you will both benefit from this wonderful training experience.  The Pet Dog Ambassador (PDA) is a 5 step credentialing program for dog guardians to test their knowledge, skills and ability to manage their canine companion in real life settings. 
    4.     Teach Your Dog To Walk Nicely. Let’s take the ‘choke’ out of training a ‘walk nicely behavior’ and replace it with clear concise instructions that builds your dog’s behavior repertoire, sets your dog up for success and rewards them when they get it right. This is a far more pleasant situation for both owner and dog. In addition to being an ineffective training method, there are real health concerns when a dog’s head is jerked around. As a professional trainer you can hold your very own Walk This Way workshop. Help pets' in your community master this one important skill that can ensure a lifetime of access to mental and physical stimulation! Read the Downward Spiral of the Pet Dog here to grasp why loose leash walking can be vital for a dog so you can begin to get help. 
    5.     Improve Your Pets Diet. In the pet industry probiotics are now one of the key ingredients that pet food buyers look to find in the ingredient list of their pet food. However not all foods are alike and there are differing methods used to incorporate probiotics into the manufacturing process of pet food. These methods range from spraying the probiotics onto cooked, dried kibble to the use of microencapsulated forms of probiotics that are introduced prior to the cooking process. Learn more about your pets food and how you can improve it, after all “we are what we eat”

    6. Get A PAL Tag Research has shown that most pets that are lost and returned home safely are wearing a collar or tag with their owner's contact details. Here at the DogSmith® our number one priority is to keep your beloved pet safe and secure. This includes helping you find your pet in the event they are lost. DogSmith Pet Care & Training clients are eligible for a complimentary identification tag and free registration on our DogSmith PAL® database. The identification tag is imprinted with a unique serial number. Over the years many pets have been safely returned to their owners through this program. If you are not a DogSmith client, then please be sure that your pet has the sufficient ID so it can be returned home to you in the even it gets lost.

  • 20 Dec 2017 9:36 AM | Joanne Tudge (Administrator)

    Hot ButonsAnger is a natural emotion that usually stems from perceived threat or loss. It’s a pervasive emotion and it affects our body, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Anger is often described in terms of its intensity, frequency, duration, threshold, and expression.

    Anger typically follows a predictable pattern: a cycle. Understanding the cycle of anger can help us understand our own anger reactions, and those of others. It can also help us in considering the most appropriate response. When you work in a customer service field and one so emotionally charged as the pet industry, having an understanding of anger and its cycle and help you manage client interactions and dialogue.

    Illustrated below are the five phases of the anger cycle: trigger, escalation, crisis, recovery, and depression.

    1. The Trigger Phase

    The trigger phase happens when we perceive a threat or loss, and our body prepares to respond. In this phase there is a subtle change from an individual’s normal/ adaptive state into their stressed state. Anger triggers are different  from person to person. The triggers can come from both the environment and from internal thought processes.


    1. The Escalation Phase

    In the escalation phase there is the progressive appearance of the anger response. In this phase our body prepares for a crisis after perceiving the trigger. This preparation is mostly physical and is manifested through symptoms like rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and raised blood pressure. Once the escalation phase is reached there is less chance of calming down as this is the phase where the body prepares for fight or flight.


    1. The Crisis Phase

    As mentioned above the escalation phase is progressive and it is in the crisis phase that the anger reaction reaches its peak. In the crisis phase our body is on full alert and fully prepared to take action in response to the trigger. During this phase logic and rationality are limited, if not impaired because the anger instinct takes over. In extreme cases the crisis phase means that a person may be a serious danger to themselves or other people.


    1. The Recovery Phase

    The recovery phase happens when the anger has been spent or at least controlled and there is now a steady return to a person’s normal/ adaptive state. In this stage individual reasoning and awareness return. If the right intervention is applied the return to normalcy progresses smoothly. If an  inappropriate intervention takes place then this can re-ignite the anger and serve as a new trigger.


    1. The Depression Phase

    The depression phase marks a return to a person’s normal/ adaptive ways. Physically this stage marks below normal vital signs, such as heart rate so that the body can recover equilibrium. A person’s full use of their  faculties return at this point and the new awareness helps the person assess what just occurred. Consequently this is the stage marked by embarrassment, guilt, regret, and or depression. After the depression phase a new trigger can start the entire cycle all over again.

    The cycle of anger


     How long each phase lasts varies from person to person. Some people also skip certain phases or they go through them privately.  Do you recognize any of these phases in your own anger? Do you have good coping mechanisms and anger management strategies?

    Check out our great recorded webinar on Anger Management. You can register here


  • 07 Dec 2017 7:43 PM | Joanne Tudge (Administrator)

    All behavior takes place given setting events and within a framework of motivating operations.  Behavior never happens in a vacuum, it interacts and is affected by each of the environmental components.  The antecedent package, what comes before the behavior,  is considered to contain the cue, setting events and motivating operations. 

    Setting events 

    James O'Heare says that setting events provide a context and influence target behaviors ( 2007 p 320).  So we can manipulate the environment to make the behavior easier and to also prevent problematic behaviors by changing the setting events. .  Change the environment and the behavior will change. Think also of other context stimuli that may set the occasion for the behavior such as the location, the presence of a certain person or the time of day. In many situations if this context stimuli is removed or changed then the behavior is less or more  likely to occur. So understanding the setting events can be a critical part of the behavior puzzle. We always need to know and understanding what is eliciting a problematic behavior if we are to attempt to change the behavior in a positive manner!  

    Motivating Operations 

    Motivating Operations affect and influence the value of the reinforcer and therefore increase or decrease the likelihood of the discriminative stimulus to evoke the behavior (O’Heare 2007).  

    Motivating Operations are  “environmental events, operations, or stimulus conditions that affect an organism’s behavior by altering 

    (a) the reinforcing or punishing effectiveness of other environmental events and

     (b) the frequency of occurrence of that part of the organism’s repertoire relevant to those events as consequences (Michael 2003). 

    Medication, injury, satiation, deprivation and fear can all affect the value of a reinforcer. As dog trainers we can manipulate motivating operations by training a dog when they are hungry or  holding special toys just for training sessions. We can directly impact the value of the reinforcer or punisher to help our behavior change program.

    Why are Conditioned Emotional Responses Considered Motivating Operations?

    Remember behavior is behavior and emotions are emotions. These are very different.  Emotional responses contribute to an animals motivation and the visible behaviors we see and can measure.  Emotional responses  motivate whether an animal will attempt to escape, avoid, appease, approach or run from something because of their conditioning or reinforcement history.   If the emotional response is fear that is going to motivate a considerably different behavior than if the pet is happy!

    Remember emotional responses motivate a measurable behavior. 

    1. If a dog is afraid of people then their fear will motivate operant escape behaviors.  The dog will want to escape or avoid the person. 
    2. The escape behavior is then  negatively reinforced, escaping  removes the dog from the problematic stimulus and brings about relief from the fear.  
    3. So in similar situations in the future the dog is more likely to escape as this  behavior has been reinforced.  

     Change the emotion of fear and the escape behavior is no longer valid or necessary. Because emotional responses motivate behavior in this way they are considered to “serve as motivating operations” (O’Heare 2007 p 229). They directly impact the value of the reinforcing contingency. 


    O’Heare, J (2007) Aggressive Behavior in Dogs, DogPsych Publishing, Ottawa Canada.

  • 04 Dec 2017 8:06 PM | Joanne Tudge (Administrator)

    Copyright 2017

    There is much chatter within the pet industry about transparency, competency and accountability amongst professionals.  

    So let’s look at each of these individually and what they mean.   Transparencycanstockphoto17525276

    1. Transparency

    Transparency to  me implies openness. 

    • Are you transparent in your business practices? 
    • Can others see, read or listen to information that informs them upfront about each of the actions you may perform when caring for or training their pet. 
    • Are you honest about the protocols, procedures, equipment, techniques you may use to achieve mutually agreeable goals? 
    • Are you also transparent in a professional way about the actions you are not prepared to take in the name of training, management or care. Is your transparency presented in a professional manner with no judgment, criticism or challenge to others?
    2. Competency
    Competency is considered the most ethical obligation a professional has. Competency is typically defined as having professional knowledge. It demands that professionals have been schooled in the theory and research of their industry and, as a result, hold the necessary skills to apply that field of knowledge to a working situation with their clients. canstockphoto14127736It is imperative, however, for us to understand that competence is the measure of actual professional performance and not the level and amount of education one has received. High levels of education do not guarantee competency and, conversely, a professional lacking a high level of education does not correlate to a lack of competency.

    In the fields of animal training and behavior, it is widely accepted that it is unlikely, if not impossible, to be fully competent across all the varied industry services. As a result, some professionals elect to be very strategic when defining their scope and elect to narrow their focus to areas they both enjoy and where they demonstrate competence. From a marketing perspective, selecting limited services and marketing oneself as an expert across these services only can be a strategically savvy move. What is critical is that, as professionals, we recognize and acknowledge our own competent skill set and work within those confines.  

    3. Accountability

    This is an obligation to accept responsibility for your own actions and to disclose these actions in a transparent way. Most true professionals have a clear set of individual values to which they manage their professional lives. Professionals maintain decorum, they respect client confidentiality, they implement and manage informed consent, they operate a ethical, fiscally responsible and socially upstanding business. Professionals stay away from intra- and inter-organizational conflict and they focus on the professional delivery of their own services and products while protecting their own professional values. Companies, organizations and associations also have a part to play in accountability. They have collective accountability for their members, employees and stakeholders. Organizations also need to determine a standard of core values that participants will be held accountable to and an operational system for managing the accountability. canstockphoto11058233 So are you and your business fully transparent, do you operate within the parameters of your professional competency and do you align yourself with organizations that have compatible value systems so you are comfortable being part of the collective accountability?  

  • 04 Dec 2017 7:59 PM | Joanne Tudge (Administrator)

    sable border collie dog portrait in summerEven if you are willfully ignorant regarding the ethical dilemmas of using punishment or aversive control in pet dog training then consider just the efficiency and effectiveness of what you are doing!

    When we punish dogs for unwanted behaviors this does not necessarily remove the reinforcing contingencies that are responsible for maintaining the behaviors in the first place.

    The reinforcement contingencies are usually left undisturbed by the concurrent arrangement of contingent punishment. Therefore the punishment just superimposes additional consequences which happen to be aversive. So when the punishment stops, you the punisher are removed from the situation, the behavior recovers in frequency under the control of the undisturbed reinforcing contingencies that have remained in place throughout punishment process! 

    Teach your dog new behaviors that are more appropriate rather than punishing problematic behaviors. If you can teach your pet new ways to access the initial reinforcement that was maintaining the problematic behavior then you have a very powerful solution.

    Copyright Niki Tudge 2017

  • 24 Nov 2017 1:22 PM | Joanne Tudge (Administrator)

    There are fundamental differences between the behavior analytic approach to assessing problem behaviors in our pet dogs and the medical model approach. 

    • The medical model approach to problem behaviors diagnoses and treats the behavior problem like an illness or disease. Within the medical model approach problem behaviors are categorized and then set protocols are prescribed based on the category the problem falls into. The medical model approach does not address the cause of the behavior or look at the specifics of the individual animal displaying the behavior. The medical model addresses the problem behavior through surgery, pharmacology intervention or anecdotal explanations based on how the behavior looks or the animal’s believed mental condition. Much of the prescribed treatment used to address problems using the medical model is based on intuition and passed down medical protocols.
    • Unlike the medical model the behavior analytical approach to assessing problem behaviors recognizes that behavior is a product of the environment and the individual animal’s conditioning history. The behavior analytical approach recognizes that in order to change the behavior the causes need to be identified. The behavior analytical approach focuses on the details of the specific behavior.

    The behavioral approach to problem behavior is far more effective and efficient than the medical model because it is based on the science of learning theory and follows scientific processes to identify the antecedents and consequences of the behavior. The behavior analytical approach does not rely on guess work, trial and error tactics or anecdotal recommendations but systematically identifies the functional relationship the behavior has with the environment. When these relationships have been identified then efficient and effective solutions can be developed. The behavior analytical approach is called a functional assessment and this is an objective and systematic way to  explain, describe and control (modify) behavior. Please note that a Veterinary Behaviorist will use both models!

    The Functional Assessment
    There are several components to a functional assessment starting with the informant interview. During this interview anecdotal information about the problem behavior is obtained. For many of us this information is learned during our first consultation with the client. The next component of the functional assessment is the direct observation phase. This is where the dog’s behavior is observed and the relationship between the variables is measured and correlated. The final part of the functional assessment is the functional analysis. The intended final product of the functional assessment is a contingency statement that the dog trainer has confidence in. The contingency statement details in simple terms the antecedents, behaviors and consequences in measurable terms. This contingency statement clearly defines the problem behavior, how it is evoked and how it is maintained. The contingency statement identifies the stimuli, SD, that reliably evoke the behavior and the more distant antecedent that motivate operations and set the context for the behavior. The postcedents are also identified and those that are functionally related to the behavior are labeled as consequences.

    Let us look in more detail at each stage of the functional assessment.

    • The Informant Interview

    The informant interview is the interview process between the pet dog consultant and the animals’ guardians. The goal is to collect information from the animals’ guardians to assist in developing a contingency statement. During the interview the consultant has to take the answers provided by the animal’s guardian that are often interpretations of behavior, and convert their answers through additional questioning into clear descriptions of the actual observable and quantifiable behavior involved. This means no labels are attached. The behavior is described in an operational way.

    During the informant interview there are several components of information that should be established. The consultant must develop a clear concise, measurable description of the problem behavior or behaviors. It is also important to understand the setting events – the context that makes the problem behavior more likely. It is necessary to understand the motivating operations that influence the value of the consequences such as satiation, deprivation and any conditioned emotional responses such as fear or aggression. Discriminative stimuli should be identified alongside the consequences that follow the behavior. We need to be able to answer the question, what does the animal get out of this situation?

    The consultant should rate the efficiency of the problematic behavior particularly if there are several problematic behaviors at play. The history of the behavior should be sought and the results, if any, from previous behavioral change programs. During the interview it is also advisable to ask the animals’ guardians what alternative behaviors they would feel are more appropriate and acceptable.


    Examples of groupings of questions.

    1. History, training, background, source, etc.
    2. Health – vaccinations, ongoing issues, etc.
    3. Exercise- daily, type, play, etc.
    4. Living conditions, home size, crating, family members, siblings, etc.
    5. Training history, a detailed history of when, what type, how effective etc.
    6. Management history, any management activities in place now based on the behavioral issue.
    7. Behavioral history, when it started, what it is in measurable terms, setting events, motivating operations, antecedents, consequences.
    8. Client goal, what the client hopes to achieve from the behavior consultation

    When the informant interview is complete the consultant can develop a preliminary contingency statement that will help with developing further questions (Tudge, 2016).

     The Direct Observation Stage

    The goal of direct observation is to pinpoint the source of the problem by factually understanding the functional relationships between the antecedents, behavior and consequence. The measurement process provides quantitative data which cannot infer causal relationships but it can identify correlations between the different variables.

    When collecting baseline data it is important to have a data collection plan. The plan includes a data collection form that identifies the stratification areas of data to be mined and operational definitions that accurately define what the behavior is and what is a problematic behavior, so what do we need to record on our data collection plan.  The data collection plan clarifies which dimensions of the behavior will be measured; frequency, duration or intensity. As it is not always necessary to measure all the dimensions the behavior consultant should consider which is the most important and which dimension will give us the most salient information.


    Barking. Barking could be measured as a duration behavior, an intensity factor  or the frequency. We could also measure the latency, when does the barking occur in relationship to the trigger. It would be a waste of resources to measure each of these separately. It would be more effective to determine which dimension is significant in terms of the clients goal. so if a client said ” i don’t mind how often my dog barks (frequency) i just have a problem with the duration (how long the barking lasts) that would help you determine what to measure (Tudge, 2016).

    Data is best obtained from as few trials as possible without limiting the quality and accuracy of the data. Measurement should continue until trends emerge. It is, by the same token, as important to decide who will be responsible for the data collection. The data collector will need to be trained on the data collection process and the necessity to remain non-intrusive during the collection process so the data is stable, precise and unbiased. If the problem behavior is dangerous or poses a safety risk then the consultant must use their best professional judgment as to whether direct observation should even be carried out. In many cases you may be able to document this information from the clients every interactions with their pet.

    When the data has been collected it will be essential to revise the contingency statement developed during and after the informant interview. The data collection process may, and often does, reveal new evidence and information about the functional relationship between the variables.

     The Functional Analysis

    The functional analysis stage is a single subject experiment that tests the consultant’s hypothesis – the contingency statement. The two most common single subject experiments that are used to analyze behavior are the reversal design and the alternating treatment design. The suitability of each experiment is determined by the hypothesis being tested.
    The functional analysis is designed to test the relationship between the hypothesized controlling antecedents and the behavior and/or the hypothesized maintaining relationship between the behavior and its consequence. The functional analysis sets up different independent variables and confirms or refutes their effect on the dependent variable, the actual behavior. The goal is to analyze what is and what is not evoking and/or maintaining the behavior so an effective behavior change program can be designed. The experiment should only cover areas of the contingency statement that are unclear and not everything. The consultant must also take into consideration, during the experiment, that setting events and motivating operations should not be overlooked as they can “contribute indirectly to the contingencies” (O’Heare 2007 p 212).

    The functional analysis should only be carried out if the initial interview and direct observation does not reveal trends in the problem behavior and/or components of the contingency statement are still unclear. When embarking on a functional analysis the benefit and precision of the analysis must be weighed against the effort, time, skill required and potential fallout of behavior rehearsing (O’Heare 2007). A functional analysis should only be performed by a trained professional with a minimally invasive approach, a clearly defined plan to test only what is necessary, a tangible goal and with careful consideration to the safety and security of all involved. The analysis should only be carried out if the important variables can be controlled throughout the experiment or the experiment will be flawed and there must be consent gained from the animal’s guardian.

    The functional analysis experiment should only test areas of the contingency statement that are unclear and not everything. If the consultant is unsure about the relationship between the antecedents and the behavior then the consultant would test the antecedent package until the evoking, discriminative stimuli were identified. Likewise if the lack of clarity in the contingency statement came from understanding which consequences were maintaining the behavior then these would be tested (Tudge 2016).

    At the end of the functional assessment you should know:

    1. What are the distant and direct antecedents? What is the SD, the setting events and the motivating operations?
    2. What is the actual observable, measurable, problematic behavior? What are the problematic dimensions of the behavior, intensity, frequency or duration.
    3. How is the behavior being reinforced +R or –R.

    When planning for your behavior change program be prepared to ask yourself:
    4. What is the behavior change goal? Is it realistic and does the client agree with the goal?
    5. What primary and secondary reinforcers will you use?
    6. What behavior change protocol will be most suitable to reach the agreed goal?
    7. How and what will you measure during the behavior change program so you are sure that your intervention is actually having the desired effect on the problematic behavior?

    O’Heare, J (2007) Aggressive Behavior in Dogs, DogPsych Publishing, Ottawa Canada.

    Tudge, N.J (2016) Get Coaching Now. Published Ingram Sparks, USA. 


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