Training is not just giving cookies for the things we like, and turning our backs on the things we don’t.  Behavioral science and learning theory is a deep and detailed world.  Skinner and Pavlov and many others have devoted whole careers to studying how it all works.  One modern behavior scientist, Dr. Susan Friedman, is changing my world every time I see her speak. Nature, it’s said, abhors a vacuum, and in a 2009 article, Dr. Susan Friedman said behavior feels the same way:  “Behavior never occurs in a vacuum or sprays out of an animal haphazardly like water from a leaky shower-head, independent of conditions. Behavior always depends on the environment in some way.”  Things in the environment happen before your dog commits his error in judgment or does something uniquely brilliant, and something happens right after these behaviors as well.  Understanding this sequence and understanding where and when you can make changes that will make a behavior more or less likely to occur in the future is fundamental to training.

Dr. Susan Friedman is not the first person to break training down into a three-part system.  These three-part systems work to identify the order of events in learning and training.

The first event is the antecedent.  This is whatever stimulus (internal or external) comes before the behavior.

The second event is the behavior that happens.  Behavior is simply what the dog is doing — sitting, barking, chewing, etc.

The third event is the consequence that follows — this is whatever comes after the behavior.  It will either punish or reinforce the previously occurring behavior. That’s it!  That is how training works. It’s as easy as ABC.

Lets look at how this plays out in a couple of scenarios.

Teaching a hand target is a basic skill for most dogs these day. Your session might look like this:  You place your hand (antecedent) in front of the dog, the dog touches or does not touch the extended hand or may even offer something totally different (behavior), and then you do or don’t give a reinforcement (consequence).

Chewing. It’s just behavior — neither good nor bad.  In fact, it is a must for puppies, and some adults choose to do it their whole lives. The antecedent, one could say, is puppyhood or the dogginess of a dog.  The inherent need to chew is the antecedent of the chewing. Chewing is the behavior. All the good feelings that a puppy gets out of chewing is the consequence.  This is an internal consequence, making it a self reinforcing behavior.

Greeting a the door: In a more complex setting, think about how things go when a guest comes to the house.  The antecedent is usually the doorbell or a knock on the front door.  Then, rushing the door and barking is a cluster of behaviors.  When the door opens and petting (or  jumping up and being pushed down) occurs, human contact/attention is the consequence.

In the next few blogs I will go over each of the three parts in detail.  For now, start watching your dog as he makes his way through life and watch yourself as well.   What is actually eliciting a behavior and what is happening right afterward?  Don’t place value on it or blame.  Just look at choices and events for what they are — information.

Check out Dr. Friedman’s work here: Behavior Works

Check out teaching a hand target here:  Laurie Luck’s video on Hand Targeting