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What I’ve Learnt About BAT (Behavioural Adjustment Training)

Through my training journey with Rudy who has severe reactivity to strangers and dogs, I’ve continued looking for help with his reactivity and new methods that might help him to take little steps forward.

I’m currently studying Michael Shikashio’s Aggressive Dog course and came across Grisha Stwewart’s BAT methodology again. I decided to buy her BAT 2.0 book and sign up to her academy to learn more through her online courses about how to apply BAT.

The idea of BAT is creating setups to help a dog change its emotional response to a trigger.

The setups start at a distance where the dog is aware of the trigger but not bothered by the trigger (Green Zone).

Over the course of multiple setups over multiple days and weeks, the distance is reduced, determined by the dog and their willingness to move closer to the trigger.

When the dog becomes aware of the trigger, they can then decide what to do, whether to move a little closer or move away.

The idea of this is that in most reactivity cases, the barking and lunging is the dog trying to put distance between them and the trigger, so by starting much further away from the trigger, the dog can choose to move away from the trigger on its own rather than feeling so over threshold that it has no choice but to bark and lunge.

When the dog moves away from the trigger of its own accord, the dog is then rewarded by the moving away from the trigger (functional reward) and praise.

The key points of BAT are:

  • Never let the dog go over threshold by managing the setups
  • A number of carefully controlled BAT setups will be required to change the dog’s emotional response
  • You don’t use treats or food in BAT training as the food reward gets in the way of the dog’s learning. The dog needs space and time to ‘figure out’ what’s going in without the distraction of food
  • The aim is to give the dog safe, positive experiences at below-threshold distance to the trigger
  • BAT involves leash-handling skills across how to manage the leash to give the dog more space to move around and have control safely when needed
  • BAT can be used alongside counter conditioning and desensitization behaviour modification.

If counter conditioning hasn’t been successful, then BAT can be a good, unintrusive method to try (in comparison to other methods like CAT – Constructional Aggression Treatment).

My experience with BAT

I’m still early on in my experiments with BAT and see that it can definitely have benefits for some dogs dealing with reactivity.

Using BAT to introduce Alma to another dog

Although Alma gets on with dogs, she tends to do a lot of barking at them on lead. I used BAT to introduce her to another dog. This involved my husband walking the other dog further away, walking away from us, so that we could follow at a distance. This allowed Alma to collect some sniffs and information about the other dog without the intensity of the dog coming towards her at close quarters.

Once everyone was comfortable with this, we had the other dog walk in an arc away from us so that they eventually circled back and passed us, again at a distance.

We continued the follow but closed the gap gradually as everyone’s body language became calmer – eventually meeting for a sniff.

This way of meeting stopped any barking as no one felt under pressure or over threshold.

Using BAT with Rudy

Rudy’s threshold distance (the distance at which he can see a trigger, such as a person) is so far that it’s difficult to do BAT.

We did it in a large field, with me at one end with Rudy on a longer lead, and my husband at the other end (Rudy couldn’t tell it was him) – and used walkie talkies to communicate.

All we did was have my husband hang around at one end of the field, probably 400 metres away, while I let Rudy decide where to go and rewarding him for noticing the trigger and choosing to move away.

At that distance, Rudy would focus on my husband and watch, then eventually turn away and walk in another direction. 

The problem came when he would get focused following a scent and find himself too close to my husband, at which point he would bark. Here, I would have to gently get his attention and then move further away from the trigger and carry on.

I need to continue doing this to see if over time, Rudy realises that just because someone is in the distance, it doesn’t matter and he doesn’t have to worry.

We’ve also tried variations of BAT by whenever someone passes our front gate, instead of using food to reward Rudy for looking at the trigger and not reacting, I’ve used moving away from the trigger as the reward.

The thinking behind this is that moving away from the trigger is the real behaviour that the dog is trying to achieve in that situation, and that food is just an added extra rather than the core reward of getting away from the scary trigger.

Conclusion

I can see that BAT would work well with dogs who aren’t as extreme in their reactivity as Rudy. If the dog’s threshold for seeing a trigger was 100 metres away, then BAT could definitely be a good technique to try.

The downsides are that you need helpers who stay on track and do exactly what you need at each point (i.e. don’t go off script by moving too close or interacting with the dog) for multiple days – which is a commitment.

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