I was intrigued already the first time I heard about BAT – Behaviour Adjustment Training for reactive/ and leash aggressive dogs. It was about 3 and some years ago. BAT is a relatively new method that has taken off in just the last few years. It was developed by US-trainer Grisha Stewart (formerly located in Seattle – recently relocated to Alaska…) and the hype about BAT went fast around the globe after 2009 when she first started spreading word about it in the dog training world…for more; check out the official Functional Rewards site.
While many of the concepts within BAT are not new at all – I personally felt that BAT added a very nice and fresh, new spin on working with these – often “difficult” dogs. What I have felt from the very first get-go and my own trials and experiments with putting BAT into practice, has been that it is based on a lovely premise of “can do” – as opposed to the many techniques out there, that may look great in books and on paper but are not very doable and practical in real life. And my experience as a trainer is very much that if *I* find something complex and not very doable – certainly my clients will not be very successful implementing that program into their lives! But, as mentioned – BAT is different, and stands on a strong idea of DOABLE – and I love BAT for that!
My own journey into learning more about BAT and starting to really use it began through watching video seminars and reading the BAT book and articles – and then experimenting with my own dog Pinot, who definitely is extremely space sensitive and has the potential to be quite reactive in certain situations. She was my initial guinea pig. I sure liked what I saw and experienced first-hand! That lead to setting up BAT trials in private sessions and pairing people in semi-privates to work on BAT concepts in pairs. I kept feeling impressed that these ideas are ones that everyone “gets” – not just the handlers but also the dogs, who were happy to work under threshold, without explosions – as long as we just set things up for success! How lovely!
Last winter and spring I started a Pilot Project and had an “Official Guinea Pig Group” and through several months gained some really valuable insight into logistics of a BAT group and how I might best implement a BAT class. And voila! This is where we are today.
No one loves it when the their dog explodes and goes into big displays of often embarrassing behaviours (embarrassing to the owners). After a BAT session – the most common scenario is that everyone feels empowered after a full session of working with several different dogs – yet no (or extremely few) explosions or overt displays of leash aggression.
Here are a few photos from yesterday. Yey for the troopers who came out in the snow! It was a very snowy (and gorgeous) afternoon. Fantastic training with all the dogs! I`ve had a lot of new people ask about BAT and how it works – so this is an attempt to explain a bit more through pictures…
These first two images give a little snap-shot of what BAT is all about. In the above photo Chief T is assessing another dog/ looking ahead. In contrast to many other training methods that encourage the handler to always cue the dog to look AWAY from whatever is “scary” or “threatening”, BAT allows and even encourages the dog to make this assessment and look at the other dogs.
Because we make our very, very best effort to always work the dogs under threshold (perhaps playing with distance a lot initially and starting the work as far away from other dogs as need be) – we can very quickly get to a point where you will allow the dog to make this assessment of the other dog and then WAIT for a choice from your dog to offer some other – more socially appropriate behaviour, something other than reacting. That’s what’s going on in the photo below; he`s done assessing and has made a choice other than reacting. Look at Chief T – isn’t that just gorgeous and elegant?! A choice he made on his own – without prompt or cue. It’s truly elegant to watch this process in real time!
We also incorporate some other skills into the BAT sessions once the dogs are ready for that – below playing a variation of “Monkey in the middle” where one dog is holding a sit next to their handler while the other dogs provide distractions in their movement and passing / coming and going. Great skills to develop and build regardless of whether dogs are reactive or not 🙂
Below, Casey (to the right) has just made a lovely choice to offer a polite signal and she is being rewarded with increased distance and a happy dance in reverse giving her SPACE from the other dog (and praise) and the main reward for making that lovely choice.
At its best, watching a BAT session is about as “exciting”as this -it`s pretty calm and the dogs look relaxed enough that you would have the right to say “Well, THOSE dogs are not reactive”. And that`s part of the point. Practicing what we want to see more of!
Sometimes people have this idea that in order to be able to help with reactivity or leash aggression, we must see those behaviours in the training sessions. Not so! In fact – on the contrary! A reacting dog is not a thinking and learning dog – but these dogs are. Well below threshold and able to think and learn – we`re definitely starting to see and hear great reports from the BATters who have been coming out to a few sessions now!
If you`re interested in learning more or a local wanting to join in Canmore and Banff area – you can get more info about Wags` BAT sessions here. Or fill in the contact form and ask about our outdoor BAT sessions! Would love to hear from you!
On that note – and until next time; Chief T wants to have the last word and say GIMME FIVE!