Sunday, April 29, 2012

BAT: What It Means To Me

Beth Chambers Carbone participated in our Leash Lungers Anonymous class where we teach BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training) techniques to rehabilitate reactive, fearful and aggressive dogs.  Here she writes about what she learned and how the class helped her and her dog.

For more info on the class, which I co-teach with Pro-Dog Hawaii, please email me!

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ProDog Hawaii's Behavior Adjustment Training sessions for aggressive dogs changed my experience of walking my dog.  I think most of of think of walking a dog as a peaceful experience.  We get to spend pleasurable time with our dog, we feel the sunshine on our backs, we enjoy the beautiful landscapes of Hawaii... But my walks were not like that for a long time.

My dog, Nero, is an "intact" male Bulmastiff.  He is wonderful with humans, but he doesn't like strange dogs.  I have always been very careful on my walks to avoid other dogs -- and by avoid, I mean I walked across streets, turned around, or even ran when I saw other dogs coming close.  Nero would lunge towards strange dogs, and it was very unpleasant for me.  Every day, when I walked Nero, I felt as if I was walking in a minefield: always trying to see beyond blind corners, practicing active avoidance when I saw dogs.  And if another dog and it's owner "snuck up behind me" (i.e., walked up behind me) I would feel panic!  So my walks weren't very fun. 

That changed after Nero and I participated in BAT with Marie and Kyoko and two other dogs (Hiro and Hina).  The goal of BAT is simple: learn how to encourage non-aggressive behaviors by marking them and rewarding the dogs.  And really, that's what it is.  We met for 4 weeks, 1 hour each week, and went through a series of activities that taught us how to recognize neutralization behaviors and reward them.  So I learned what Nero does when he exhibits aggressive behavior and also when he is showing calming/neutral signals.  When he would give me those calm/neutral signals, I would immediately mark it, turn away from the other dog, and then give a reward.  We did this over and over, getting closer and closer to the other dogs.  In this experience, I learned what Nero does to be calm.  But he also learned what I want him to do when he sees another dog.

The amazing thing about it is that the behavior and training have extended beyond the two dogs we worked with. Now when we are on walks and see other dogs, I don't feel that I need to walk away.  Now that doesn't mean I get too close:  I know now that Nero is okay at about 8-10 feet away. And Nero knows that he can look at the other dog -- sometimes for many seconds -- and then he will turn his head, lick his lips, and look me in the eye.  I know that means that he is telling me he's calm, and I reward him and walk away.  Today, I was walking him and a woman walked very close to me with a big dog.  I was standing near a tree, all alone in a field, and this woman cut right towards me!   Even though I was trying to give her signals (such as saying, "Please don't come too close to me because I have an aggressive dog."), she just kept coming.  I couldn't believe it!  But guess what?  My dog Nero just sat and looked.  When she finally stopped, about six feet away from me, my dog looked at me and looked away from her dog!  I gave him a treat and then we walked on. 

So, now I really am enjoying my walks with my dog.  I am not constantly afraid that my dog is going to suddenly lunge at another dog, and I feel more confident that everything will be okay even when the unexpected happens.  Yes, I think my dog will stay alert and could be aggressive with other dogs. But the great thing is that he knows how to communicate with me, and I know how to recognize his signals.  He'll let me know if I am getting too close to another dog, and I will respect his boundaries.  And so we will walk!

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