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Changing Dog Behavior Through BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training)

Updated on November 6, 2021
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Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

How can you change dog behavior through BAT?
How can you change dog behavior through BAT? | Source

What is Behavior Adjustment Training?

In the past week we discussed Leslie McDevitt's LAT (Look at that), Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz and Kellie Snider's CAT(Constructional Aggression Treatment), today we'll instead discuss BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training). In the case of BAT, you'll have to thank dog trainer, author and founder of Ahimsa Dog Training, Grisha Stewart CPDT-KA.

What is BAT exactly? BAT is a systematic desensitization protocol used mainly for reactivity but can be virtually applied to many other behavior problems in dogs. It rewards good behavior and helps dogs make good choices.

The dog is basically exposed to a known trigger sub-threshold and is rewarded for offering cut-off signals by increasing distance.

However, unlike CAT where the trigger moves away, in this case the dog is the one choosing to move away. Confused? The following paragraph will show a real-case case study I have helped by using BAT.

BAT requires good observational skills.
BAT requires good observational skills.

An Example of Behavior Adjustment Training

This is a real case study I was called to work about a while back. The owner's name and dog's name are fictional to respect privacy.

Bob called me on the phone quite frantic. His Mastiff called Cora continued to bark and chase cars, trucks and even the average child walking down the road.

He explained to me that the dog was not aggressive and did not have a bite history, just she had this strong desire to chase, but being a mastiff the people in town were concerned and some children were obviously frightened.

The main issue was that his yard was unfenced, so Cora got to rehearse the unwanted behavior over and over.

When I showed up in their property, Cora immediately greeted me. Her tail was wagging and she accompanied me towards her owners. I immediately sensed this was not going to be an easy case, since the yard was un-fenced and I wasn't sure if they were really willing to put up a fence.

I had the impression that they were expecting me to give a miracle solution with my little magic wand.

I asked them to put her on a long line and keep it loose, so I could observe her natural behavior. A truck passed by and she was getting ready to chase, but perhaps the line inhibited her a bit so she had a startle response and then was easily re-directed.

I did get an idea of her behavior and that she preferred to chase the truck once it was past her rather than upon seeing it.

If she saw the truck as an invasive, threatening trigger, her chasing was her way of sending it away. We had to put this behavior to a stop before something bad happened. I thought I would give BAT a try.

So we looked for a distance where she acknowledged the trucks, but wasn't too aroused and over threshold to chase them. This was quite a distance at first.

As soon as she saw a truck I would click my clicker or say yes, then jog the opposite way and give her treat. By doing this, Cora was rewarded in two ways: 1) by removing her from the situation, (functional reward) and by giving the treat .

We then progressed to step 2: in this case, when she acknowledged the trigger, I would wait for her to offer an alternate behavior to barking and chasing. This alternate behavior was often sniffing the ground or turning the head the other way.

The moment she gave this signal I would click or say yes and then jog away and give the treat or a toy to play with.

In stage 3, we weaned the dog off treats and relied solely on the functional reward. So as soon as she acknowledged the trigger I would wait again for an alternate behavior. The moment it happened, I would say "yes" and jog away.

The more we practiced this, the better. I often relied on set-ups for BAT by using decoy dogs or volunteers to act as the trigger, depending on what the trigger was.

Since Cora wanted to chase our SUV, I had my hubby drive back and forth repeatedly that day. We also asked for some children to walk by and exposed the dog to a few joggers at a distance.

The owner was impressed and I was happy to see they decided to follow my advice of using a long line when the dog was out to prevent rehearsal of unwanted behaviors.

After several sessions, Cora was reliable enough to offer alternate behaviors even without the long line on and at closer distances. It's all about watching engage/disengage behaviors and rewarding them promptly.

Pros and Cons of Behavior Adjustment Training

As with other training methods, there are pros and cons of using BAT to modify dog behavior. You'll find trainers who embrace BAT and others who prefer to use desensitization and counterconditioning. Following are some pros and cons of BAT:

Advantages of Behavior Adjustment Training

  • Wanted dog behaviors are marked and rewarded, so they're reinforced and likely to happen again.
  • Training progresses quickly as the dog is naturally drawn to want to avoid certain situations after he's shown how.
  • Treats are not necessary (in the later stages) since the functional reward can replace them.
  • Dog owners learn to become really good at reading their dog's body language.


  • Requires the assistance of a professional. Good timing and understanding of dog body language is important.
  • The dog is put "under some pressure" through negative reinforcement. In other words, in order to work, the dog must feel somewhat stressed by the presence of the trigger so to feel relieved when he leaves after displaying the alternate behavior. Several dog trainers feel there are better techniques to use first that don't involve negative reinforcement.
  • It may be difficult at times to create proper set-ups so to ensure proper desensitization and avoid the dog from going over threshold. There are risks for flooding and sensitization.
  • Some trainers feel that a reactive dog is not in the best position to make a good choice. And if these dogs were making good choices from the get-go they wouldn't need training or behavior modification in the first place.
  • There may be some level of risk associated with putting a reactive/aggressive dog on a long line. Dogs trainers and behavior consultants should factor in the legal liabilities associated with this.
  • A large amount of space may be needed for proper setups.

Behavior Adjustment Training

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli


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