ABCs Part 2: Management (AKA Controlling Antecedents)

ManagementLast week I covered this formula for problem solving:

Antecedent -> Behavior -> Consequence

"Management" is what we call manipulating the environment to prevent an undesired behavior from happening. When evaluated in the context of ABC, it is called Antecedent Arrangement.

For example:

  1. For a dog that barks and lunges at a picture window when people pass by, we could put up a heavy curtain that covers the window or just deny access to the window entirely.
  2. For the dog that jumps up on guests in part one of this series we can deny access to the entrance when people arrive.
  3. For dogs that fight over food bowls during meals we could feed them separately.

For items #1 and #2 management is obviously not a permanent solution. People that own dogs should be able to enjoy their picture windows, while denying access to the entrance every time someone visits is not a viable solution, as well as just no fun.

But for #3, management just might be the best option. Counter-conditioning for resource guarding against other dogs is very difficult to do safely, while fights over resources such as food can be deadly. The risk of a relapse is just too high in some circumstances, and unfortunately risk analysis is part of the problem solving process in serious behavior cases.

To be clear, management is an important component of a complete plan. Only rarely is it the entire solution. However, while controlling antecedents is often not a permanent solution, it is usually a very important part of any comprehensive behavior modification program.

One reason is that preventing the behavior from happening has to be part of plan. If the dog is still being rewarded for the behavior in some circumstances while we are training to prevent it in others, the training is more apt to fail or at best, take much longer than it should.

The other reason is that controlling when and which antecedents are presented, as well at what level of intensity, is often part of the training or behavior modification process. If we are working on counter-conditioning and desensitization the antecedents need to be introduced very gradually. If we are training a new behavior then we need to control distractions as much as possible and create and environment that sets the dog up to be successful.

Determining what the critical antecedent(s) are can be more difficult than it looks. Remember dogs can see (moving things at a distance), hear, and of course smell much better than we do.

With the infamous greeting-committee-dog what is the antecedent to rushing to the door? The door opening? The doorbell? People approaching the door? The sound of an elevator door opening? The sound of car in the driveway?

While training a dog to “come when called” what cue is she responding to? (The cue or “command” is the antecedent.) Is it you leaning forward to call her? Are you giving a hand signal by accident or on purpose? Is it the first syllable of her name? In the case of an emergency cue like this it’s important to be sure so that you are sure she’ll understand in an actual emergency.

When seeing a client for the first time, an experienced behavior consultant will spend a lot of time discussing the different situations in which problems arise. Much is this is about identifying antecedents. As a matter of fact, many consultants insist on having a client submit some kind of intake questionnaire” prior to seeing them to get the process started before they even get to the client’s home.

The A in ABC is a deceptively deep topic. Controlling antecedents can be a temporary or even permanent solution. It’s a critical part of the problem solving process, and can often suggest what behavior solutions make sense. We’ll start to tackle that next.

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ABCs Part 2: Management (AKA Controlling Antecedents) is a post from: Dog Spelled Forward If you are reading it on another site, it’s run by a lazy leech who is too pathetic to create his own content.


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