We train dogs one human at a time. That is not just our motto, but is an important aspect of creating long lasting behaviors and is important for truly creating change. If we teach your dog to not be reactive to other dogs, for example, but you do not understand what we are doing, how would you continue that training beyond your time with us? You could not. Your dog would quickly go back to the unwanted behaviors; barking and lunging at other dogs. For that reason, we want to make the training easy and understandable for everyone we work with. We could throw technical jargon at you, like “antecedent”, “operant conditioning”, “blocking”, or “agonistic signals”, but what would that mean to you? Probably not very much. We want you to understand what we are teaching you. For that, we created a simple acronym to help keep your training clear and on target.
Think of your training as “ARCS” going from where you are to where you want to be. As you travel along those ARCS, you need four simple ideas to maintain your training direction.
First, you need to have your dog’s Attention. If your dog is not paying attention to you and is distracted, whether it is from that squirrel in the tree or that dog across the street, you will not be able to train your dog in that moment.
Next, you must have a strong Reinforcement. If the reward you are using to teach your dog a behavior is not strong, you will lose your dog’s interest. If I asked you to help me dig out a tree stump in my yard and said I would pay you $5, you will lose interest really fast. However, if I offered you $50,000 to help, I am pretty sure I will have your undivided attention. Pay your dog well and you will get where you want to go faster.
Another important idea is the Context. Where are the behaviors happening and what else is involved. Is your dog aggressive to other dogs in your yard behind a fence but not on walks? Is it the other way around? Where the behaviors are happening matters, so working within the context helps change those behaviors. After that, then we work on generalizing the wanted behaviors by changing the environment little by little until the behavior change happens everywhere.
Finally, there is the Sequence. What is happening right before and right after the behavior? Very often, what happens just before can be a predictor of what will happen during and after the unwanted behavior. We also want to know where the wanted behavior is going to take us. What is the end goal? Without knowing where are going, we cannot know how to get there. By setting up the right sequence of events, we can most effectively change the outcome of the training.
With these four simple concepts in mind, you can make great strides in continuing your training to get from where you are to where you want to be.