TulsaPets Magazine May 2023

May / June 2023 • TulsaPets 33 Has the Environment Changed? After you have ruled out a medical problem, explore whether something has changed in the dog’s environment. A perfect example of this change occurred often during the COVID-19 pandemic. People had many changes in their rou- tines and in their home or work situations. Many children were home all day, and par- ents were attempting to work from home. To dogs, kids sitting on the couch playing video games or watching television might just be infringing on the dogs’ favored rest- ing place. And children have lots of snacks. Dogs love snacks too. Most dogs enjoy naps during the day, and they have a routine. Many disruptions occurred, and the results were that dogs didn’t handle those changes very well. Other environmental concerns might be a new home, new neighbors, construction, children who left for college, a new pet, an illness, or stress in the home. Many unset- tling shifts in your environment can result in changes in your dog’s behavior. What about Fear, Anxiety, or Boredom? Anxiety and fear can be paired with bore- dom or can stand alone. Could there be a change in your lifestyle — such as a lack of environmental enrichment and exercise — that has led to your dog’s boredom or increasing nervousness? Maybe you have a new job, and you need to work more hours or even a different shift. You might be exhausted and have less snuggle time or play time with your dog. Often, the usual one-hour walk or ball-throwing session is not in the plans. The resulting tedium can lead your sweet dog to look for another outlet to take out frustrations. That could lead to destructive behaviors, barking, pacing, inappropriate elimination, obsessive-compulsive behav- iors, and counter surfing, to name a few. You come home to a mess and become irritated and often angry. To your bored dog, this negative attention is better than no attention. That can reinforce your dog’s bad behavior. Is there more arguing or stress in the home, more visitors, grief, or financial worries? Dogs are very perceptive animals, exquisitely tuned into our emotional state. It is very hard to hide our feelings from our dogs. They read our body language much better than we read each other. Whatever it takes to make your dog feel secure and loved can go a long way toward curbing unwanted behaviors. An extra 10 to 15 minutes of attention could be very beneficial to your dog. Canines are very forgiving and love us unconditionally. Think of ABC In applied behavioral analysis, principles are researched and are practiced routinely. There is never “just a behavior.” Behavior almost always depends on the environment in some way. Following the antecedent-be- havior-consequence (ABC) approach to behavior improves intervention success to decrease problem behaviors and increase new alternative behaviors. Begin with the behavior (B). A behavior must be measureable. The next step of the functional assessment is to determine the antecedent (A). What comes just before the behavior? Antecedents are the condi- tions present prior to the behavior and are predictors of the problem behavior. They are loosely called triggers. Next in the function- al assessment is the consequence (C). The consequence follows the behavior. Conse- quences will drive the behavior, affecting the dog positively or negatively, causing the behavior to increase or decrease. It is important to take it a step farther and consider what the dog gets out of the behavior and what the owner does about the behavior. We can often change how the owner responds so that the response does not reinforce the inappropriate behavior or increase fear and anxiety for the dog. It is important to ask yourself what is in it for your dog. Maybe a simple example of ABC would be in order. Dogs often counter surf, espe- cially if they are large and their paws can reach something yummy on your counter- tops. Here is a dog’s counter surfing simply analyzed into the antecedent-behavior-con- sequence paradigm. You left your meat- ball sandwich on the counter. That is the antecedent (A). You can stop doing that. The dog jumped and reached ever so far and pulled your meatball sandwich to the floor. That is the behavior (B). He’s a thief! The dog ate the meatball sandwich. That is the consequence (C). And that sandwich was very yummy! The dog got out of the behav- ior exactly what he wanted — he ate the sandwich. Counter surfing is self-rewarding to dogs. By determining the ABC, an intervention can be designed that will carefully alter the antecedent and consequence of the behav- ior. Your dog should be rewarded only for the behaviors you like. By looking back- ward, using a functional behavioral assess- ment, you can humanely change behaviors for all kinds of learners — dogs included! Happy Tails, Karen! Three Oaks Animal Behavior Counseling LLC Homer, another of Karen Holman’s dogs, resisted the temptation.