You open a bag of potato chips, the dog comes running, and you give him a chip. Happens all the time in my house, probably happens in yours, too. Nothing unusual about it – however it lets us take a look at the science of behavior in an easy-to-understand way.
Anyone involved in behavior modification (whether with dogs, kids, or porcupines) knows their A-B-Cs. I don’t mean the alphabet either!
- A: Antecedent (what comes before the behavior)
- B: Behavior (the actual behavior)
- C: Consequence (what happens immediately after the behavior)
If you know those three things, you’ve got some powerful information! In the potato chip example above, these are the ABCs: Antecedent: sound of the chip bag; Behavior: dog comes running to you; Consequence: a chip is given to the dog.
If you’re trying to modify your dog’s behavior, you can use either the antecedent or the consequence to change behavior. I’ll talk about the consequences in this entry, as those are sometimes the easiest things for us to change.
So if we hate a slobbering, drooling, begging dog watching us eat potato chips, how can we modify the consequence to change the dog’s behavior? I can think of a few ways to change the consequence:
- No more potato chips for the dog. Ever.
- The dog gets a Kong instead of a chip.
- We immediately put the chips away.
- We immediately leave the room (and don’t let the dog accompany us).
If you’re consistent with any of the above, you’ll be able to change your dog’s behavior, just by modifying the consequence.
Did you notice that the four choices are relatively benign consequences? People skilled in behavior modification rarely (if ever) use aversives to change behaviors. There are too many unintended consequences of that kind of a consequence. In other words, aversives can lead to more problems. And if you don’t need aversives to modify behavior anyway, why use them?
So think about ways you can modify consequences to change your dog’s behaviors. Post your ideas, successes or challenges here!