Forgive me. I needed to get this video out of my system and since I don’t have any serious footage to accompany this week’s post on Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) it seemed like the perfect fit.


BAT was created by Grisha Stewart, and is being discussed here by her fellow trainer and BAT expert Irith Bloom. Last week we covered some basic theory and techniques. Here I continue to grill Irith about how BAT works.

How, when, and why did you start using BAT?

I began using BAT about a year ago, when a friend and fellow trainer mentioned it to me as an alternative to CAT (Constructional Aggression Treatment), a technique that uses negative reinforcement to teach animals with fear and aggression problems a different way of responding to things that cause them stress. BAT sounded like a kinder, gentler variation of CAT, so I was immediately intrigued. Although both BAT and CAT use negative reinforcement, I find BAT is a little easier for my clients to apply when I am not around.

Could you explain negative reinforcement, which always sounds like punishment to me?

“Reinforcement” is anything that increases the likelihood that a behavior will be repeated. “Negative” refers to subtracting, rather than adding, something.  “Negative reinforcement” therefore means taking something away from — rather than adding something to — the environment to increase the likelihood of a behavior happening again.

In the case of Fido and men with hats — see last week’s post — the negative reinforcement is moving Fido away from the man with the hat (or the man away from Fido), thereby taking something scary away from Fido’s environment. Removing the scary thing rewards Fido and makes him feel better, so that he is more likely to repeat the behavior that got him the extra distance from the man.

You said clients can apply BAT when you’re not around. How?

I advise clients to use certain BAT techniques when faced with the stress-inducing thing in “real life” situations. There are two main ways to do this:

A. As soon as the animal notices the stress-inducing thing, the handler says “Yes!” and immediately gives the animal what it wants, which is called the functional reward. This helps keep the animal from getting overly stressed in the first place. The handler can then add a bonus reward. This might be a food treat or an opportunity to play with a favorite toy, but regardless of what the bonus reward is, it always comes after the functional reward.

For example, if my client ran across a man in a hat while walking Fido, the proper course of action would be to turn and walk away from the man, giving Fido an increase in distance from the man — Fido’s functional reward and following that up with a treat as a bonus reward once they were at a safe distance.

B. When the animal notices the stress-inducing thing, the handler stays still, breathes calmly and deeply, and waits for the animal to offer an acceptable behavior. As soon as the handler sees that behavior, the handler marks it and gives the animal what he or she wants. Again, the functional reward can be followed by a bonus reward.

Grisha recommends the use of bonus rewards initially in the real world since it’s so much harder to control the triggers (the man with the hat might come straight at you). Note, however, that she recommends fading the bonus rewards and working towards using only functional rewards as you and the animal get more experienced.

Does BAT replace or just supplement the other positive techniques that you had been using, i.e., are there certain dogs that it’s ideal for, others that it’s not?

BAT is a supplemental technique that I use with many clients, but not all situations lend themselves to the use of BAT. For example, if a client comes to me with a dog who is prone to chasing moving things people on skateboards, small children, or other pets, to name a few possibilities BAT would not be an appropriate choice. What the dog wants is to chase and possibly catch the moving thing — behaviors I can’t allow. Since I can’t give the dog the functional reward, BAT is not really an option in this situation.

On the other hand, BAT can be extremely helpful for clients whose pets respond fearfully or aggressively to other animals or people.  Probably the most common technique used by positive reinforcement trainers for dealing with fear and aggression is counter-conditioning and desensitization (CC&D). In CC&D we pair the stress-inducing thing at a low intensity with something the dog enjoys, such as a food treat or a toy. Unfortunately, some animals are so stressed by the situations that inspire their fearful or aggressive reactions that it’s difficult to get them to accept any kind of food or toy reward, no matter how much we lower the intensity of the stressful thing.

BAT neatly sidesteps the issue of whether the animal is interested enough in food or toys to take them while under stress by focusing on giving the animal relief from the stress. As a result, BAT works very well for many different animals, even those who aren’t normally interested in food or toys. It’s a great training system for semi-feral animals who would prefer to avoid contact with anyone outside a few trusted humans, as well as for diabetic animals and those who fill up easily. Best of all, based on what I have seen, BAT often works faster than CC&D.

Coming next week: An example of how BAT worked with a dog that got upset at people entering his home, and a list of behaviors that BAT trainers are looking for.

And no more bat cartoons, honest. The editor reserves the right to continue to use bad bat puns, however.

Irith Bloom is the owner of The Sophisticated Dog, a pet training business offering services to clients on the Westside of Los Angeles. She specializes in clicker training and other pet-friendly methods of animal training and behavior modification. Irith is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner) and a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). You can see more of her writing on her Sophisticated Dog website, on Karen Pryor Clickertraining’s website and on

17 thoughts on “Training Tuesday: Batboy Continues”

  1. I was expecting more on dog body language and BAT after the comments last week, but this is also very educational.

    My assumption was that “negative reinforcement” meant punishment, but it definitely does not. It means taking away a factor that stressed your dog. Aha! TY for making negative reinforcement clear to me, finaly.

    Now I have to re-read all those articles on negative reinforcements again which I discarded before, but I am happy that it makes a lot more sense then just punishment. But I still wonder what the relationship with BAT and body language is, or am I missing something? (again 🙂

    1. I agree! The negative reinforcement stuff confused me.

      And as I told Roxanne, I’ve saved the best — well, to me too — for last: The relationship of BAT to body language. Hey, I can’t find a screaming pug video every week 😉

      1. Haha, you do 🙂 Next week BAT and body language, the plot thickens … So far I have already learned a lot of BAT, for which I am very grateful

    2. I’m so glad I helped clear up the negative reinforcement thing for you! It is a tricky term, honestly. Just remember that “positive” means adding to the environment and “negative” means removing from the environment. “Reinforcement” increases the likelihood that a behavior will be repeated, “punishment” decreases the likelihood it will be repeated.

      We all tend to use “positive” to mean “good,” but that’s not how it’s used in Skinnerian/operant conditioning jargon (so, for the record, “positive punishment” is bad — and I am sure you can now understand why).

      Regarding body language, I hope Edie will not mind my “revealing” this, but in BAT, as well as many other types of training, we observe the dog’s body language to determine how to proceed. A list of some body language we look for while doing BAT will be in next week’s installment (I believe).

      1. You better believe 🙂

        TY about clearing up the “negative reinforcement” term. It makes a lot of sense. Don’t know why I always thought of it as being punishment, and therefore discarded it, but glad to finally understand. I assume it is a very important part of BAT ?

        1. Yes, it is a very important part of BAT, since the functional reward (see blog post) is very often the removal of the stress-inducing thing. I hope that makes sense! The “man with a hat” case is a good example of this.

          1. It definitely does. It was wat striked me with BAT reading the story last/this week. When me and Viva (our reactive dog) met a source of fear: I was starting with treats (pos.reinf.). Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. But overall I thought it stressed her too much.

            When taking it more relaxed and just turning around and leave the source of fear (because I was not happy with the result before) she was at least relaxed.

            So I think BAT is just the right thing for me and Viva. It could show us the way to move forward from here.

      2. No problem, Irith, especially since you volunteered — via email — to try to get a video of acceptable behaviors together. That would be something that I (and my screaming pug-averse) readers would definitely appreciate.

        1. From this screaming pug-averse reader, yes I would also definitely appreciate. But no rush. Lemons ripen in … and Pearls in … I don’t want to seem impatient, I am just eager to learn more. Already learned a lot from what you have write so far. Love this series, helping me in a great way in finding the right way to help Viva, our reactive dog.

  2. I love the screaming pug video. How funny!
    In most cases negative reinforcement is not as good as positive reinforcement because it can still produce the sloppy unforeseen fallout that punishment can. That is because traditional trainers would use painful versions of negative reinforcement. Here is a common scenario:
    1. dog is standing
    2. Owner says “sit”
    3. dog doesn’t know what “sit ” means and continues to stand
    4. owner yanks on the choke chain- briefly cutting off the dog’s air supply until the dog sits
    5. when the dog sit, the owner stops choking him.

    In this scenario several things have happened.
    1. sit was negatively reinforced- sitting made the bad thing go away
    2. standing after the owner said “sit” was punished- standing made the bad thing happen
    3. the word “sit” has been paired with a bad thing- so it is a threat from here on out- either you sit when I tell you or I will choke you. (some people like to fool themselves into thinking that the dog “respects” them- when really the dog is frightened or it wouldn’t work)
    4. Because of the “or else” attached to the word “sit” you can get a slow and sloppy response because you have activated the dogs fear system- really skilled trainers usually don’t have this happen because their timing is so good- but the average dog owner usually ends up with a dog who is almost afraid to move when they hear the word “sit”. The fear of moving is the sloppy fallout that I was talking about earlier.

    But when you are dealing with fear of things in the environment- the bad thing is already happening- (in set-ups where we set up an artifical situation we make sure the dog is far enough away from the bad thing that they are not overwhelmed or too scared). Ofen, the dog is concerned about the trigger (could be a man with a hat or another dog or even a car) and all they really want is for that trigger to go away or for themselves to be moved away from the trigger.

    Many dogs try to use distance increasing signals such as barking and growling to make the bad thing go away- and it usually works! The owner may be embarassed by the dog’s behavior and takes him away from the situation, or the person with the hat is scared of the dog and he moves away. The dog was just reinforced (negatively I might add) for barking and growling. BAT keeps the dog far enough away from the trigger so that the dog does not feel the need to bark and growl- when he offers more acceptable behaivor- he is rewarded by getting further away from the trigger (again, his behaivor made the bad thing go away- negative reinforcement).
    Negative reinforcement is actually a pretty good way to go when dealing with some fear-based reactivity because the bad thing that is made to go away already exists in the dog’s world. We are simply teaching the dog a different way to respond to make trigger go away.

    I hope that clears up a few questions about negative reinforcement and why in this particular circumstance it isn’t a bad thing.
    Crystal Saling, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP

  3. Wow this is very interesting, both the post and the comments. I am going to try to remember this stuff to help make walk time more comfortable. Kelly loves her walks but will growl and lunge at loose dogs. If a dog walks by on a leash, she usually minds her own business. I’m always on the lookout for loose dogs which makes our walk time tense, at least for me!

  4. I love this series! Can’t wait for the next installment. It’s a well-known fact that we do not have picture perfect dogs, and this discussion of BAT is really interesting.

  5. Wow- great series *and* comments! Irith’s clarification of positive reinforcement/negative reinforcement is very helpful, I hope she has a Language Guide on her website to facilitate a better understanding in the pubic mind of how positive training methods have so much more to offer than the dominance model, especially for shy, fearful dogs. Hey, that could be a great e-book!

    Crystal’s elegant rendition of what happens in a dog’s mind with the “I will choke you until you sit” idea is getting emailed to someone I know – thanks Crystal!

    And I LOVE the screaming pug video! I laughed and laughed – thanks Edie!

  6. Crystal: Thanks for the great write-up about R- vs. P+/R- !

    Peggy: BAT is perfect for your situation. See my comments in the August 3 installment for more on BAT Stages. You could start with Stage 1 on walks, and move on to Stage 2. You can also do setups with friendly loose dogs who are under good verbal control, with the help of a trainer.

    Amy, Kenzo, and Roxanne: Thanks! Glad you are enjoying it!

    Mary: I don’t have such a guide on my website, but I will put one together ASAP. Great suggestion!

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