This is the conclusion of the formal interview that I’ve been conducting with trainer Irith Bloom about Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT), which was created by Grisha Stewart. The first week we covered the basic theory and techniques. In the second, we got into some more esoteric issues like “negative punishment,” which turns out not to be a bad thing. Opinion was divided about the accompanying video, the pug screaming “Batman.” As a result, I promised no more bat illustrations.

As you can see, I lied.

What can I say? I couldn’t resist these amusing — and far more tasteful — images, brought to you by Karl Edwards who, as it happens, also does custom dog portraits. Check out the wide range of work of this talented, award-winning illustrator at his website.

There will be videos and more about BAT in the future as my training with Frankie and Crystal progresses. This is just the end of the Q & A. Thank you, Irith, for your help in explaining this program — and your patience with my endless questions.


You’ve been talking about the different signals to look for in your dog during BAT setups. Could you please detail them?

One of the side-benefits of doing BAT is that you tend to become more attuned to what your pet is “saying” because the method requires very close attention to the animal. That said, even the most astute trainers can’t enter the mind of the dog. Sometimes a dog’s intentions are surprisingly obvious, but often it can be hard to say if the dog is (a) calming himself/herself down, (b) trying to calm the other dog down by signaling that no threat is intended, or (c) saying “back off” or “I’d like to end our play now.”

In a BAT training context, my primary concern is to see appropriate behavior from any of these categories so that the dog doesn’t reach a stress threshold, though in the latter stages, I may make judgment calls about whether to allow greetings, etc., based on my perception of the intention.

Here are some calming signals one tends to see when doing BAT, in alphabetical order:

  • Blinking
  • Lifting one paw
  • Lip licking
  • Looking down or away
  • Scratching (as it the dog has an itch)
  • Shaking off (as if wet)
  • Sniffing the ground
  • Turning head or body away
  • Yawning

Here are some relaxed and friendly behaviors one might see while doing BAT, again in alphabetical order:

  • Following a curved path, rather than moving in a straight line (this is ideally how all dog greetings should start, rather than face to face on a narrow sidewalk)
  • Loosening of joints and general body relaxation
  • Play bow
  • Relaxed mouth position
  • Relaxed panting (excessive panting can be a sign of stress)
  • Relaxed, slow approach (stalking does NOT qualify, since it is tense)
  • Relaxed tail carriage
  • Relaxed tail wag

Note that friendly and relaxed behaviors don’t necessarily mean the animal is ready to interact with the stress-inducing thing. Closing those last few inches (so to speak) can increase the intensity for the animal suddenly, so that you get an explosion even though things were going perfectly just seconds earlier. It’s best to spend much more time than you think you need working on near approaches before allowing actual greetings.

Can you give me an example of how BAT has worked with a client of yours?
I have a client who first contacted me after she had already been doing CC&D with her dog for quite a while without really getting anywhere. The dog was highly agitated by people ringing the doorbell and then walking in the front door. No matter how far he was kept from the door, how many treats he was tossed by visitors and by his owner, and how many toys he was distracted with, he continued to behave aggressively. Given this history, I suggested we try using BAT.

At our first BAT session, I had my client keep the dog about 15 feet away from the door to begin with, and I started out at the end of the path through their yard, by the driveway. I walked up the path, watching the dog through the front window, and as soon as I saw the dog notice me, I stopped. I stood in the same spot until the dog offered an acceptable behavior (a look away, as I recall), and as soon as I saw that behavior, I quickly said “Yes!” and walked away.

We alternated having me walk away and having the dog walk away for a while, with me approaching to the same spot, until we got a range of acceptable behaviors from the dog. Then I began coming farther down the path in stages, waiting for a range of acceptable behaviors at each new spot, until the dog offered acceptable behaviors even when I got right up to the door. Next, I started to knock on the door, first very softly, and then louder and louder, and finally I rang the doorbell. Thanks to all the preparation we’d done, the dog, who had been unable to tolerate people even stepping up to the door in the past, looked away from the door calmly the very first time I rang the doorbell.

We ended the session there, since it’s always good to quit while you’re ahead. In subsequent sessions, we dealt with other things, such as turning the doorknob, opening the door, and stepping inside.

Not every case goes this well, or this fast. I hadn’t planned to ring the doorbell during that initial BAT session, in fact, but the dog’s behavior indicated he could handle it. This particular dog was very quick to catch on to the “game,” and he made rapid progress as a result. Subsequent sessions have gotten him to the point where he is able to remain relaxed at his handler’s side when people walk in.

BAT was a revelation for this dog — you could almost see the light bulb turn on over his head.

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

22 thoughts on “Training Tuesday: Batboy Forever”

  1. I’ll be writing about it on Friday in our training update, but we tried a little BAT with Lilly on Sunday. Our trainer was with us, so I had help, but I’m still not sure I get it fully. Maybe I need to watch the DVD or something.

    It seems to me that you have to do BAT in controlled situations, where the trigger is someone from your team (not just some random person or dog you see in public). That way you have control over the situations fully. Yes?

  2. I sure liked the list of calming and relaxed behaviors. I know most of them, but it’s a good reminder. Like Roxanne, I’ve tried to do BAT with Sadie, but I’ve not been able to “set up” situations, which I think is really key. The real world is so, well, uncontrollable.

  3. I’m going to get Irith — or maybe our trainer Crystal — to answer but my sense is that you need to do artificial set ups for a while before you get to practice successfully in the real world.

  4. I believe you are right Edie – that you want to set up controlled situations first. I have been using a form of BAT with a few clients, but haven’t had the ability to do in a controlled situation until this past weekend when The Enlightened Canine, Colleen, had me and my Daisy participate with Daisy being the decoy dog. It was fascinating to watch. The other dog made it pretty lose without a reaction after several repetitions. More work is needed, but we stopped at a good point and celebrated his success. Funny how the clients were sad that he barked when he got close and I was thinking “Wow! He made it pretty far!”

    I think Irith’s description is awesome. I am going to post this on my fan page for my clients. Thanks for continuing this series!

    1. Yes, and one thing that’s not clear from the description is that it’s not quick and easy, or particularly exciting for that matter. In the last few weeks, Frankie and I have only moved a few feet towards Crystal and Winnie, her dog decoy. But it’s progress, which is what counts.

      Thanks for posting on the fan page. I agree that Irith did an awesome job.

      1. Yes, alas, this is not quick and easy (although it can be surprisingly fast in some cases, especially compared with other methods, as I mentioned in the interview). A lot depends on the temperament of the individual dog and how ingrained the anxiety and inappropriate behavior are, as well as how carefully sessions are managed.

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  6. Roxanne (et al.),

    There are three different “stages” of BAT.

    In Stage One, you use something that is very similar to Leslie McDevitt’s “Look At That,” by which I mean you mark (click, etc.) as soon as the dog perceives the trigger (the stress-inducing thing), and then walk away from the trigger (assuming distance is the functional reward — what your dog wants), and finally give your dog a treat.

    Dog perceives trigger -> Mark -> Walk away -> Treat

    In Stage 2, you add the requirement of an acceptable behavior. In other words, you see the dog notice the trigger, wait for an acceptable behavior, mark the acceptable behavior, then walk away from the trigger (assuming distance is the functional reward), and give your dog a treat.

    Dog perceives trigger -> Wait for acceptable behavior -> Mark -> Walk away -> Treat

    Stage 3 is like the setups discussed in this series, where you ideally do not use food.

    Dog perceives trigger -> Wait for acceptable behavior -> Mark -> Walk away

    Although Stage 3 is the highest number, most teams should actually start with Stage 3, since having control of the trigger is so very helpful.

    Stages 1 and 2 are designed for the real world, and make it possible to take your dog for walks at least (in most cases). You can do start by doing Stage 3 set-ups in formal sessions and using Stage 1 in the real world, and gradually build up to Stage 2 in the real world while continuing Stage 3 in sessions. The goal is to be able to do Stage 3 even in the real world.

    I hope that all makes sense!

    1. Irith – Thank you for further explaining the steps. I thought I was using a variation of BAT because I had to use it in real-life situations, but maybe I was closer than I thought. This additional info is really helpful!

  7. Here is an interesting story about the use of BAT for a dog who is only mildly fearful.

    I have a client at Handi-dogs whose dog (goldendoodle) was very concerned about the other dog in the class (standard poodle) .
    The goldendoodle has never had this much trouble focussing during class. It turns out that they had played with each other last week before a make-up class that I was not teaching.

    I couldn’t tell if the goldendoodle wanted to play with the other dog or not ; meaning I wasn’t sure if proximity to the poodle would reward her or punish her. So I set up a modified BAT situation to find out. I had the poodle’s handler just sit in a chair and distract him while the goldendoodle’s owner walked her toward him stopping 30 feet away at first. When the goldendoodle looked at the poodle and did any number of calm behaviors, I asked her owner to click treat at that position (which is different than BAT- I did this just in case walking away from the dog was punishing for her this dog has been in training for a long time now and understands that the click and treat ends the behavior and that she gets to start over again), then I asked the owner to walk back to the starting position. We repeated this getting closer and closer to the Poodle (took 2 minutes tops) until she was 2 feet away from him. Then I asked the goldendoodle’s owner to allow her to greet the poodle and the poodle’s handler to keep him preoccupied so he wouldn’t face the goldendoodle. You know what? She was too fearful to go any further! I couldn’t believe it! I really thought she wanted to play with him- but the truth was she did want to affiliate- but not too close!!!! So then I set up a real BAT session having the owner feed the goldendoodle after she had turned and walked away from the poodle. We used treats since it was a classroom situation with many other stressors/distractors. After all that we did allow the two to play- but I had to keep calling the poodle out of play to keep over all arousal level down- by the end of the play session they were interacting appropriately with each other.

    Crystal Saling, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP

    1. Very interesting, Crystal. And although I will see you later, I’m going to write this down here so I don’t forget: What if there are no (or few) real life situations to practice BAT interactions with? I.e., its very rare for anyone to come over to my house with their dogs to see Frankie.

      1. With the foundation that you and Frankie will have, you will be able to do BAT with new comers and hopefully get to the point where the two dogs call a truce. With each new dog that you do BAT with, Frankie will start to get better and better at it- needing fewer repetition. Of course, if someone brings over an out-of-control adolescent then all bets are off!

      2. I just started reading some articles on BAT after first seeing Roxanne’s post, I am definitely going to start doing some more research. Thanks for the interview!

  8. We were on vacation last week (hence the late comment) and we had a great opportunity to try BAT with Viva. Just along our summer rental, only a few feet away, there was a path that lead to a small center inside the park/resort. A lot of people and dogs came by through this path.

    We have been to this resort before, and I usually took Kenzo out and did counter-conditiong with him. An absolute necessity because Kenzo and Viva are Hovawarts and natural born guard dogs. Otherwise he would bark at any person that went by as soon as he decided that this was “our” place.

    I repeated this little family tradition with Kenzo and Viva and where it is more easy with people and CC is enough, the real challenge were dogs passing by. And here we tried BAT. Every time a dog emerged, I marked it, and took Viva inside, and gave her a treat. We closed some curtains so she could not see the dogs at all anymore. I repeated this for two days. On day two she was clearly more relaxed and even lied down (although her facial expression was still tensed when looking at the path). From the 2nd day I even noted her making some lip licking calming signals when she saw a dog approaching on the path. And that is great progress I can see now that I have read your post 🙂

    I was wondering during our vacation what the next step would be, but reading this I think I know what to do. We will try to find a similar type of setup. Then I will wait for Viva to make her calming signal (now that she has start with doing that) and then take her away. Again that sounds like music to me, as that lets Viva decide on how fast we are going forward and what distance she finds acceptable ! BAT just makes so much sense working with Viva.

    1. Terrific! It sounds like you’ve made great progress. And it sounds like BAT was the ideal training system to use with Viva.

      I’ve got to say too that I’m very impressed that you took time out from your vacation to work so closely with your dogs. Of course it will enhance your relationship with them and make life better for all of you in the long run but, in an atmosphere of instant gratification/quick fixes, a lot of people aren’t willing to put in the patience and the care to reach that goal.

  9. Thank you! Getting the calming signals is probably beginners luck. I liked the setup a lot because it gave me control, whitout the need for a “BAT-partner”. We are still looking/thinking about how to do a similar setup now we are home. We will will find something, BAT is definitely something that works for Viva. We are very excited!

    Thanks Irith for all the good advice and Edie for bringing the series.

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