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  • Writer's pictureJagger Brocious

Cause and Effect of Behaviors

Lately in lessons I've had a lot of clients have lightbulb moments. Simple little things coming together either by me pointing out the cause and effect or the clients themselves starting to catch the patterns created in daily life. I got to say before I get to deep into this blog that those moments of self realization are some of the most satisfying moments for me as a trainer. When clients are able to start troubleshooting and working on problems without me! Not the best business model but boy is it fulfilling!


For every action there is a reaction. Dog training isn't just that 15-minutes a day prescribed to work on goals in training. Every moment in life for the dog and human the world around them shapes behaviors. A lot of pet dog training really boils down to identifying what will get the reaction we want and what is giving the reaction we don't want!


Sometimes, this is as simple as no longer giving the begging dog attention or no longer playing rough with a puppy who is to mouthy! But of course a dog's behaviors may have layers, and the cause and effect isn't always just 1+1. At times we may be talking through an algebra equation to figure out the why.


When it comes to identifying the issues cause or figuring out how to get the effect we want we have to put ourselves in the dogs position. Rewards and consequences shape behavior, but one thing people get caught up on is what they perceive and what the dog perceive is often times different! Not to mention one dogs trash is another dogs reward! I've owned a dog that HATES squirt bottles with water. But I have also trained a dog with a squirt bottle as the reward.


Then beyond the motivation we have to consider how long the behaviors been in place or how long we have been teaching the behavior we want! An old dog CAN learn new tricks but the young dog has had less time to ingrain the behavior so it will definitely take longer for the older dog. Day one of recall training versus day One Hundred look very different as well!


A great book that makes up the foundation of how I look at dog behavior is "How Dogs Learn" by Mary Burch. It was actually the core of the program I attended and eventually taught at lead instructor at but the part in which applied best to this discussion would be the equation A+B=C.

  • The "A" is an antecedent to the action / behavior.

  • The "B" being the behavior or action.

  • The "C" being the consequence of the action / behavior.

To unpack the definitions "A" is straightforward. The antecedent is what leads to the behavior. May it be a command given, action taken, its something that sets things in motion. The "B" is what happens next. Lastly, and most confusing terminology wise is the consequence. This one always confused students as often times a consequence gets associated with a negative but that isn't always true. for example:


I want my dog to sit on a verbal command.

  • The "A" I want is the word "Sit"

  • The "B" is the dog sitting down

  • The "C" is the dog earning a treat

If they don't sit on a verbal command.

  • The "A" I want is the word "Sit"

  • The "B" is the dog not sitting down

  • The "C" is withholding food and possibly a leash correction

I hate math but I can't lie, when it comes to behavior this equation can help a lot! The hardest part is we have to think things through. If you hate math just keep in mind there is always a cause and an effect. Very rarely is anything with dog behavior random. Sometimes the signs are subtle and sometimes the association being made is crazy by human standards. I'll also write up another post about applying reinforcement and punishement soon to go along with this blog.


Dog training isn't always complicated but often times an outside perspective is needed for clients to get things to click. Heck, I'm lucky enough to have a roommate who is also a trainer and we've both caught things we've missed in our own training. My goal is for clients and their dogs to become a team capable of great things! The best compliment I can receive is a client no longer needing me.


I wanted to attach a few more examples of the A+B=C so here they are:


My dog jumps on guests that come over.

  • The "A" is someone coming into the house.

  • The "B" jumping up on people.

  • The "C" the dog gets attention.

The "C" in this one is super important. What is the attention? In some cases its simply people petting the dog or being excited to see them. Other times the attention is even yelling at the dog, pushing them, and acknowledging them at all! Again the motivation for behavior isn't always what you'd expect.


My dog pulls on leash

  • The "A" can vary but lets use seeing another dog in this example.

  • The "B" is the dog pulling to that other dog.

  • The "C" the dog gets closer to that dog.

The "C" in this one has different degrees. What is closer? In some cases its a 120 pound dog and it pulls the owner all the way to that other dog! Sometimes its just getting slightly closer.



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