Every behavior follows this pattern: something prompts the behavior (Antecedent), the dog responds (Behavior), something positive or negative happens as a result (Consequence).
In a training environment, some examples of antecedents are a food lure, a physical prompt, a verbal cue, or a hand signal that causes the behavior to occur. Then you have the behavior (the Sit or Down or Come), followed by the consequence of that behavior (food reward or life reward or other reinforcer). While the antecedent helped the behavior to happen, it’s the consequence of the behavior that will affect the dog positively or negatively and cause the behavior to increase or decrease.
Behaviors that are reinforced will be repeated, even if they’re unwanted behaviors. Remember to think about training from the dog’s perspective. What’s in it for the dog? Will the consequence more likely increase or decrease the behavior? Keeping the consequence in mind is a great way to think of solutions for solving unwanted behaviors. If your dog is counter surfing, what’s in it for the dog? You left a sandwich on the counter (antecedent), the dog jumped up on the counter and ate the sandwich (behavior), and the dog filled his belly (consequence). Because the dog surely enjoyed the sandwich, the behavior of jumping up on the counter is more likely to increase because it was reinforced.
By recognizing and controlling the antecedent and/or the consequence you can change the behavior.
Using the example above:
Recognize the antecedent and/or consequence: food on counter.
Control the antecedent and/or consequence: remove the food from the counter so it can’t be eaten, and reinforce the dog for being on his bed so he is not counter surfing.
Result: The behavior will eventually cease because staying on the bed is more reinforcing than getting on the counter.
If you’re attempting to teach your dog new behaviors you definitely want those behaviors to increase, so the consequence should always be something that’s reinforcing to the dog.
Managing antecedents to make the desired behavior easy, and controlling consequences to make the desired behavior worth performing are the keys to dog training. It’s as easy as ABC!
Jeff Dentler, CPDT-KA, FFCP, CTDI