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The Four Keys to Problem Solving: The 3rd and 4th Keys

By Chris Bach and The Third Way – The Next Generation in Reinforcement Training

In December, Chris Bach shared her second key to problem solving: “A dog must be managed so the problem response will never occur again.” This month we are wrapping up this segment. Chris discusses the third and fourth keys to problem solving.

KEY NUMBER THREE: A new, incompatible behavior must be taught and proofed in a training venue other than the problem situation.

A new response that is incompatible to the problem response must be taught. In other words, the response that is intended to replace another must have a completely new set of triggering stimuli, fixation requirements and reinforcement consequences. Unless each of these criteria is different, the dog can too easily fall back into the old behavior or behavior pattern.

This new response will begin as an “operant” one, created through operant conditioning. It will be a response that is dependent upon its consequences. And the consequences had better be GOOD. Good enough for the dog to want to voluntarily offer and rehearse it so that it eventually becomes a habit. A new habitual behavior is the only type that can replace a previous, undesirable habitual behavior.

For example, as part of Kit’s problem solving program for Tiny, she will teach him to sit and make Eye Contact. But she will not attempt to teach him Eye Contact at mealtime. She would not make much progress if she tried to teach Tiny to make Eye Contact during any part of his mealtime ritual. The phenomenon called “blocking” would prevent Tiny from learning this new behavior in the presence of a set of stimuli (the mealtime routine) that previously triggered a completely different set of behaviors (arousal and defensive actions). However, she will teach these skills at every other opportune time such as before she will throw Tiny’s ball, or open a door, or let him greet people.

Along with teaching these two new skills, it will be necessary to PROOF them. The PROOFING process will clarify the concept, intensify the conscious commitment to it through practice and thereby contribute to it becoming habitual.

To PROOF Tiny on sitting and making Eye Contact, Kit will require him to perform this behavior under increasingly difficult circumstances. Sitting and making Eye Contact to go out the door will be proofed to the point where Tiny maintains both requirements even when Kit is not looking at him or she has stepped out the door. Getting in and out of crates, cars or rooms will require two solid minutes of Eye Contact before Tiny is released. When he wants his cream cheese filled Kong or other objects, he will have to sit and make Eye Contact behavior habitual and self-reinforcing. Tiny will get in the habit of deferring to Kit’s wishes and out of the habit of defending his resources.

KEY NUMBER FOUR: Once the new behavior is habitual, meaning reliable and self-reinforcing, it can be used to replace the problematic behavior.

Habitual behaviors are ones that have been proofed and rehearsed and are totally reliable under many different circumstances. Only habitual behaviors can ever be used to replace another habitual behavior.

Kit’s plan is to get Tiny in the habit of seeing food and immediately sitting and making Eye Contact to earn it.

She has also disassembled the doorbell so that signal no longer exists. She has been practicing that when someone knocks at the door (a brand new signal); Tiny must sit and make Eye Contact in order to accompany her to the door. He must then sit and make Eye Contact to earn food from the visitor. Then he is learning to sit at her feet making Eye Contact while she visits with her guest. Tiny no longer has a mealtime because he is getting his diet during these teaching sessions. Tiny’s dish is gone and he no longer has a feeding spot. And the doorbell no longer announces guests. Kim has done all the correct things to assure that Tiny will never again guard his dinner and has no other opportunities to rehearse habitual defensiveness.

From now on, anything that Tiny wants will be earned by ignoring the resource. Instead he must sit and make Eye Contact with Kim, which is totally incompatible with guarding or defensive responses.

(c) THE THIRD WAY ~ Chris Bach ~ 2002 - 2003. All rights reserved.