What is Behaviour Modification?
Defined as "as a lasting change in the behaviour, which is the result of experience and environmental events..."
Behaviour "consists of an organism's external reactions to its environment" and "an organism’s activities in response to external or internal stimuli, including objectively observable activities...".
Examples: you feel hungry (internal) so you walk towards the fridge (external reaction), a spider falls on your lap and you are startled (internal) and you leap out of your chair (external reaction).
All behaviour serves a purpose. Walking to the fridge serves your need for securing a meal, leaping from your chair creates distance between you and the spider.
Behaviour modification (b mod) works to modify/change the underlying emotional response to a specific trigger. This is different than basic obedience training. Obedience training uses a process called operant conditioning, which works on voluntary behaviours that the learner is conscious of and has control of (sit, down, fetching a ball, etc).
Behaviour modification uses a process called classical counter conditioning. Remember Pavlov? This was his jam.
Classical counter conditioning changes the underlying emotional response to a stimulus/trigger. This is done by creating a new association between the trigger and something pleasant.
Example: your dog is afraid of garbage trucks so every week you feed your dog a freshly cooked steak every time the garbage truck drives by. Your dog will soon come to expect, and anticipate, the steak at the sound of the garbage truck (Pavlov, bell.. see the connection?).
The fun doesn't stop there. Another big player in the behaviour modification game is systematic desensitization. "It involves a gradual process of exposing an animal to a less intense version of the thing or event he fears, in such a way that his fear isn’t triggered".
*Note- fear is never triggered!
In the garbage truck example this process might look something like this:
- observe garbage truck from 2 blocks away
- observe garbage truck from 1.5 blocks away
- observe garbage truck from 1 block away
This is the 'systematic' part. Slowly, and mindfully, increasing the intensity of the trigger, while always making sure that the current level of intensity never triggers a fear response. This process may take days, weeks, or months. It really depends on the dog, how severe their reaction is, how long they've been reacting that way, frequency of training, quality of training, etc.
A word on behaviour suppression.
There is no shortage of quick-fix claims.
Gadgets, gizmos, and methods that boast to fix any problem instantaneously. They don't!
While some equipment and devices may be effective at immediately suppressing the external reactions, they are not addressing the root problem.
Whether it's a dog who barks, lunges, pulls, chases the fence, digs holes, you name it, these behaviours are occurring for a reason, they are expressions of a dogs underlying emotional state. Suppressing the outward expression of those emotions will simply force the dog to express their emotions in other ways (oh you thought chewing the couch pillows was bad... wait till the whole couch is shredded!!!).
Proper behaviour modification, addressing the underlying emotional response, is the only long term solution to any and all behaviour problems.