Book Review: Behavior Adjustment Training

Got a reactive dog or one who needs to learn some social graces? Get your paws on this book!

I hate when life gets in the way sometimes! I was so excited to get this book; I even pre-ordered it! Last night, I finally finished reading it. I must say, I’m so glad I did.

Behavior Adjustment Training by Grisha Stewart is an excellent resource for people who own reactive dogs. But I think anyone with a fearful dog or party-starter dog (also known as a “Tarzan Dog,” a term coined by Jean Donaldson) can benefit from the exercises contained within. The same protocol can also be used to help fearful dogs gain confidence.

The book gives a nice overview of the basic principles necessary to start Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) as well as how the author developed the protocol. Along with detailing how to set up a session, she also goes into great detail about using BAT in everyday life and even spends time focusing on management strategies for the interim while you’re working with your dog (or when you can’t). The illustrations and diagrams within are also extremely helpful, especially for visual learners. The drawings also simplify the concepts in a way that allows the reader to easily comprehend the more complex aspects of BAT.

I also enjoyed the sections at the end which delved into clicker training, quadrants, and other nerdy aspects for those of us who are interested in that sort of thing. ;) The first-hand accounts and reviews from dog training professionals were a nice touch as well.

I’m always looking for more tools to put in my toolbox when it comes to dealing with Risa’s reactivity and BAT is an excellent compliment to the other tools in the box. In fact, I really like the concept because it empowers the dog to make the right decision. This is huge for me as I do not wish to be constantly on alert and always prepared for disaster when I’m out with Risa. Now that Risa is more confident around dogs, I have focused more on giving her the skills she needs to cope. I reward the good decisions she makes. With BAT in the mix, I can reward her with what she really wants: distance.

We don’t have a lot of willing decoy dogs at our disposal so I’ve been using BAT with dogs we encounter on our walks. It’s a bit more unpredictable this way but we’re still having success. I simply walk off the path and wait. When Risa offers eye contact with me (I’m being a bit more specific with her and only rewarding eye contact rather than any calming signal), I mark and we walk away from the dog. Already, I am noticing that on non-BAT trials around dogs, she is choosing to move away from the dog when she feels uncomfortable rather than posturing and lunging.

Along with using BAT on Risa, I implemented it today with “Tarzan Dog” Callie. Callie wants nothing more than to play with other dogs and she’s not always socially appropriate. I wasn’t having much luck doing what I usually do with her. Even walking away from the other dog and waiting for her to be calm before trying to approach again was simply not working. So I decided to try some BAT with her. Unlike with Risa, however, I rewarded Callie with decreased distance rather than increased. I stood there with Callie and waited for calm eye contact with me. (I think if I had waited for a calming signal, I would have been there all day!) When she made eye contact, I clicked and took a step forward. Then I gave her a treat and waited again. We were able to get within 5 feet of the other dog before it was a bit too much for her and I had to walk her away when she lunged. I tried it 2-3 times and saw significant improvement. It was like a lightbulb had turned on and she understood that only calmness would get her closer to the other dog.

Overall, I think this book and the training methodology contained within should be a part of everyone’s toolbox. It can be adapted and utilized in many ways which makes it extremely versatile. It also compliments other training methods like LAT (Look At That), classical conditioning, and desensitization. BAT gets a big 2 paws up from this reader!

About Jamie

I'm just a traditionally-trained artist with interests in dog training. I currently teach classes at the local obedience training club (tricks, freestyle, and Rally-FrEe) and I also teach classes professionally for an organization who helps veterans train their own service dogs.
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