Going to BAT for Shiba Inus

shared from original post at http://www.kihakushibas.com/blog/2014/4/30/going-to-bat-for-shiba-inus

RECENTLY UPDATED - See update at the bottom.

Originally published in the National Shiba Club of America "Shiba E-News Magazine: December 2013"

"Shiba Inus as a breed, sometimes get the unfortunate reputation of having aggression issues. This reputation seems to be the case especially regarding aggression around other dogs. However, dog to dog aggression is something that can plague any dog, regardless of breed. It is my observation, that Shiba Inus do not have a genetic predisposition towards aggression but instead, grow up to have poor reactions around other dogs due to problems with upbringing, improper socialization and inappropriate training.

The vast majority of aggressive dogs are actually exhibiting fear based aggression. This aggression is generally referred to as “reactivity.” The reactive dog, when in the presence of something it feels is threatening, will choose to use its fight instinct rather than flight instinct. The dog chooses to growl, lunge, or to bite the threat rather than running away. It is important to note that most dogs find fighting to be dangerous and therefore are not choosing it because they want to, but rather because they feel trapped, helpless and threatened.

This is where BAT comes in. BAT stands for Behavior Adjustment Training. BAT is a method developed by Grisha Stewart which teaches the dog to use other methods of canine communication to defuse situations and as a result they feel more secure if threatened. Growling, lunging and biting are replaced with canine body language communication called “calming signals” or “cut off signals.” These signals are normal ways that dogs communicate, such as lip licking, head turning, ground sniffing, and yawning. BAT teaches the dog that giving these signals will allow them to safely leave the situation when they feel threatened. After doing this repetitively the dog feels more confident and secure in situations that were once threatening. As the dog’s comfort level improves it can ultimately occupy space closer to the threat, or even interact with the threat, without reacting aggressively.

The BAT method uses no punishment and also very little food reward. Instead this method uses something called a “functional reward.” The functional reward for the dog occurs seconds after the dog gives an appropriate calming signal. When the dog does a head turn, yawn or other signal, the handler immediately removes the dog. The act of leaving is the reward and while this reward seems so insignificant to us it is highly reinforcing to the dog. For most dogs with mild reactivity, after a dozen or so approaches, the dog can be calm and relaxed within feet of their formally perceived threat. BAT works in a structured training environment and can also be modified for everyday interaction with dogs. In these situations food and a clicker can be used to strengthen the training. When the dog simply sees or gives a “cut off signal,” the clicker is clicked and the owner retreats to a safe distance where the dog receives a food reward. This modification works well because if the trigger is a dog that is excited or not under control, the clicker reinforcement can be more effective and help the dog cope with a more challenging trigger.

Another thing that the BAT method encourages is proper leash handling. In theory tight leashes create stress in dogs, making them more likely to feel threatened and react to the threat. Stewart recommends that dogs be walked on longer leashes (no retractable leashes), preferably attached to a harness. Have the owner work carefully to train loose leash walking and keep a loose leash at all times except in the case of an emergency.

My personal experience with BAT was life changing. I came across BAT when one of my Shibas started lunging at other dogs. He competes in obedience and his career in the sport was in question before I came across BAT. I was given tons of advice from other trainers and nothing seemed to work. A lot of the recommendations were to punish him for the behavior and that only made it worse. His stress level worsened and he became anxious and unhappy. Just as I was preparing to give up and retire my dog from the obedience ring, I came across BAT and decided to give it one last try.

A very close BAT set up. Most BAT setups are MUCH farther away. These dogs have been doing this for a while now.

A very close BAT set up. Most BAT setups are MUCH farther away. These dogs have been doing this for a while now.

After a few months of doing structured training sessions, as well as incorporating BAT into his daily life, I had a new dog. He went from anxious to confident and calm. All of his progress came without a single punishment. What once was a dog who was constantly panting, paws sweating, and shaking with anxiety at the presence of another dog, was now sitting comfortably in an obedience group stay along with 10 other dogs. His renewed confidence, and sense of safety and control, had replaced his old feelings and reactions and I had my happy competitor again.

Today I use BAT with my clients and have integrated elements of it into all my classes, especially Growly Dog class. I have seen dogs that could not be walked within 20 meters of another dog, now walk or sit calmly next to other dogs. For some dogs and owners, this method has been life changing. But BAT not only helps a reactive dog get over their issues it also changes the relationship between owner and dog. Because BAT requires you to learn to read the basics of canine communication, you understand your dog better and they learn that you are listening. This new bridge built on communication and trust, strengthens the dog-owner bond like nothing else. This creates a kinship like no other that will last a lifetime.

If you or someone you know has a Shiba who is showing signs of aggression and reactivity, Behavior Adjustment Training, may be just what is needed to assist in remedying the problem. Further information about Behavior Adjustment Training can be found here:

Official BAT Website - http://functionalrewards.com/

The Book - http://functionalrewards.com/bat-videos-books/behavior-adjustment-training-book/

BATing 1000 DVD - http://functionalrewards.com/bat-videos-books/full-day-bat-seminar-video-dvd/

Find a Certified BAT Instructor in your area - http://functionalrewards.com/certification/find-a-cbati/

Frame by frame of a head turn and retreat.

Frame by frame of a head turn and retreat.

BAT has been updated and now encompasses more empowering and motivating protocols. Visit http://empoweredanimals.com/ for more information