Through the week I answered a question here on my blog… and the answer was a bit of scroller explaining the ABC’s of dog behaviour. After I replied I thought “I should post about this”. So here we are, and this comes with a big shout out to Mary for her question. All of training comes down to A-B-C, and I’ve got a quick video to explain.


We’re geeking out a bit here, but stick with me…

ABC’s of Dog Training

Antecedent: What happens immediately before (it could be a trigger, a cue, a distraction like a bunny).

Behaviour: The behaviour of the dog (that we can describe).

Consequence: What happened to the dog immediately after.

In the video I shared last week of transitioning Tater to walking off lead, he stopped and sniffed the ground, and then ran to catch up with me and came into reinforcement zone. Let’s look at how the A-B-C of dog training can work for us, or against us, in this situation, and how knowing our ABC helps set our dogs up for success.

In the example, Tater was sniffing the ground. Possibly he dropped part of his cookie there, or just found something good to sniff.  The “why” he was sniffing is something only Tater knows for sure, so I can not say “he thinks a dog peed here” or “he thinks I dropped two cookies here”… all I can do is describe what I observe in terms of A-B-C:

  • A= The Antecedent was Tater being off-leash away from me, and me walking away growing a large distance between us, which lead to his choice of…
  • B= The Behaviour he chose was to run to catch up to me (I didn’t call him or lure him with a cookie).
  • C= The Consequence of Tater choosing to leave the sniffing and catch up to me (without a prompt) was that he was praised and rewarded with a cookie.

Now, if I had called Tater when he was sniffing rather than waiting and evaluating his choice, I would have created a new set of A-B-C:

  • A= Something good to smell and Susan getting further away.
  • B= Ignore what Susan is doing and continue to do what you want to do (sniff).
  • C= Susan calls YOU, making it easy for you to continue sniffing anytime you want, because the reward will be coming to you regardless if you pay attention to her on walks or not.

Can you see the difference between the two A-B-C scenarios? On the first, the choice Tater made to catch up with me was reinforced, making that choice of paying attention to me far more likely to be repeated. In the second fictional scenario, the ignoring me would have been reinforced, making that more likely to be repeated.

So, if you have a dog who sniffs on walks, or is not showing motivation to move, you just need to change the A-B-C… but I caution you to think small… split this down into small, achievable accomplishments for your dog. Possibly start with a walk that begins 5 steps from your house and ends with a big party at your house. Then build from there.

To make A-B-C work for us in our training, it starts with awareness and observation. I’ve got a PDF download for you so you can begin your observations in your life with your dog.  I want you to really notice the “A”, the Antecedent, when you are keeping notes. Here’s what it might look like when you fill it out.

The ABC’s have been on my mind a lot lately. Awareness of ABC is going to exponentially increase dog training success for anyone, and grow the understanding of why a dog is behaving a certain way. We’ve decided to run a dog training masterclass for our Recallers members, and I’ll be looking more into ABC. We’ll be inviting the world to join us in the masterclass for free, so stay tuned for details coming up soon. ABC might seem a bit geeky, but we’ll be turning it into one of the biggest mind-blowing assets for success in your life with your dog.

Remember, download the PDF and start filling it in with your observations. Let me know in the comments what you are noticing about your dog’s A-B-C!

Today I am grateful for the science of behavior, and how understanding that science makes life so much better for our dogs, and for us.