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Antecedent: What Happens Before the Behavior

ANTECEDENT - A preceding occurrence, cause or event.

In the past, dog training was focused solely on consequences of behavior – reward the good, punish the bad. Now we know that all behavior is triggered by something. That trigger is called an antecedent.

For example, you don’t typically pick up your mobile phone at random times of the day and say, “Hello?” You only do that behavior when your phone rings. The ringing is the antecedent to answering the phone (or sending it to voicemail, as the case may be.) In dogs, it is the same. Your dog doesn’t run to the door hysterically barking for no reason. The barking usually triggered by someone knocking or ringing the doorbell. That sound is the antecedent (and why all dog owners have come to hate the Domino's Pizza commercials).

By learning to recognize the antecedents to our dogs’ unwanted behavior(s), we can plan ahead, making arrangements that prevent problems until we have had time to teach our dog a more desirable behavior they can reliably perform in that situation. This is called antecedent arrangement.

One example of antecedent arrangement is to walk a dog-reactive dog in areas or at times when it is unlikely that you will encounter other dogs. I have a few office parks in my area that have lovely landscaping, fountains, duck ponds, and walking paths. Walking in those areas while I’m building good leash manners and attention around distractions, gives the dog both mental and physical exercise, while preventing him or her from practicing reactive behavior. Once we have those skills in place, we can then focus on practicing around dogs at gradually decreasing distance and increasing intensity.

Every behavior has an antecedent. If you want to STOP a problem behavior, START by identifying the antecedent.


Serenity Canine Behavior Ⓒ2022 Lisa Mullinax. All rights reserved.

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