From A to B to C

Understanding who is responsible for each part of the cycle hands power back to a dog.

The Learning Cycle

Dog trainers and canine behaviourists talk about the ‘ABC’ cycle. The ABC stands for:

  • A - Antecedent

  • B - Behaviour

  • C - Consequence

Training a dog will be quicker if you work within this cycle.

Understanding who is responsible for each part of the cycle hands power back to a dog. Working with discipline to ensure each part of the cycle follows the other in sequence provides a dog with clear information. These are effective confidence builders, so understanding how this cycle operates is an essential skill for owners of sensitive dogs.

Common Errors

It is easy to get into the habit of reaching for the food (C - consequence), before giving a cue (A - antecedent), or reaching for the food (C), before the dog has completed the behaviour (B).

This prevents our dogs from learning how they received a desirable consequence or risks interrupting their thinking and movement during a behaviour.

In my opinion it also muddles up who is responsible for which bits of the cycle and risks taking power away from the dogs, leaving them demotivated and disinterested.

Parts of this cycle are shared between you and your dog:

A. (Antecedent) - setting up the environment, selecting the teaching method and providing appropriate cues for the behaviour belongs to you. Cue seeking, saying ‘yes I am ready to train’ belongs to your dog.

B. (Behaviour) - belongs to your dog, it is their responsibility to complete the behaviour or not (a non-response or incorrect response is simply information that we take on board). In our world we avoid forcing a response.

C. (Consequence) - this is where it can get complicated and we return to this part of the learning many times in classes. Seeking the consequence belongs to the dog, wait until your dog is focused on you saying ‘I am ready to receive the food’. Choosing the consequence belongs to the dog, if your dog completes the behaviour then chooses to bark at a seagull as the reinforcer, that is their choice, they don't get the piece of food as well.

Monitoring all of this and delivering the food, if selected by the dog is your part of the cycle.

All the behaviours you would like to teach your dog will fit within this scientific principal of behaviour modification.

Adding in a clicker

Another area of confusion is where to add in a clicker. Firstly assess whether you need to use a clicker:

  • Do you need an audible 'bridge' between the behaviour and the consequence?

  • Will the clicker help the dog learn?

If you decide to use a clicker then it comes after the behaviour and is followed by a consequence. Clickers used before the behaviour have become part of the antecedent (A) rather than functioning as a marker.

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