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Are Behavior Modification and Training the Same Thing?


Often, behavior modification and training are mistaken to be the same thing. Although both seek to alter the actions of an animal, the approaches, and goals of each are distinct.

Training seeks to teach an animal, through reinforcements, to faithfully respond in a fixed way to a signal or cue. The animal is motivated to gain a reward as an inducement to perform an action. Important elements of training are timing, clarity of the cue or signal, uniformity of the required outcome and reward value. Obedience Training, for example, can train a dog to sit, lie down, or walk in a certain way on command. It cannot alter the basic motivations of an animal, nor does it seek to do so.

Behavior Modification, on the other hand, deals with changing the impulsive actions and motivations of an animal. It focuses upon the redirection of the animal’s natural, biology-based, unconscious drives an animal uses to meet essential and emotional needs. The important elements of Behavior Modification are desensitization (the reduction of a response to a stimulus when exposure to it has no adverse consequences), counter-conditioning (reducing negative emotional responses and increasing positive ones by high value rewards), habituation (a kind of learning without rewards), and extinction (the fading of a response to a stimulus when no reward results).

At The Educated Pet, we help many owners understand their dog’s needs in order that their pet can live more comfortably in our sometimes confusing and frightening world.

We provide one-on-one Behavior Consults, where we take a behavior history on your dog, evaluate him or her, and set you up with an individual long-range behavior modification program. The goal is to aid you and your dog in overcoming issues such as extreme shyness, excessive fear, reactivity, aggression and separation anxiety. We will be honest with you and discuss with you a realistic view of what your prognosis of success will be, as well as what will be required to achieve that level of success. Success is different for each dog. In some cases, owners have to modify their expectations and accept a level of behavior that is not optimal due to the limitations of their dog. In other cases, we are able to resolve the issues to the satisfaction of both owner and Fido.

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