Browse Our Dictionary Alphabetically
Section A

ABC

ABC stands for Antecedents, Behavior, Consequences.  It refers to the complete “picture” of a behavior in context.  Behaviorists look at an animal’s behavior as being determined by triggers in the animal’s internal and external environment, which are referred to as the behavior’s antecedents.  The behavior itself can be analyzed in terms of the function it has for the animal, bearing in mind the antecedents that were there.  Whatever changes in the animal’s environment happen as a result of the behavior are called the consequences of that behavior.

Dog behaviorists keep the ABCs of behavior in mind because they can change both the antecedents to, and the consequences of a behavior to make their interventions more likely to succeed.

Abolishing Operations

An abolishing operation is a change in the environment, or the dog, which results in a reinforcement or a punishment being less effective.

For example, deciding to do a clicker training session just after the dog has had dinner can make him less interested in the treats and more likely to lose focus, or refuse to participate.  Being full of food (satiated) can therefore be considered as an abolishing operation in this case.

ACAAB

An Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (ACAAB) is a dog professional who has earned an undergraduate degree in animal behavior or a closely related discipline like psychology, and also has either a Master’s degree, or a DVM or VMD degree with a behavioral residency. An ACAAB must also have completed a minimum of two years of professional experience in applied animal behavior, and have demonstrated this to the satisfaction of the Animal Behavior Society. ACAABs can be called upon to do behavior consultations and work directly with dog owners, but they can also work with other animals and in other environments too.

Academy for Dog Trainers

Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers is an organization offering professional education for dog trainers and behaviorists.  Material is delivered online with the aid of video recording, video conferencing and discussion forums.

The Academy’s program is academically rigorous, with a focus on giving students a high-level understanding of learning theory and helping them refine the mechanics of classical and operant conditioning.

Acepromazine (Ace)

A short-acting sedative, from the antipsychotic family of drugs.  Although it was once commonly prescribed for dogs with fears of grooming and vet visits, its popularity has declined as it has come to be associated with an increase of fear, and seizures in some breeds.

Acupressure

Acupressure, like acupuncture, is based on concepts from traditional Asian medicine.  Specifically, that the body has a vital energy, called chi (qi), which flows through channels called meridians.  Using pressure from fingers placed at specific points over the meridians, practitioners believe that they can promote a more harmonious flow of chi, which leads to relaxation and healing.
In dogs, acupressure is most commonly used as a complementary therapy in rehabilitation. Unlike acupuncture, no needles or other invasive tools are needed, meaning it can be done at home by an average dog owner.
Acupressure practictioners can be certified by the National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure & Massage (NBCAAM).

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is based on concepts from traditional Asian medicine.  Specifically, that the body has a vital energy, called chi (qi), which flows through channels called meridians.  Practitioners claim that creating a harmonious flow in the body’s chi by unblocking disruptions leads to improved relaxation and functioning.

Acupuncture involves the insertion of needles into body tissue at points along the body’s meridians.  Holistic veterinarians and other practitioners can use acupuncture as part of rehabilitation after illness, injury, or surgery, or with the aim of reducing pain from an ongoing condition, among other things.

Practitioners can be certified through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society.

Adaptil (DAP)

A chemical that is said to mimic the pheromones released by lactating bitches, which have a soothing effect on their puppies. The synthetic version, marketed as DAP in the United States, is claimed to have a calming effect on adult dogs and is available as a plug-in diffuser, infused collar, or spray.

ADD

Attention Deficit Disorder. A psychological problem diagnosed in humans, which is sometimes used as shorthand to describe a dog with poor concentration, reactivity or high arousal.  There is no official test for ADD in dogs.

Adjunctive Behavior

In operant conditioning, an adjunctive behavior is one that occurs in the context of a reinforcement schedule – it happens during training – but is not directly controlled by any features of the reinforcement schedule itself. Schedule-induced aggression is an example of an adjunctive behavior. These behaviors are usually stereotypical and are thought to be a kind of displacement – they tend to happen when the probability of reinforcement is low, possibly to relieve anxiety or boredom.

Affiliation

How interested a dog is in being around others – humans or dogs – and getting attention from them. Dogs who display low levels of affiliation are less interested in spending time with people or dogs outside his family. Dogs who display high levels of affiliation can bond quickly with new individuals.

Aggression

Aggression is defined by Dr Karen Overall in the textbook, Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals as

“an appropriate or inappropriate threat or challenge that is ultimately resolved by combat or deference.”

An aggressive display is a set of behaviors that are threatening or challenging, but aim at making the recipient of the challenge go away without provoking a fight.

Aggression can be broadly categorized into offensive and defensive types depending on the emotion underlying the behavior, and can also be described according to the suspected underlying reason.  For example, dogs can show territorial aggression, predatory aggression, and resource guarding.

Some breeds have more of a tendency towards certain kinds of aggression than others, but a dog that shows aggression towards his owners, or indiscriminately towards strangers is usually considered to be behaviorally abnormal.

Agility

A sport for dogs, where the handler guides the dog through a series of obstacles.  Points are deducted for various errors in accuracy and finishing the course outside the allotted time.

Agility is one of the most popular activities for dogs, with competitive and non-competitive meets for different sizes and levels of experience, and age of handler.  There are also meets for handlers with disabilities, and for dogs with disabilities.

AKC Community Canine

The advanced level of the Canine Good Citizen program, run by the American Kennel Club.  Dogs that are certified as Community Canines must be AKC registered.  They must prove that they can perform basic obedience, walk on a loose leash in crowds and interact appropriately with people and other dogs.  The Community Canine test differs from the Canine Good Citizen test because it is taken in real-life situations like dog shows, training classes and parks.

Alpha

In rank-reduction based and dominance-based training, ‘alpha’ is used to refer to the leader. “Becoming alpha” refers to a set of techniques and protocols designed to assert a dog owner’s leadership over the dog. These techniques vary depending on the individual trainer, and can refer to anything from making sure you eat dinner before your dog, to the use of physical punishments.

Alpha Roll

A technique used by compulsion and rank-reduction based trainers as a form of punishment. The technique involves flipping the dog onto its back and holding it in that position, usually by the throat.

The alpha roll is said to mimic a behavior found in wolves, where dominant individuals force submissive ones onto their backs during contests, although this is disputed.

Alprazolam

A short acting drug from the benzodiazepine family, prescribed by vets to treat separation anxiety, anxiety about visits to the vet or other specific events, and general anxiety issues. Alprazolam is the generic form of Xanax. It has not been approved by the FDA for use in animals, but has been widely prescribed by vets as there is not considered to be a better alternative medication.

American Kennel Club

A non-profit organization that has maintained a Registry of purebred dogs since its founding in 1884.  The AKC organizes dog shows and competitive sports like obedience, tracking, ability and rally.  It also runs the Canine Good Citizen and Community Canine programs for pet dogs, and promotes purebred dogs to the public.

American Veterinary Medical Association

The AVMA is a non-profit professional organization for vets in the United States.  It represents the interests of veterinarians through lobbying on relevant issues.  The organization also publishes the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association as well as guidelines for veterinarians on various specialist topics, newsletters for the general public, and creates a regular podcast covering current issues in the veterinary world.

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior

A professional organization for continuing education in animal behavior.  Membership is restricted to veterinarians and researchers with a PhD in animal behavior. The AVSAB holds a yearly scientific meeting,  offers online forums to encourage networking and collaboration, and maintains a database of members that people seeking behavioral help can search.

Antecedent Arrangements

A way to describe how the environment that the dog is in has been set up, deliberately or not. The antecedent arrangements determine which behavior the dog is most likely to perform.

For example, a dog might only perform a’ “down” when the handler says “down” if he has seen that there is a cup of treats next to her on the counter. Both the cue for “down” and the cup are relevant parts of the environment for the dog. Antecedent arrangements are an important part of all behaviors, not just ones that the owner has put on cue – for example, a dog might get up onto a counter if there is a nearby chair he can use as a step, but not otherwise.

The dog’s emotional state can also be considered as part of the antecedent arrangements – if a dog is stressed, he is less likely to be able to listen to his owner and perform a behavior on cue, but if he is relaxed, he is more likely to do so.

Anthropocentrism

A way of looking at the world with humans at the center.  This can refer to:

– Whether humans are the only creatures other humans have moral obligations to at all (strong anthropocentrism).

– Seeing humans as automatically the most important, so that the needs of animals never trump the needs of humans, even if the animals are suffering more than the humans are (weak anthropocentrism).

– Concepts of the good, wherein we place a value on other species, or individuals within that species, only in terms of their interest or usefulness to humans.

– Concepts of the good, where species are seen as morally important depending on how similar they are to humans.

Anthropomorphism

In dog behavior, anthropomorphism refers to the assumption that dogs understand the world in the same way as humans, and therefore that the way we would describe a human’s response to a particular situation is also an appropriate and adequate way to explain the way a dog behaves.  Anthropomorphism can extend to one area of dog behavior, or as a general term to describe a whole approach to understanding dogs.

Many dog behaviorists agree that there is a role for anthropomorphism in dog behavior, because using this kind of language supports the idea that dogs and humans share many abilities, emotions and desires.  This similarity is borne out in research, although researchers themselves tend to agree that anthropomorphism can be a problem in research.

However, anthropomorphism can be a problem when it is not used carefully, because it can overstate the abilities of dogs in such a way that they seem to be more responsible for their actions – and therefore more deserving of punishment – than they really are.  For example, claiming that a dog steals food from the counter-top “out of spite” suggests a deliberate choice to act on a malicious motive, which can harm the dog-owner relationship.


References

Bekoff, M. & A. Horowitz (2007) Naturalizing Anthropomorphism: Behavioral Prompts to our Humanizing of Animals. Anthrozöos 20(1), pp.23-35.

Kennedy, J. S. (1992) The New Anthropomorphism. Cambridge University Press.

 

Anxiety

The general term given to an emotional state of apprehension or fear, especially of events that have not happened yet or things in the environment that do not pose a specific threat. Behaviors associated with anxiety include:

  • Excessive grooming and licking
  • OCD behaviors such as circling
  • Hypervigilance
  • Loose stool

Anxious dogs can become aggressive, or afraid of going to places where scary things have happened. An anxious dog might react with fear to any unexpected object, like a Christmas tree left at the side of the road.

Appeasement

Appeasement behaviors happen when a dog wants to diffuse a situation he perceives to be threatening, or to elicit care from a person or another dog. They can be a part of a friendly greeting, or they can be an indicator that a dog feels stressed or unsure of himself.  The following can be considered appeasement behaviors:

  • Rolling over
  • Licking the face or muzzle
  • Whining
  • Crawling on the belly
  • Pawing
  • “Submissive grin”
  • Tail and hindquarters wagging.

Appetitive

Anything that is considered good or desirable for the dog.  It can be given to the dog by his owner, like treats or praise, or discovered by the dog on his own, like a dead groundhog to roll in or a soft pile of sand to dig.

Appetitive and Positive are considered to be synonymous; their opposites are Aversive and Negative.

Applied Behavioral Analysis

Synonymous with “behavior modification”.  ABA is a systematic approach to the study of, and application of interventions to, an animal’s behavior.

Arousal

A dog that is aroused is experiencing a flood of adrenaline. He appears excitable, moves around a lot, and can become fixated on a task.  When a dog is over-aroused to the point of being frantic, his eyes may be dilated and he may find concentration difficult.

Teaching a dog to control his arousal is considered to be a key part of living with a high-energy or working breed, as well as being central to sports like IPO and agility, and tasks like military service.

Assess-a-Hand

A plastic or rubber hand attached to a padded stick.  Used in shelters, primarily to evaluate the potential for resource guarding in dogs.

Association of Professional Dog Trainers

A professional organization for dog trainers, with a worldwide membership base.  Professionals can register with the APDT and be included in their directory of trainers.  The organization also offers training courses, an annual conference, and publishes The Chronicle of the Dog newsletter.  There is no obligation for an APDT member to adhere to any particular standards, philosophy or training methods, although the organization itself aligns with the LIMA framework.

Associative Learning

When a dog learns that one thing causes another by being repeatedly exposed to the cause and effect. For example, a dog learns that when his owner opens a certain drawer, he is going to get a treat. If his owner does this every day, the dog might become excited whenever he hears his owner opening that drawer after a few days. Both classical and operant conditioning are examples of associative learning.

Attachment Theory

A theory in psychology that looks at how humans and animals form connections with each other, most often how parents and their children become bonded and the significance of that bond for the social, emotional and cognitive development of both the parent and the child.

Research has suggested that attachment theory also applies to the relationship between dogs and their owners, showing that there is a deep-seated emotional connection between the two that, ideally, contributes to the emotional wellbeing of both parties.

Research has also suggested that dogs are better able to learn new tasks when they are more securely attached to the person teaching them, suggesting that the attachment is also providing some cognitive benefits.

Aversive

An aversive is anything that makes a given behavior less likely to happen in the future; usually an unpleasant experience.

For example: a dog tries to eat a bee, and gets stung. The next time he sees a bee, he leaves it alone.  This means the bee sting was aversive for the dog.

Although we can usually have a pretty good idea of what kinds of things will count as aversive for dogs, the only way to tell for sure in an individual situation is to analyze the dog’s behavior. Being spiked by a porcupine’s quill, for example, would probably be an aversive to an inquisitive puppy, but not to a highly aroused dog in full prey drive.

Avoidance

According to Domjan’s “Principles of Learning and Behavior”:

An avoidance procedure involves a negative contingency between an instrumental response and the aversive stimulus.  If the response occurs, the aversive stimulus is omitted. By contrast, punishment involves a positive contingency: the target response produces the aversive outcome.

The most common use of the term “avoidance” in dog training is in snake training.  Dogs are taught that if they move away from the sight, sound, and smell of a rattlesnake, they can avoid an aversive stimulus – usually a shock.  Avoidance is taught by pairing the cue – in this case, the snake – with the shock until the dog performs the desired behavior – moving away.  When the dog reliably moves away from the snake, thus avoiding the shock, he has learned the desired avoidance behavior.

Avoidance Training

The process of training a dog to perform a desired behavior in order to escape or avoid an unpleasant, aversive consequence.

For example, a trainer might call out “Come!”, wait a couple of seconds, and then activate her dog’s e-collar.  After a number of repetitions, the dog will learn that the only way to avoid the shock is to run towards his owner when he hears the word “Come!”.