By: Melissa Kolmar, CPDT-KA
“What’s the Function?” -Susan Friedman, PhD
Now that I have your attention! I wanted to talk about our dogs’ behavior today and the wonderful things I have learned from Susan Friedman, PhD. As shown above, her WTF stands for What’s the Function. That means what is the purpose behind your dog’s behavior? What is your dog getting out of it? On first glance, sometimes it is hard to tell what our dog is getting out of a particular behavior. We are so busy looking at their behavior that we are missing what’s going on in the environment. And that’s where we miss out!
Friedman says there is no behavior without context. That means your dog doesn’t just exhibit behaviors for no reason. They are interacting with and reacting to their environment. A great example of this is teaching a dog to give paw. If the dog is consistently reinforced for this, when he sees a person he may offer a paw. He has learned that people reinforce this (context). If we watched that dog in a room by himself via camera, it is unlikely that he will be offering a paw. His behavior is a direct response to the environment.
If we don’t understand the context, as well as the function, of our dogs’ behavior it can be very hard to create a significant behavioral change. We want to find the cause of the behavior, not just treat the symptoms.
B.F. Skinner said “It does not help in the solution of practical problems to be told that some feature of behavior is due to frustration or anxiety; we also need to be told how the frustration or anxiety has been induced and how it may be altered.” This means we need to put our detective hat on when it comes to our dogs’ behavior. It doesn’t help them to label the behavior and act like that’s the cause.
For example: your dog paces and whines. When a friend asks what’s going on, you say “she has anxiety.” That is a label of her behavior but it is not the cause of her behavior. What is happening in the environment that is causing her behavior? Environment pulls out emotions and behavior. We need to focus on the environment first.