“Why Do You Use the Name BAT Instead of Scientific Terms?”

‎This is paraphrased from a Facebook post: why don’t we stick to the scientific terminology when explaining BAT? You do know that the science already existed, right?

Thank goodness for the scientific background! It helps to show why BAT works so well. But we can’t always use the scientific terms in explanations, certainly not with our students. If we did that all of the time, we would be writing canis lupis familiaris in our emails to clients, instead of the word dog. And of course, that would be silly, right?

There are different ways to apply the same scientific principles, much as there are different types of airplanes that use the same concepts to fly. The scientific principles are big buckets and describe the learning process that’s happening, but they are too vague to describe the actual technique. That’s why research papers have sections on methods used. If you watch one of my seminar DVDs (or attend a live seminar), you would see that I don’t claim to have invented something from outer space. In fact, I make that clear and note that we are counting on the science to back things up. The newness in BAT is that we, as a dog training community, did not have a systematic way to pay attention to the dogs and set up situations that allow them to learn in a low-stress way, without so much interference from us. The principles may have been there, but they weren’t being used like this, in this combination. It’s like a new kind of airplane that uses the same principles that other planes use, but it flies faster, longer, more efficiently, etc.

The point of scientific principles is that they are supposed to apply to the situation that they studied, and it can be replicated. But that doesn’t mean that the technique will work to rehabilitate every dog–it’s just that there is statistically significant difference. There are various reports of the effectiveness of different methods and they aren’t 100%, by a long shot. There is also cognition (a dog’s brain is not actually a black box) and social learning and other factors to take into account, plus the dog’s own environment, the number of triggers, etc. Life is not a laboratory. There is the Rescorla-Wagner model, which points out the power of naturalness for learning and also explains that the classical conditioning effect is strong at first, but then the improvement amounts shrink dramatically as the conditioning continues, much like shifting to a finer grain of sandpaper.

For my situation, BAT was the holy grail. It may be similar to other things, though, because that’s where progress comes from, it uses what came before. My analogy is usually a cake made of ingredients that already exist, and this combination happens to be yummier. As I’ve said a billion times, pretty much every seminar I’ve given around the world, BAT is a combination of systematic desensitization, clicker training, and functional analysis. The latter is the most important part and why this type of reinforcement is so powerful.

On to the jargon part. Naming things makes them more specific. This is how the scientific terms started in the first place. There will not be a point at which we can say, “that’s it, no more terms, you have to only use the ones we have, even if it’s something new!” And while BAT may use the principles that were already there, the technique itself is not exactly the same as any other technique I have found. So giving it a name is the right thing to do.

Otherwise, it would be like saying to the baker of aforementioned new type of cake, “you cannot call that a Seattle Cake, you must precise and say that it is a baked good made of leavening agents, sweetener, liquid, etc.” Which liquid, which leavening agent, how much? Or maybe we must be extremely scientific and state the chemical compounds inside the new type of cake. When the people come to the shop to order the cake, must they also use the recipe to request what is behind the counter?

So I’m going to stick with the term BAT for this new humane technique with a good scientific backing, because it’s a precise term already, with it’s own definition. It’s not a principle of science, it’s a technique that uses science. And that’s a good thing, right? BAT is standing on the shoulders of giants. 🙂