Odour Recognition


Antecedents, Behaviour and Consequences

Every time we interact with our dog we provide some form of signal and these signals overtime associated with pleasant or unpleasant events. These events are not limited to us as handlers but also to all factors in our dogs environment, especially during deployment. 

Acknowledging that this is an intrinsic part of existence in the animal kingdom, it helps us meticulously design our dog’s environment so that we can tailor the outcomes we need. Many trainers intuitively know this occurs and call it ‘scenario training’.

The scientific term is called ‘Antecedents’. Antecedents are the stimuli, events and conditions that precede behaviour and set the occasion for the behaviour to occur.

Antecedents Don’t Cause The Response; Instead, They Signal The Contingency Ahead

When antecedent A is present (odour), if you do behaviour B (stare are it), then consequence C (ball or food reward) will follow. These are the consistent effect on behaviour, and it occurs every single moment in our dog’s life.

Antecedents are the signposts that provide order for behaviour, in the sense that they tell dogs what to do when they appear both desirable or undesirable. 

There are three types of antecedents/precursors: cues, event settings and motivating operations. Every kind of antecedent can be an essential tool for changing behaviour, especially problem behaviours that develop as part of puppy development.

When we know, what signal produces the behaviour then we can take steps to deal with it. A consistent signal that dogs always react too either positively or negatively is towards other dogs and taking measures to reward them with food when they see another dog is one way of linking that ‘unfamiliar dogs’ provide a pleasant feeling.

One way would be to avoid the signal, events or by utilising pre-established signals deliberately to serve our purpose such as in competitions. The presentation of the above example with the (odour) are signals for (staring) behaviour. By being aware that all signals that may produce behaviours due to associations, we can take precautions to serve our purpose. 

A Police officer will notice very quickly that upon presentation of a siren, the dogs immediately anticipate the next event, searching for the drive fulfilling reward, the decoy or offender. 

As Simple As A.B.C 

One such, approach to understanding specific behaviours is known as ABC analysis. The letters stand for the three elements of a simplified behavioural “equation” which includes the antecedents, behaviour, and consequences. With this strategy, we seek to identify through careful observation the events, and conditions that occur before the target behaviour (staring) − antecedents, as well as determining the results that follow the behaviour – consequences (positive or negative). This simple analysis, when paired with keen observation skills and creative problem-solving, will help us clarify how the primary components of behaviour are interrelated. 

It Is This Clarity That Leads Us To Valuable Insights And Teaching Strategies. 

There are six steps to analysing the ABCs:

  • Describe the target behaviour in clear, observable terms;
  • Describe the events that occur and conditions that exist immediately before the behaviour happens;
  • Describe the consequences that immediately follow the behaviour;
  • Examine the behaviour and the consequence in sequence;
  • Devise new signals and consequences to teach new behaviours or change existing ones;

Evaluate the outcome

With all the outcomes, we are looking for whether it’s general management, detection, sport or tactical we must take into consideration the necessary timing for appropriate association to be made useful for your application and at the same time always keeping in mind all the possible unintended associations that could prove counterproductive.

From the perspective of the behavioural model, the behaviour is defined as what an animal does in certain conditions, which can be measured.

Consequences are the engine that drives the future strength of operant behaviour, the very purpose of behaving.

Antecedents are the signposts that signal the behaviour- consequence link (B-C) likelihood is immediately ahead.

Signals are predictors of an association which creates the necessary attention to the signal.

This is how dogs and we identify what lays ahead, both positive and negative. It is the nature of animal behaviour to modify what they do, based on the outcomes of doing it.

In this way, the response (staring at the odour) is chosen by consequences:

Behaviours that produce desired results are repeated; behaviours that produce aversive consequences are modified or suppressed.

Behaviour is a purposeful tool, part of every animal’s biological endowment, used to affect the environment. The most important aspect of behaviour modification is that we should ensure aversive consequences increase or amplify ‘target behaviour’ instead of adopting the previous idea that it should decrease undesirable behaviour.  This previously taught model gratuitously affects the dogs learning capability because there is no room for the resolution of stress.

Detector Dogs Australia utilise these scientific principles in learning creating a powerful indication response. 

Kris Kotsopoulos