Not what you’re thinking, this stands for What’s The Function? When I’m looking at my own dog’s behaviour that I want to change, I ask myself “What is the function of the behaviour?” This curiosity is usually the first step in figuring out how to change it. For example, my young dog hits the back door with her paw when I’m preparing to open the door. The function of the behaviour is to open the door. My next question is, can I make door opening contingent on a different behaviour? In this case I have begun to make my door opening behaviour contingent on her backing up. This is helping a lot with her door pawing behaviour because she cannot paw the door AND backup at the same time.

Another important application of “What’s the Function” lies in the rewarding of unwanted behaviour. One thing I often do when my dogs bark at people coming in the house, is to throw a handful of food down the hallway away from the door. Some people might say, “but doesn’t that reward them for barking?” The short answer is “no, it does not”. It doesn’t reward the barking because the function of the barking was not about earning food rewards, it was either to scare away the visitors or to relieve a build-up of excitement perhaps, but not to earn food. Because the function wasn’t to earn food, I can’t reward the behaviour with food. There is more to this story because, doing this can shift the function of the barking toward trying to earn food rewards, which is actually my intent as it changes the intensity of the behaviour and gives me far more control over the barking than I had initially.

Author: Heather Wark



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