Posted by: Linda Trunell | August 10, 2014

Management and The ABC’s of Learning Theory

To teach appropriate behavior, we should understand the ABC’s of learning theory.  Stating it very simply

  •  A is for Antecedents – they come before the behavior
  •  B is for Behavior – anything that can be observed and measured
  •  C is for Consequences – behavior is the function of its consequence

When a dog does something that feels good, they will likely repeat it.  It is reinforced by the pleasant consequences.  This is why reward-based training is so successful.


Managing your dog’s environment should be the first step in teaching appropriate behavior by preventing unwanted behaviors.  You should set her up for success by making it easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing.  If we can manage the antecedents, we can prevent unwanted behaviors from happening and being reinforced.

Here are some very simple examples of how dogs learn and are reinforced for unwanted behaviors because management was not properly applied:

  • A – Food is left on kitchen counter and dog is in kitchen alone
  • B – Dog eats food
  • C – Dog will look for food on counter because it was rewarded


  • A – Shoes are left on the floor and dog has access to room
  • B – Dog chews shoes
  • C – Dog learns that shoes are fun to chew


  • A – Puppy is left unattended (not in crate or tethered to human)
  • B – Puppy pees on carpet
  • C – Puppy feels relief having satisfied the need to pee so peeing on carpet is reinforced


I am sure you could think of many more examples of dogs being positively reinforced for unwanted behaviors.  In each case, proper management of the dog and the environment would have prevented the unwanted behavior from happening and being rewarded.

Not guilt

Scolding the dog after the fact does not teach them what they should have done instead.


Here’s to being our dog’s best friend,




  1. Very simple truths! Wish more people could understand this and we would have less dogs in rescues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very simple, Jo! Sometimes people just overlook the obvious and sometimes people think that dogs should just know this stuff.


  2. Reblogged this on mydogsnewtricks.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never been able to figure out how anyone can expect a puppy to know the difference between a shoe and a toy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clowie, you would not believe what some humans expect puppies to know! I don’t know why you all love us so much when we can be so unreasonable. 🙂



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