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Positive Dog Training

Helping Dogs And Families Live in Harmony

The Function and Strategy of Problem Solving

By Chris Bach and The Third Way – The Next Generation in Reinforcement Training

Last month, we moved into a very important area of dog training, PROBLEM SOLVING. Chris shared her theory on the “function and strategy” for teaching dogs.

We are continuing our discussion on Problem Solving. This month Chris explains her theory on the “function and strategy of problem solving”.

The function of problem solving is different than teaching and much more complex. Problem solving involves the entire teaching process but only as one of its components. It also entails totally changing and therefore totally controlling the consequences of a response. In addition, the trainer must also eliminate the emotional fluctuation brought on by the presence of specific stimuli as well as “stimulation” itself.

Changing a dog’s response to stimuli, both operantly and classically is infinitely more difficult than teaching new consequences, or keeping emotional fluctuations to a minimum in the first place.

Because the function of problem solving is changing rather than just teaching, strategies are also different and much more complex.

The strategy for problem solving has four keys:

  1. The dog is NEVER to blame.
  2. The problem response must never occur again.
  3. A new incompatible response must be taught and proofed in a separate venue.
  4. When this new response is reliable, it is cued before the problematic response can occur.

I always accept the blame if my dog fails to conform to my expectations or requirements. My expectations are wrong, not my dog. My dog is perfect. I have failed to either adequately teach him what I want, or to recognize some limitation that prevents him from meeting my goals. It is up to me to teach him properly and/or modify my expectations.

The problem solving process begins with people taking full responsibility for their dog’s actions. Next, people must recognize that there is a problem only because the dog is failing to meet some human-imposed expectation. Dogs are and always will be PERFECT at being dogs and at being their individual self. They are imperfect only in the minds of people.

Once people accept responsibility for there being a problem, they must precisely identify the problem and then explore their options for dealing with it.

The purpose of this is to assist dog owners and caretakers in identifying the real problem and exploring the options available. Then once an option is chosen, a viable and realistic program that the dog owner or caretaker can accept and/or implement can be developed.


Problem Solving Function:
Modify the contingencies for a response and/or modify the contingencies for an emotional state change.

Problem Solving Strategy:

  1. Take responsibility for the problem
  2. Identify the problem
  3. Consider the Four Options (which will be discussed in up coming columns)
  4. Commit to the chosen option
  5. Design a program
  • Management program for Option Two
  • Problem Solving Program for Option One

(c) THE THIRD WAY ~ Chris Bach ~ 2002. All rights reserved.