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This article is aimed at animal practitioners to help nurture their success in working with their clients, for successful behaviour change.
Animal behaviour plays a crucial role in the lives of pets and their owners. As an animal professional, it is essential to develop effective behaviour change programs that help clients and their pets overcome behavioural challenges. This article aims to provide five valuable tips for creating and delivering a successful animal behaviour change program. By following these guidelines, animal professionals can enhance their skills and facilitate positive transformations in the lives of both animals and their human companions. For more advice, support and certified CPD, check out my Human Behaviour Change for Animal Professionals course, available from my online Learning Hub.
5 Tips for Animal professionals
Tip 1 – Establish Clear Goals and Objectives
Before initiating any behaviour change program, it is vital to establish clear goals and objectives. Define what specific behaviours or issues you aim to address and set achievable targets. For example, if the pet displays aggressive behaviour (such as lunging, barking, showing teeth, growling) towards strangers, the objective might be to reduce the frequency, intensity and duration of the aggressive responses within a specific timeframe (e.g., twelve months). Setting clear goals helps in measuring progress and ensures a focused approach throughout the program.
Tip 2 – Conduct Comprehensive Assessments
Thorough assessments are crucial for understanding the underlying causes of the pet’s behaviour and tailoring an appropriate behaviour change plan. Assessments should include observations of the pet’s behaviour, gathering information from the owner about the pet’s history as well as other sources (e.g., medical history, day care/dog walkers, groomers, sitters, other family members etc), and considering any environmental factors that may contribute to the behaviour (such as time of day, weather conditions, feeding/exercise schedules, quality of rest/sleep and associated patterns, where the pet lives/how regularly the animal is exposed to triggers for high arousal behaviour, and much more…). This holistic approach enables a comprehensive understanding of the problem, leading to the development of an effective intervention strategy.
Tip 3 – Utilise Positive Reinforcement Techniques
Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in behaviour change programs. Incorporating rewards and praise for desired behaviours encourages pets to repeat those behaviours. Avoid punitive measures (choke/e-collars, spraying, hitting, leash corrections and more), and focus on positive reinforcement techniques such as clicker training, food rewards, play, and allowing for natural behaviours to be reinforcers – scenting, tracking, chasing into appropiate things etc. By creating a behaviour modification programme that encourages clients to reinforce desired behaviours consistently, animal professionals can facilitate lasting changes and strengthen the bond between the pet and their owner.
Tip 4 – Encourage Active Client Participation
Successful behaviour change programmes involve active client participation. Educate pet owners about the principles of animal behaviour whilst avoiding technical jargon to reduce the likelihood for confusion. Involve them in the training process; provide them with the necessary skills and knowledge to reinforce positive behaviours and discourage negative ones. Encourage open communication, address any concerns, and provide ongoing support. Active client involvement fosters a collaborative approach and increases the likelihood of long-term success.
Tip 5 – Monitor Progress and Adapt Accordingly
Regular monitoring and assessment of the pet’s progress are essential for adjusting the behaviour change program as needed. Conduct periodic evaluations to track improvements and identify any challenges or setbacks. Adapt the programme by modifying training techniques or strategies to address specific needs. Regular communication with the client allows for timely adjustments and ensures that the program remains aligned with the pet’s progress and goals.
If you are interested in learning more about nurturing the client-consultant relationship for successful behaviour change, and have the opportunity to receive certified CPD, then visit my Learning Hub for more.
- Overall, K. (2013). Clinical behavioral medicine for small animals. Elsevier Health Sciences.
- Bradshaw, J. W., & Casey, R. A. (Eds.). (2018). Good practice guide: environmental enrichment for dogs and cats. Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW).
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- Hiby, E. F., Rooney, N. J., & Bradshaw, J. W. (2004). Dog training methods: Their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Animal Welfare, 13(1), 63-69.