What are the strategies that Pet Behavior Change endorses in its training and behavior modification?

Trained primarily as behavior analysts, Dr. Maxwell and PBC's pet behavior consultants emphasize evidence-based methods that have been tested and refined in and outside of the learning laboratory. As responsible practitioners, we often re-evaluate and modify treatment plans if the pet's response is not satisfactory. As applied scientists, we rely on objective measures of a pet's behavior to make decisions regarding treatment. We may ask you to record your pet's behavior in a chart or log so that any changes in the behavior plan can be based on these measures.

We place a strong emphasis on environmental enrichment and an understanding of pets' species-specific needs. We incorporate ethological explanations of those behaviors that are unlearned or reflexive, and we employ positive reinforcement to address learned behavior. At all times, we operate under the ethical guidelines of the Association for Behavior Analysis International and the Animal Behavior Society in deciding which strategies are appropriate, effective, least intrusive, and minimally aversive. In accordance with the American Animal Hospital Association's (AAHA) 2015 Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines, we emphasize nonaversive techniques throughout our behavior modification and training plans.

"This Task Force opposes training methods that use aversive techniques... prong (pinch) or choke collars, cattle prods, alpha rolls, dominance downs, electronic shock collars, lunge whips, starving or withholding food, entrapment, or beating. Nonaversive techniques rely on the identification and reward of desirable behaviors and on the appropriate use of head collars, harnesses, toys, remote treat devices, wraps, and other force-free methods of restraint. This Task Force strongly endorses techniques that focus on rewarding correct behaviors and removing rewards for unwanted behaviors."

- 2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines

The specific intervention plan developed for a pet is based on the behavioral history, the details of the behavior problem or problems, and owners' ability to implement various behavior change techniques. Intervention strategies are selected based on a functional assessment in which we assess the triggers for, and consequences of, the problem behavior. Identifying the consequences that maintain problem behavior is necessary before an intervention plan can be developed.

Common positive reinforcers we employ include treats, toys, praise, petting, interactive play, and walks. These stimuli or events are made dependent on desirable behavior so as to increase its frequency. At the same time, reinforcers determined to be maintaining problem behavior are removed so that we can produce decreases in undesirable behavior. We often rely on management of situations in which problem behavior is most likely to occur. We counsel owners to avoid situations in which their pet is unlikely to be successful while focusing on building skills in easier situations first.

When addressing fear-based behavior we rely extensively on systematic desensitization, a therapeutic procedure which involves gradually increasing exposure to a fear-provoking situation or stimulus only while ensuring the pet is calm and relaxed at each progressive level of exposure.