Written by: Lisa Longo – Animal Académie
My name is Lisa Longo and I am an animal behaviour consultant for pet owners. I share my life with a Czechoslovakian wolfdog, a Gottingen pig, a blue and gold macaw and a red-lored amazon. My job is to bridge the gap between science and home or in another term between science and heart.
I adhere to the LIMA principle…
LIMA describes a trainer or behaviour consultant who uses the least intrusive, minimally aversive strategy out of a set of humane and effective tactics likely to succeed in achieving a training or behaviour change objective. LIMA adherence also requires consultants to be adequately educated and skilled in order to ensure that the least intrusive and aversive procedure is used.IAABC
Behaviour analysis is the study of the processes by which living beings learn, based on their interactions with the environment. In recent decades, our vision of the pets’ wellbeing has greatly improved, giving them a special place in our families and offering them comfort, safety and care.
Thanks to the influence of zoo animal trainers, the wellbeing of home pets is now opening up to the fundamental principles of clicker training as well as the awareness of the importance of daily enrichment. And thanks to behaviourists, psychologists and behaviour professionnals, behaviour analysis informs behaviour-change strategies for pets too.
Expanding on Alberto and Troutman’s hierarchy for teachers, Dr. Susan Friedman, psychology professor at Utah State University, proposed a “hierarchy of behaviour-change procedures” aimed at prioritising procedures that are less intrusive and more positive for effective intervention.
This hierarchy is therefore based on ethics and effectiveness in modifying undesirable behaviour.
But when we think about it, all the behaviours that our pets propose are only natural ones, e.g. a parrot that screams or chews behaves naturally, a dog that digs or barks behaves naturally, a cat that plays at night or hunts behaves naturally.
So, an undesirable behaviour seems to be the emission of a natural behaviour that does not please humans.
Shouting, meowing or barking are natural behaviours, but shouting, meowing or barking for two hours during the night are behaviours considered to be undesirable. Urinating is a natural behaviour, but urinating on the bed is undesirable. Clawing is a natural behaviour, but clawing on the sofa is considered to be undesirable. Chewing at wood is a natural behaviour, but chewing at Louis XIV furniture is an undesirable behaviour.
The definition of “undesirable behaviour” in relation to our pets would be: ‘an undesirable behavior is a natural behavior that appears in an unsuitable environment.’
As a behaviour consultant adhering to the LIMA principle, I have always considered Dr. Friedman’s hierarchy as a guide. It reminds me daily of the need to be a creative professional to minimise the use of intrusive procedures. It also reminds me of everything that Dr. Friedman taught me beyond this hierarchy, such as the importance of data collection, the need to determine the function of a behaviour before wanting to modify it, and so on.
But beyond considering this hierarchy as a guide in my behaviour modification plans, I also consider it (and perhaps even above all else) as a guide to avoid misbehaviours in pets under my care (mine and those of my clients).
So, instead of being inspired by this hierarchy in a reactive way when an undesirable behavior appears, I try to use it in a proactive way to increase the wellbeing of the pets and thus act in prevention of the behaviors that I (or my clients) might find unpleasant later.
WELLBEING : FULFILLING THE ANIMAL’S NEEDS
Constipation, cystitis, kidney or liver problems, vision problems, thyroid problems, invisible pain (and so on) can all cause unwanted behavior.
Thus, since the health of pets can develop undesirable behaviours, regular veterinary check-ups are proactive and can therefore prevent the occurrence of misbehaviour.
Meeting the physical, biological and emotional needs of our pet helps build the foundations of an inter-species life in harmony.
Ensure that our companion is safe, comfortable, that his sleep cycles are respected, that they have access to good food and fresh water at all times, and that they have the daily opportunity to access physical and mental activities. This is absolutely essential for their wellbeing and therefore for preventing the appearance of undesirable behavior.
Meeting one of the basic needs of our pets requires enrichment.
Enrichment consists in encouraging the animal to display natural behaviours in a context of captivity. Enrichment can take an extremely wide variety of forms such as tactile, visual, olfactory or social.
Enrichment can also take the form of an environment adapted to the species, such as opportunities to climb, chew or fly for parrots or the opportunity to dig or bathe for a pig or even opportunities to use the power of their nose in dogs.
Another form of enrichment comes with foraging.
In the wild, parrots spend around 50-70% of their daily activities practising foraging. The average time spent looking for food daily in the wild is 240-360 minutes compared to around 30 minutes in captivity.
In our homes, food arrives to them in a bowl, without any effort, without thinking, without working, and on a daily basis. In the wild, most canines are hunters. Although predation is obviously part of how a canine can get food, dogs are also considered scavenger-like opportunists, spending most of their time searching, smelling, scratching, and possibly find a prey that has already been killed and preferably in putrefaction (or good fresh human trash cans). In a context of captivity, the dog loses this role, the humans offering them food (in a bowl and at a fixed time often).
We also often remove the dog’s role as a garbage collector either by teaching them not to sniff and nibble on trash lying around on the ground, or by pulling on the leash once they have found a “treasure” they’re tempted to explore.
Two different species and yet the same ever-present need to practise a natural and enriching activity : looking for food!
Parrots and dogs are far from the only two species affected by this phenomenon. A study carried out on horses (“Foraging opportunity: a crucial criterion for horse welfare?”) suggested that the increase in foraging opportunities improved the well-being of the horse, increased positive social interactions and decreased aggressiveness. Other captive animals are just as concerned with this need (mice, rats, hamsters, pigs, and so on).
Boredom being one of the main enemies of captive animals in our homes, foraging is one of the main solutions to avoid it.
The foraging behavior is so important that sometimes when we offer our animals the choice between easily accessible food (bowl) or hidden food, animals will take the choice of work rather than free access. The phenomenon is called “Contrafreeloading”. This term was created in 1963 by Glen Jensen following a study carried out on two hundred rats which would have preferred to work to obtain their food with the detriment of the bowl which was beside them. This experiment was subsequently carried out with mice, birds, fish, monkeys, elephants, and lots of other animals.
At my place, whether it be the dog, the pig or the parrots, all prefer their food being hidden as opposed to free access.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of foraging on animal welfare (Young, 2003; Shipper et al, 2008; Le Clouton & Waran, 1997).
Foraging should therefore be accessible to all our captive pets – even the cat – as the enrichment it brings is important. Unlike zoos where foraging opportunities blend into the decor of the enclosure, in our homes, we can use all types of materials to offer this activity to our pets.
Enrichment is not limited to a particular way of offering food to our pets. Variety is the spice of life!
Another parameter of paramount importance to increase the wellbeing of our pets and therefore promote a harmonious life and limit unwanted behaviour comes from our ability to offer them more decision-making power on a daily basis.
Behaviour is the mechanism by which we operate to control the environmentS.G Friedman
Control is a biological need for all animal species and often involve the possibility of making choices. We are all motivated by the desire to be able to have a choice, the power to say yes or to say no, the power to see our decision heard and respected. Offering more choice and control therefore increases the well-being of pets.
I encourage you to follow this NEI TEC Talk to learn more about control:
Providing more choice and control is sometimes just about withdrawing our hand and waiting for the animal to decide.
With choice and control comes consent.
Providing choice, control, decision-making power and/or consent in 100% of situations is certainly impossible but we can increase our pets’ quality of life, their comfort and ours by making consent a lifestyle – an ideal. Although they cannot speak out in the same way as humans, our pets constantly communicate with us. Learning to observe and respect their body language is one of the keys to a life in harmony. Having the animals’ consent before touching, petting, or caring for them greatly increases their overall wellbeing. By promoting practices that protect the physical and emotional wellbeing of pets of all kinds, we can establish an healthy, two-way communication based on trust.
When I post videos of collaborative care with animals, I often have comments like “my dog lets me do that to him” or “my parrot accepts that”.
Although you can sometimes achieve the same result by acting without a two-way communication, the difference between “he accepts” and “he decides” is important.
Empowering them, giving them choice and control over their environment will increase their wellbeing but also their confidence in us and in their environment.
Considering that behaviours are dependent on the environment, modifying the environment is often the key to promoting good behaviours (and blocking those we find undesirable).
If my parrot’s unwanted behaviour is that she screams when she sees someone walking by the window, the least intrusive, most positive and certainly most effective solution would be to place a curtain in front of the window. If my cat’s undesirable behavior is that he destroys the trash can in my absence, the least intrusive and most effective solution is certainly to hide/put the trash can in high.
Antecedent arrangement allows us to modify the environment so that it evokes the behaviors that we want to see happen more often.
José knows how to give his consent to have his hooves filed with a manual file. Lately, his front right hoof was bothering him so we had to file a part that was growing askew. It would have taken a lot of time and energy with the manual file.
The problem: José was never comfortable with the noise of the electric file.
The solution: Arrange the environment to promote a good behavior !
With a wireless headset and good music in the ears, the hoof could be rectified within 3 minutes!
Training, based on positive reinforcement, is an integral part of my daily life with my pets and what I offer to my clients. As Dr. Friedman says “We were born to behave, not to be still”. Learning is just as important to our pets as having a cozy corner, good food, affection and exercise.
Learning: modifying our behavior according to our environment, our past experiences.
Training is important on a daily basis because it provides enrichment, mental and physical stimulation to the animal. Each training session improve our relationship because they allow to communicate adequately with our pets, without force, without punishment and above all, by offering choice and control to the animal.
Training blocks unwanted behaviour. Indeed, the animal can’t emit a bad behavior and in the same time performing a wanted behaviour during a training session. Also, through our training, we can let our pet know which behaviour is most profitable.Training can also teach the animal to participate in its own care, as seen above.
Training also allows us to spend quality time, a moment of bonding, with our animal. All these reasons mean that our trust account grows a little more each time. Whether it is to work on our pet’s natural behaviours, on cooperative care or on tricks, good training based on positive reinforcement is never useless.
Of course, training our animal to voluntarily get its nails clipped, to come to the recall cue or to voluntarily enter its transport crate is of paramount importance, but that does not mean that it is necessary to deprive our pets and ourselves of learning less useful behaviours.
Training creates better communication and a better relationship, it increases the skills of the trainer and those of the animal and can also help maintain their good health and good physical capacities (dexterity, muscles, balance, and so on).
The hierarchy of behaviour-change procedures is a great tool to guide behaviour consultants or animal trainers in their intervention plan to modify the pet’s unwanted behaviors.
But we should also refer to it preventively to promote good behaviours and limit unwanted behaviours from our pets.
Living in harmony with a wolfdog, a pig, two parrots (and a few hens and a rooster) requires creativity, patience, consistance, respect and kindness but rather than see these qualities as a burden, we can adopt them to create a lifestyle : instead of focusing on the undesirable behaviours of our pets in a reactive way, let’s focus on what the environment can offer them in a proactive way.
This lifestyle also allows us to remember that just because we can change a behaviour does not necessarily mean that we have to. Kindness and respect must go through remembering that a dog is a dog, a parrot is a parrot, a pig is a pig, and so on.
Our way of loving our pets has evolved and this is excellent news for the majority of the interactions we have with them and therefore for their wellbeing. But it can also sometimes harm them. The very word “dog”, for example, has been associated with denigration, even an insult, and as a result, we no longer even allow ourselves to consider our canine companions as … dogs.
However, it is a reality. A dog is a dog; a human is a human. And the good news is that by admitting it, we can finally remember that dogs do not speak the same language as us, do not communicate in the same way as us and do not interact either in the same way with us nor with environmental stimuli. The same goes for all of our pets.
A dog likes to smell the pee and poo of other dogs, a parrot makes droppings everywhere very regularly and chews on wood, a pig digs and makes noise while eating, and so on.
We are different, but we are all subject to the same basic laws and principles of behaviour analysis, and this is our best tool for communicating adequately, together.
Bringing behaviour analysis at home should not be aimed at remedying unwanted behavior, but rather at learning new skills for living in harmony with your pet.
Lisa Longo, CPBT-KA Animal Académie
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WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? EFFECTIVENESS IS NOT ENOUGH
Why Animals Need Trainers Who Adhere to the Least Intrusive Principle: Improving Animal Welfare and Honing Trainers’ Skills
Hierarchy of Dogs Needs