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How to Conduct a Behaviour Management Consultation

(Refer to the Smart Assessment Forms on Pethealth when reading the headings below)

Stated GoalsSmart forms

Be sure to determine the primary, secondary and tertiary concerns (or goals of therapy) for your clients before you start your consultation. This will keep you on target and will also help your clients to focus on the main issues they have with their pets.

Questions to ask

'What is the main thing that worries you about your pet's behaviour - the behaviour that is on the top of your list of concerns?'

It's often useful to ask your clients to give a 'worry score' of 1 - 10 for their level of concern. In that way, you can ensure you are working on the problem that worries them the most.

Restate those scores when you have them to be sure you are all 'on the same page'.

'If my magic wand had charged batteries at present and I was able to zap those problems away - are there then any other problems that need addressing?'

Lifestyle of the owners:

This is very important. Your therapies have to be practical and based on what your clients can achieve.

A single mother with three young children and a child-aggressive dog will have much greater difficulty achieving success with her dog than a couple with no children who have a dog with the same problem.

If an owner is home a great deal of time, they have more ability to guide a pet's behaviour than one who works a 60 hour x 6 day week.

If the owners are away for long hours, pets with 'home alone' problems such as separation anxiety, noise fears or escape-related behaviours will need special forms of therapy.

Lifestyle of the pets:

The lifestyle of the pet is equally important as that of its owner.

Pets can be live totally outside, totally inside or anywhere in between.

Inside pets that are aggressive to the family present a greater risk than outside pets with the same problem.

Inside pets with a separation anxiety present different therapeutic options and challenges to those that live outside.

House-soiling is more complex if a pet has no access to the outside or if it has to signal to the owners that it needs to go outside to soil.

Asking where a pet sleeps gives a good indication of the attachment of the pet to the owner. Approximately 90% of my clients have their pets sleeping inside the bedroom or on the bed. That's not as much of a problem as many state.

At what age did you get your pet?

Early experiences are important. Pets obtained younger than 6 weeks of age and older than 3 months of age can be more difficult than pets obtained at the typical age of 8 - 10 weeks of age.

If the pet was not obtained at 8 weeks of age or nearby - ask where did the pet come from and why was the previous owner/breeder parting with it at this time.

How long ago did the problems start?

This is the first of the mathematical questions. Behaviour is about rehearsal and rehearsal means mathematical reinforcement of a problem.  A pet will either rehearse an unwanted or a wanted behaviour on 'life's stage'.

The goal of therapy is to get the owner to get the pet to rehearse the wanted behaviours over and over again - and to reward these wanted behaviours to strengthen them.

Are the problems getting worse?

Behaviours will either improve, become worse or are stagnant.

If a behaviour is worsening, quick action is often needed to prevent the rehearsal of this unwanted pattern

What is the frequency of the problem/s?

Some behaviours are high frequency - they occur many times per day. Others are low frequency - they only occur a few times.

Some forms of aggression are low frequency but severe and dangerous when they occur.

At this stage of the assessment, it is often useful to calculate the number of times a pet has rehearsed a behaviour.

For instance, one of my clients had an 8 year old barking German Shepherd. Analysis revealed:-

Behaviour started:-         when 1 year old (7 years ago)

Frequency:                    About 20 times per day

No of Rehearsals           20 x 7 x 365 = 51,100. Change will not occur quickly in such cases!!

When this calculation is performed in front of a client, somewhat theatrically, they suddenly realise what they are dealing with.

Description of the Problem

This is where the salient details of the case are noted.

The details collected will vary from case to case but commonly asked lists of questions can be added to word's auto-text function so that lists of standard questions can be brought into a document with a few keystrokes.

Often, specifically for aggression, it is useful to list 'incident reports' where you ask the owners to describe in great detail an 'incident' that has occurred with the pet's aggression.

In my Treatment Summaries, incident reports are usually noted by '#' at the beginning of the paragraph.

Scoring an owner's responses on a 1 to 5 or 1 to 10 scale is very useful as this allows not only the severity of a component of a case to be judged against other components of the same case, but also allow you to judge how the owners are progressing as they work with the therapies you advise.

The 'Joy List'

To change a pet's behaviour there has to be a motivation for that pet to change. Motivators are mostly found in those things that make the pet joyful.

Food is a huge motivator for many but toys and affection or praise are also important motivators.

Ask you client what makes their pets joyful and score the joys numerically.

IQ Testing

IQ testing is possible with dogs and is really useful. The owners love to see how well their dogs can behave when challenges are given to their pets. Many are pleasantly surprised to find out how intelligent their pets are.

I use the LEAVE routine for this and the description of this appears elsewhere.

Also in IQ testing, I note the behaviour of the pet at the beginning of the consultation and at the end.

The behaviour of some pets improves over the consultation, others stay the same while some get worse, especially with aggression.

For more advice please contact our office.