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Abstracts - IFAAB 2011 Meeting           Back to Program Schedule


Friday Schedule and Abstracts 

9:30- 10:00am

Therapeutic insights into treating ex-breeder puppy mill dogs

Frank McMillan

Adopters of ex-breeder puppy mill dogs were contacted and asked to participate in an online questionnaire about the behavioral, psychological, and cognitive characteristics that have been anecdotally observed in this group of dogs. Of 1169 people contacted, 858 responded. Results provided an extensive look at the nature of this population of dogs, including the percentage of the dogs that play versus those that do not, how many eventually become fully housetrained versus how many do not, the number that make eye contact with their human caregivers, and the breakdown of dogs that show signs that the owners feel resemble human cognitive disorders, such as autism and dementia. In addition, the questionnaire included numerous questions about the methods each of these owners used to help rehabilitate their dog, specifically, what they did that was most effective, least effective, and what, if anything, caused a setback in their dog's progress. Respondents were also asked what advice they would give to others who adopted a puppy mill dog. The results offer a wealth of clinically useful information for behavioral therapists who treat these dogs.



Dog Interrupted.  The question of diagnostic labeling of pets with behavioral problems.
Barbara Pezzanite

At times dogs present with behavioral problems that do not fit textbook categorical criteria, perhaps due to a lack of vital background information from the owners, perhaps due to symptoms that overlap categories, or perhaps due to symptoms appearing to not fit into any category, the infamous idiopathic catchall grouping.  As behaviorists we feel obligated to our clients to give a specific diagnosis for the behavioral problem at hand, forcing a label onto the pet that may not be completely accurate.  History with assigning diagnostic labels to humans suffering from psychopathologies has been problematic and an issue of debate for many years due to its affect on the treatment of the human subject.  There is no question that diagnoses, or the assignment of labels, can and do aid in making treatment decisions when the symptoms fit the disorder, but what happens when they do not?  Might an inaccurate diagnostic label affect the treatment of the individual?  The past 10 years have been spent reconstructing the DSM-IV, to be released as the DSM-V in 2013, to replace its rigid categorical classifications towards a dimensional assessment system for mental disorders.  The severity of a mental disorder can then be assessed along a quantitative continuum, in turn resulting in a more accurate assessment of the effectiveness of the treatment.  In this presentation I will present two diagnostically difficult, if not impossible, cases where a misdiagnosis could have resulted in euthanasia.  I propose that as behaviorists, perhaps it is time to reevaluate our categorical diagnostic system and consider one that is more dimensional in nature to better accommodate a continuum of behavioral symptomatology, and to lessen the reliance on "labels." 



Dominance Panel Discussion

Pam Reid and John Wright

Dominance in dogs is a highly controversial topic, especially when it comes to understanding and managing dogs’ relationships with people. Many trainers and behaviorists believe we should deny the concept of dominance in dogs because it encourages people to treat dogs poorly. But is this warranted? Dominance is a pervasive construct in animal behaviour. It has certainly proved to be a valuable heuristic for describing relationships and predicting interactions in many group-living species. An alternative perspective is to analyze groups according to roles. Dyadic interactions take place within social roles, defined by “role appropriate behaviors.”  Although other role relationships exist dominant/subordinate roles are defined by some constellation of assertive behaviors (dominant role) and submissive behaviors (subordinate role). In this discussion, we’ll contrast dominance and role theories in terms of their descriptive, explanatory and predictive value.


Dog-People Packs

Reid and Silvani

Do dogs integrate humans into their notion of a social group? Are our relationships with dogs best described in terms of "pack dynamics"?  Traditionally this is how dog trainers viewed dog-human dyads - one individual is dominant, the other subordinate. The direction of various interactions were thought to reveal the true nature of the relationship; for instance, does the dog lead the owner during walks?, does the dog lift his leg to urine mark?, does the dog charge through doors ahead of the owner?, does the dog guard prized objects from the owner?, and so forth. We propose to analyze the relationship between a dog and his owner by examining the same measures that ethologists use to gauge dominance-subordinate relations between group-living animals of the same species. We will compare these data with more traditional measures of dominance.


Dominance Aggression in Dogs

Kristen Collins

According to popular and scientific literature, dominance aggression is a pervasive problem in dogs. However, it seems a slippery diagnosis. Drawing conclusions about dominance status and its application to the dog-owner relationship is no easy task. To further complicate matters, differing opinions about diagnostic criteria make confident recognition of the phenomenon labeled “dominance aggression” challenging. We will examine the validity of these criteria and then tackle a second point of contention: once you identify dominance aggression (if such a thing exists), what should you do about it? There is much dissent among trainers and behaviorists regarding appropriate treatment. Finally, we’ll discuss how an understanding of canine social dynamics might inform the development of sensible treatment recommendations...or not.



Dogs and Kids—It Doesn’t Always End Well

Crista Coppola and Karen London

As behaviorists we are not all the same. We differ in our education, background, experiences, personality and individual preferences for treating behavior problems. We not only rely on our education and what we have learned from our years in the field to help clients, but also our personal experiences. Parenting is one of the many experiences that can't be learned about from a book, and we have both found that parenting is NOT

What it looked like in the brochure. The degree to which everything about our lives changed once we had kids has added a deeper understanding of what it’s really like for our clients with kids.

 A common behavior problem is aggression towards children. We have both experienced this with our own dog and child and were affected not only as parents but as behaviorists. We want to share our perspective as parents during the group discussion of the treatment and management of these cases, especially how we have changed with regard to assessing and working with aggressive dogs and their families.



Pete Borchelt

Some response prevention tools:

 We all know, and use, the power of conditioning for behavior change - effectively for unprepared (arbitrary) and more so for prepared S-R sequences, and with less effect for contraprepared S-R sequences. Counterconditioning and extinction work better on unprepared than prepared S-R sequences. This trichotomy of ease of conditioning (Seligman) was originally proposed to refer to the comparison of species-typical S-R systems, but will just as easily relate to breed typical or individual differences in the range of dog S-R sequences we encounter with dog behavior problems. Dog behavior problems that condition and develop quickly and easily, that often appear at maturity, and particularly those that come to us with a long elicitation history and especially those that involve emotional concomitants and well conditioned kinesthetic, proprioceptive and muscle feedback, are particularly difficult to change (extinguish or countercondition). It helps considerably to prevent the actual response, within the eliciting stimulus context, to allow new, competing/incompatible responses to be learned. I have previously discussed the use of halters for this purpose (which I will do again and compare commercially available halters) and will discuss the use of chest restraint v. back restraint harnesses (and offer a small prize for the best terms to describe these harnesses!) and modified basket and cone muzzles as response prevention tools. I will show how to modify muzzles to best prevent bites and offer more comfort to the dog, and describe a newly developed chest restraint harness. I will add a few, perhaps critical, comments about design and testing of animal products. 



Creating a Pet Product

Mark Hines

What does it take to create and market pet product? It’s a lot more work than most people imagine. I will be discussing the challenges of pet product development and “myth busting” some of the common assumptions. From conception to market there are multiple steps in between that must be taken to ensure a safe and saleable pet product.


Saturday schedule and abstracts 


Nancy Williams

Cats out of the Bag: New ideas for kitty problems

Cat owners often consult with a behaviorist on problems between their cats, their cat and their dog, and aggression toward people. The most commonly reported issues are aggression between the family cats, chasing of the cats by the family dog, and owner-directed aggression. A number of protocols have been designed involving desensitization and counter-conditioning to reduce these problem behaviors. However, in many cases the protocols are too difficult or too time-consuming for the owner to implement.  Case histories and videos will be used to demonstrate how a number of novel ideas were used in order to successfully deal with these problems.



Melissa Shyan

Case Report: Eliminating Food-Stealing Behavior in Cats

I report on a consultation about two cats, Violetta and Vito (brother/sister, neutered/spayed, 3.5 years). Both were adopted at two months from a rescue shelter after being found living along a lake “starving.” They live with their two adult owners and a third, older cat (male, neutered, 12 years old). Problem: they were “obsessed with food: would eat anything, bread, beans, tomatoes, butternut squash soup, dried pasta, etc.” They jumped onto kitchen counters, into the sink, onto kitchen table during human-meal times to steal food, right in front of owners. They opened pantry doors and ripped open food bags. Owners tried yelling, squirting with water, using a Scram gun (high frequency noise - worked sometimes). Owners’ veterinarian said the cats were “at a good weight,” so owners were feeding them the “right amount of food" and should not increase it. Cats were eating so quickly, they would throw up whole kibble. Presentation will discuss the combination strategy used: changing diet, free feeding, gradual reduction of availability: the success and failure of these. Discussion will include selection of diet based on nutritional differences in brands for managing some behavior problems. IFAAB participants are requested and encouraged to bring their own examples of nutrition/herbal supplement management for behavior modification.



Richard Polsky, PhD.

What kind of information is needed to substantiate dog bite injury?


Applied animal  behaviorists  are occasionally retained to render opinion in legal proceedings involving dog behavior, particularly aggressive behavior which results in injury to a person. In some cases it is uncertain whether a dog was responsible for inflicting injury or if the injury to the victim was caused by some other means.   The applied animal behaviorist is in a unique position to provide feedback in terms whether or not injury was actually caused  because of   a bite from  the  suspect dog.   This presentation will address the kinds of discovery the applied animal behaviorist is qualified to rely on, and therefore proffer as opinion, such as the physical characteristics of dog bite wounds (photographs will be  shown),  temperamental analysis of the suspected  dog in question, and  whether a dog was physically  able to inflict bite injury given the circumstances  present at the time of the incident.



Teresa DePorter

Harmonease®Chewable Tablets reduces noise induced fear and anxiety in a laboratory canine thunderstorm simulation: a blinded and placebo controlled study

Introduction: Thunderstorm simulation in the laboratory setting induces fearful and anxious behavior in Beagles, most notably manifested by increased inactivity (“freezing”), which, in a previous study, was ameliorated by the anxiolytic diazepam.  Using this protocol, this study assessed the efficacy of Harmonease® a chewable oral anxiolytic botanical product containing a proprietary blend of extracts of Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense.  

 Methodology: A balanced, placebo controlled, blinded single crossover design was used utilizing 20 healthy adult Beagles. Following a baseline thunderstorm test, subjects received Harmonease® chewable tablets or placebo treatment daily and were re-assessed on the 7th treatment day. Following a 7 day washout, the treatments were crossed over and an identical design as the first phase was employed. The thunderstorm test was performed in an open field arena and consisted of three 3 minute phases: an anticipatory phase in which no stimulus was provided; the thunderstorm phase in which a thunderstorm track was played over a loud speaker; and a recovery phase in which no stimulus was presented. Inactivity duration was considered the primary variable for assessing efficacy, was measured by a trained observer, and was defined as an animal sitting, lying down, or standing still, and not exhibiting any overt movement. 

Results:  Harmonease® significantly reduced inactivity duration during the thunderstorm phase. Specifically, 12/20 (60%) dogs improved from baseline under Harmonease® while only 5/20 (25%) improved on placebo. Furthermore, 9/20 (45%) placebo dogs showed increased inactivity duration (worsened), while only 4/20 (20%) treatment dogs worsened. Difference in number of dogs improved versus worsened by treatment group was significant at p<0.05. 

Conclusions: Harmonease® reduced fear-related inactivity or freezing in dogs in this thunderstorm simulation model. This supports previous studies demonstrating that the combination of botanical extracts in Harmonease® is effective for the management of stress related behaviours






Collaboration between Behaviorists and Trainers – Case Based

John Ciribassi and Laura Monaco-Torelli

The presentation will focus on a few cases in which myself and a trainer that I collaborate with, Laura Monaco-Torelli, worked together on to help the client and patient achieve better success in the management of the behavior problem in question. Each case will presented as to signalment, history, differential diagnosis, final diagnosis, treatment plan (both the behavior modification plan and training protocol), progress updates and outcome to date. In addition, I will present a brief description of a marketing partnership that Laura and I have developed to increase accuracy of referrals by veterinarians and the public such that training issues are directed to competent trainers and behavior issues are directed to qualified individuals.



Evaluation of Differential Positive Reinforcement Techniques as Adjunct Treatments in Decreasing Reactivity in Dogs 
Jennifer Sobie

Lunging and alerting behavior in dogs can be effectively controlled with a Gentle®Leader collar, but some dogs remain emotionally reactive to other dogs or people. This study evaluated four techniques for reducing this emotional behavior; differential reinforcement of incompatible food pairing (SS-US); differential behavior (DRI); sight-stimulus reinforcement of other behavior (DRO); non-contingent reinforcement (NCR); and no adjunct reinforcement. Subjects included dogs referred for problem lunging behavior by area (West Michigan) obedience instructors as well as dogs from area animal shelters exhibiting lunging problems while being exercised by staff. Efficacy in lunge reduction and participant compliance in execution of the different techniques were evaluated, and factor analysis was done to help identify which different methods might be most beneficial and when. 




Ellen Mahurin 

I would like to mediate a discussion on the use of Nothing in Life is Free in dog training.  There is much variation in the use of NILIF among dog trainers and behaviorists.  Some require all clients to interact with their dogs by NILIF rules.  Others use NILIF to address particular behavior problems and still others don’t use NILIF at all.  The particular rules that are included in a NILIF program also vary by trainer.  What are the best practices for NILIF in dog training?  When should NILIF be recommended to clients?  How does NILIF change dog behavior and dog-human relationships?  Can NILIF be misused?  How do you use NILIF?



The Effects of Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan on Situational & Generalized Anxiety in Dogs and Cats

Kathryn M. Wrubel  & Beth Innis

Herbal remedies hold a lot of promise in treating behavioral issues in pets, yet more research is warranted to show their effectiveness.  Several case reports will be presented in which dogs and cats with anxiety conditions were administered Shen Calmer™, traditionally known as Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan.  This formula has been used to treat human conditions such as insomnia, neurasthenia, hypertension and hyperthyroidism.  It has been shown to help with restlessness, insomnia and various anxiety conditions.  Veterinary indications have more recently included situational and generalized anxiety.  The constituents of Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan have effects such as sedation, analgesia, and a decrease in blood pressure and blood glucose.  Case outcomes will be discussed along with the potential benefits and uses for Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan for anxiety issues in dogs and cats in conjunction with behavior modification protocols.  




Ellen Lindell

For a while, it seemed that everyone wanted a magic pill. Now, one pill is not enough. There are all manner of cocktails floating about. Are they safe? Are they effective? How to choose? To further complicate matters, homeopathic remedies abound.

This presentation will discuss a systematic approach for answering the question: “one drug or two?” Medical concerns will be briefly addressed. Also considered will be an appropriate way to present these considerations to the referring veterinarian.



Wayne Hunthausen



Sunday schedule and abstracts


Behavior-Genetic Analysis in the 21st Century:  SNPs, GWAs and making the

Connections between phenotypes and genotypes.

Alice Moon-Fanelli and Stephen Zawistowski

In a long forgotten, mythic past, genetic analyses usually required that you define a phenotype, breed animals and then follow the expression of the phenotype in successive generations to elucidate the underlying genetic architecture.  These steps required substantial time and resources, even when using a model species such as rats or Drosophila.  Phenotypic fidelity was provided by careful definition and measurement.  Tryon’s selection for maze performance in rats was based on reliable measures on individual differences in speed and error count.  Hirsch’s classic work on geotaxis in D. melanogaster depended on unambiguous up/down choice point performance. Canine work was vastly more difficult, and no individual or group has come close to replicating the classic studies published by Scott and Fuller. Moon and Ginsburg were able to dissect the components and inheritance patterns of threat behaviors in coyotes and beagles using classic genetic breeding designs, after careful description of the phenotypes.

The current availability of molecular analyses that do not require expansive breeding designs offers the promise of large data sets amenable to sophisticated statistical models.  We express concern however, that in the rush to anoint the dog as the new model species, that scant attention is being paid to fundamental questions of phenotype definition and measurement.

We will provide a short review of past canine behavior-genetic research, current methods of genomic analysis, examples of poor phenotype definition and an example that provides a rigorous method of measurement and the current results of ongoing genetic analysis.



Examining the relationship between owner attachment and reported dog behavior
Judy Thorn

An individual’s attachment style is a strong predictor of how one manages relationships with other people and, apparently, with one’s pets as well.  We have discovered a connection between dog owners’ attachment styles and their reports of their dogs’ behavior – and we wonder how this works.  Are owners with particular attachment styles selecting dogs with compatible behavior patterns, or are owners with particular attachment styles somehow molding the behavior of their dogs to meet their expectations?  It may even be a simple matter of perception, with dog owners selectively seeing and remembering the things that they are looking for.  The entire issue becomes even more muddled in that we found that the effects of attachment style occur only for owners of pure breed dogs, although it is not yet clear if it is the breed of the dog or the amount that was paid for it that is the critical variable.  However, it is clear that the interaction between the personality of the dog owner and the circumstances surrounding the dog’s purchase plays an intriguing role in how the behavior of the dog is evaluated.



Do you think I ate it? Owner perceptions and behavioral assessment of the “guilty look” in dogs

Julie Hecht

A questionnaire and experiment investigated an owner-reported anecdote: upon an owner returning home, a dog sometimes greets the owner and sometimes displays “guilty” behavior, thereby alerting the owner to a dog’s misdeed. The questionnaire examined owners’ perceptions of dog “guilt”. The experiment explored (1) whether dogs that were disobedient in owners’ absence show behaviors associated with “guilt” (ABs) upon owners’ return to a room and (2) whether owners can determine dog disobedience based on dog greeting behavior.

 Owners reported (N=64): dogs display ABs in certain situations (87.5%); dogs display ABs before owners have discovered a dog’s transgression (50%); ABs imply dogs know that they have committed a misdeed (91%) and dog presentation of ABs leads owners to scold dogs less (59%).

 The experiment took place at the Family Dog Project in Budapest, Hungary and included pet dogs (N=58). The experiment established the social rule that food placed on a table was for humans and not dogs. Dogs had the opportunity to eat the food after the humans left the room. The owner returned to the room, where a barrier blocked the owner’s view of the table and plate. The owner observed the dog’s greeting behavior and reported whether they thought the dog ate the food.

 No significant difference in greeting behavior was found between dogs that ate in the owner’s absence and dogs that did not eat in the owner’s absence. Additionally, based on dog behavior, owners seemed unable to determine whether or not their dog ate in their absence.   

Although ABs could not be observed in this context, owners do ascribe "guilt" to dogs. The design of the present experiment and the adaptive function of "guilty" displays will be discussed.



Dog Parks: What do we know about what dogs do?

Carolyn Walsh

Dog parks have become increasingly popular in North America, but there has been little empirical research on the social behaviour of dogs in such a setting. With our graduate students, my colleague Rita Anderson and I have collected videotape of dogs freely interacting in a local dog park, over the course of three summers (2007, 2009, and 2010).  To date, this database involves more than 300 dogs, with detailed behavioural analyses on approximately 100 focal dogs. I will present data on what dogs (and, to a lesser extent, humans) do in this dog park and, perhaps, more importantly, what they don’t do! Although some owners and trainers don’t like or recommend dog parks due to potential aggressive interactions, our data suggests that, for our dog study population, aggressive behaviour is extremely rare (~1% of all coded dyadic and group interactions). I will discuss whether our results can be generalized to other dog park populations, and try to stimulate a discussion of the following questions: Is social interaction with conspecifics a welfare issue for dogs? How do we define dog-dog aggression (and what is “play aggression”)? Do the potential benefits of social interaction in a dog park setting outweigh potential risks?



Questions About the Welfare of Un-owned Street Dogs and Cats

Daniel Q. Estep and Suzanne Hetts

Euthanasia as a means of pet population control for dogs and cats has long been a controversial norm in the U.S.  What has been unacceptable in this country for at least the past 50 years is a large population of un-owned “street dogs”, although such populations do exist in many other countries. 

In September of 2010, we were invited to speak in Turkey at a conference of primarily veterinarians working with shelters in that country.  The animal welfare community in Turkey is struggling with the issue of “street” dogs and cats.  The condition of these animals is problematic, but conditions in “shelters” are often worse, and there is not widespread support for euthanasia of un-owned animals as one means of addressing the problem.

 Using videos and pictures, in this presentation we will share our discussions with the Turkish veterinarians, and our experiences with “street” animals we encountered. This will provide a basis for discussion by the group about how ethological knowledge can be brought to bear on questions of quality of life for dogs and cats.  Such questions include:

  • deciding whether to maintain these animals in shelters or adopt a policy of spay/neuter and release, similar to what is being done with some feral cat colonies in the U.S.,

  • how could the “street habitats” be improved  

  • euthanasia as a means of population control, and

  • whether or not North American approaches can be applicable to other countries.