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Animal Behavior


Theory and Practice

A publication of
The International Association
of Animal Behavior Consultants

Vol. 2, No. 2
Fall 2006

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006
Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice
Vol. 2, No. 2 Fall 2006

Lynn Hoover, LSW, CDBC

Editor Associate Editor

Mychelle Blake, MSW, CDBC Beth Adelman, MS, CABC

Journal Review Board

Susan Bulanda, MAT, CDBC Myrna Milani, DVM, CABC

Mary Burch, PhD, CABC Joanne Oliva-Purdy, PhD, CABC

Linda Case, MS, CABC Merope Pavlides, PhD, MEd

Steve Dale, CABC Valerie Pollard, CDBC

Ian Dunbar, PhD, DVM, CABC Veronica Sanchez, MEd, CABC

Lynn Hoover, MSW, CDBC Dani Weinberg, CDBC

Pam Johnson-Bennett, CABC Liz Wilson, CVT, CPBC

Sue Kapla, PhD, CABC

The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants

The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Inc. is a professional association for the field of animal
behavior consulting. The association represents the professional interests of behavior consultants throughout the
world. It is involved with the problems, needs, and changing patterns of animal-owner relationships, and helps to
ensure that the public’s needs are met by trained practitioners. The association provides the tools and resources
animal behavior professionals need to succeed. It works tirelessly to nourish the animal-human bond.

The association’s members meet rigorous standards for education and training and are held to the highest ethical
standards of the profession. Clinical members qualify as Certified Animal Behavior Consultants (CABC). They
work with multiple species, including dogs, cats, horses, birds, and other animals. They have met the highest
standards of the profession for education and clinical experience. Associate members are consultants in clinical
practice, on the path to Clinical membership. The IAABC facilitates research, theory development, and education.
It develops standards for education and training, professional ethics, and the clinical practice of animal behavior
consulting. Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice is the professional journal of the IAABC and is
published semi-annually. All published work contained within is copyright 2006 The International Association of
Animal Behavior Consultants, unless otherwise indicated.

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006
Submission Guidelines

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice is published in accordance with the purposes of the sponsoring
organization, the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Inc. (IAABC). The IAABC’s mission
is to advance the professional understanding of animal behavior, the most effective management of animal
behavior, and humane, scientifically-based plans to modify the behaviors of distressed animals, and to promote
the animal-human bond.

The IAABC Journal accepts articles on the following topics:

• Case studies
• Research reviews and studies
• Animal behavior consulting practice
• Book and DVD/video reviews
• Essays
Articles are selected on the basis of appropriateness, clarity, significance, timeliness, and contribution to the field of
animal behavior consulting. Authors need not be members of the IAABC to submit manuscripts. No remuneration
is paid for accepted manuscripts.

Business matters are handled by IAABC’s business office. Inquiries should be addressed to IAABC, 505 Timber
Lane, Jefferson Hills, PA 15025. Phone: (412) 384-2677, or e-mail

Copyright on all materials published in Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice is held by the authors.
Permission to reproduce such copyrighted materials must be obtained through IAABC and the authors. Requests
can be made by emailing No portion of an article may be reproduced without permission in
writing. Reprint orders for individual articles are handled by the IAABC business office. If the manuscript contains
more than 100 words of material previously published elsewhere, the authors must obtain written permission
from the copyright holder to include this material in publication of their manuscript in Animal Behavior Consulting:
Theory and Practice. Any costs associated with obtaining this permission are the responsibility of the author or

Manuscripts should be submitted to by electronic submission. Microsoft Word or RTF

files are the preferred format.

Manuscripts are accepted for consideration with the understanding that they have not been published previously
and are not being considered simultaneously for publication elsewhere. The right to reject any manuscript or return
it to the author for format, style, or other revisions before accepting it for publication is reserved by the editor-
in-chief. Submission of a manuscript by the author(s) assumes acceptance of editing by the Animal Behavior
Consulting: Theory and Practice editorial staff.

Please submit with your article

• highest earned degree(s).

• professional certifications (e.g. CPDT, CDBC).
• current professional or departmental affiliation if applicable, and location.
• any changes in affiliation subsequent to the time of the study if this is a research submission.
• previous presentations of the paper, grants, or thanks and acknowledgments.
• contact information including e-mail.

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006
Submission Guidelines


The guide for citation style is the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.).
This guide can be obtained from the Order Department, American Psychological Association, PO Box 92984,
Washington, DC 20090. The guide can also be ordered on the American Psychological Association’s Web site, A more detailed description of citation style and formatting can be obtained
from the editors.

PLEASE NOTE: Articles with incorrectly formatted references will be returned to the author for corrections.

A note regarding terminology: There is controversy, frequently quite heated, over whether a person who keeps
a companion or service animal should be called that animal’s “owner” or its “guardian.” Because usage here
often reflects a writer’s strongly held ethical beliefs and political opinions, to impose another term may effectively
misrepresent his or her point of view. The editors of Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice have
concluded that it is best to let each writer make the choice of terminology. Therefore, the use of terminology
regarding animal ownership or guardianship is a reflection of the author or authors’ own beliefs and not necessarily
a reflection of the beliefs of the editors or the IAABC. We ask our readers and members to bear in mind that
whatever our differences in this respect, we are united in our goal of working with animals and people in the most
scientific and compassionate way possible.

If you wish to submit photos with your article, they must be in 200 dpi or higher resolution.

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006
Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice
Vol. 1, No. 2 Fall 2006

Table of Contents
President’s Message.................................................................................................. 6

Association and Member News................................................................................... 8

IAABC Commitees and Divisions................................................................................. 10

Blind Trust: The Joy of Owning a Blind Horse................................................................ 11

Debbie Strother, MS, BCBA, CABC

Case Study: Feline Aggression with a Twist.................................................................. 17

Marilyn Krieger, CCBC

Canine Aggression: Aggression as a Component of Canine Life Strategy.......................... 22

Stephen N. Robinson, CDBC

Canine Aggression: Human-Directed Canine Aggression - An Empirical View..................... 25

Stephen N. Robinson, CDBC

Treating Irrational Fears with Desensitization................................................................ 31

Jennifer LeBaron Michels, CABC

Excessive Vocalizations in Companion Parrots............................................................... 37

Liz Wilson, CVT, CPBC

Book Review: Raising Puppies and Kids Together—A Guide for Parents............................. 41
Patricia Bentz, CPDT, CDBC

Letters to the Editor may be sent to

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006
Message From the President
by Lynn D. Hoover, LSW, CDBC

Making a Difference
Three years ago we set out with a vision for social change and to establish the profession of
animal behavior consulting, based on core values and a belief system that would enable us to
ensure that we would make a difference. Consistent with these goals, the mission statement that
evolved is as follows:
The IAABC Mission is to assist and educate owners and handlers of companion
animals to prevent problems and to interrupt the cycle of inappropriate punishment,
rejection, and euthanasia of animals with behavior problems that are resolvable.
We have been consistent about our values from the beginning. In fact, we might assume that
members got tired of hearing the message. But in fact, some are only just beginning to hear the
message and we must repeat it. It is a song that is embraced fully by our Board of Directors. We
are determined to make decisions on behalf of the organization that are guided by the following
principles and values:
• We promote professionalism among members. We believe that we will succeed in our
mission to the degree that we are professional.
• We expect that our members will act with integrity, as evidenced by honest and ethical
• Positive regard is a vital characteristic of professionalism. We aspire to respect our clients,
our colleagues, and ourselves. It is easy to respect others who are most like us, but we must
extend ourselves to show deferential regard even for those with whom we have differences.
• Another hallmark of professionalism is confidentiality. That is, we must respect the
confidentiality of communications from clients and colleagues. Attendant to confidentiality and
positive regard is that we must respect others’ right to privacy. This means, for example, that
only an intended recipient should be given access to colleagues’ messages. If we pass messages
or parts of messages along in a way that distorts their intended meaning and portrays others in
a false light, we can be rightly sanctioned for invasion of privacy and mistrusted for abandoning
IAABC’s values.
• Consistent with the above, IAABC embodies a culture of diversity, openness, and
inclusion. We want the IAABC to be a welcoming place—one that encourages open debate and
new voices contributing to the field.
• Fidelity—we must be faithful to our duties and obligations. If we agree to do something,
we must make every effort to follow through. If we must withdraw, we transfer responsibilities
respectfully; we have others in mind and are concerned for their needs as well as our own.
• Another key value is self-determination. That is, we recognize that clients and colleagues
have the right to add things up in their own way and draw their own conclusions. We do not
threaten them with loss of our positive regard when they decide to go their own way.
• Animal behavior consultants embrace a nonjudgmental approach. This does not mean
that we suspend judgment. Rather, we need to think well of people and avoid harsh or unfair
• IAABC is dedicated to promoting innovation and advancing knowledge in the profession.
As such, we create and sustain a creative, open milieu. In addition, IAABC offers many
Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice
Fall 2006
Message From the President 
educational opportunities as member benefits. These include such innovative programs as the
tutorials, guided studies, panel discussions, CEUs for selected reading, and other options. If we
had taken a traditional path, we would not begin to be able to meet the need around us.
On behalf of the Board of Directors, I will take this opportunity to thank our members who
have contributed so generously to the growth and development of the IAABC. We are building on
a solid foundation and we cannot be stopped because of all we have accomplished together. This
is an amazingly talented group!
The IAABC is committed to excellence in service to its members and, with your help, will
continually work to create useful and essential benefits and educational opportunities that
enhance the capabilities of each animal behavior consultant. We have a large committee working
now to bring you the next conference.
We invite you to join us in celebrating the third anniversary of the IAABC at our conference in
Cleveland, Ohio, April 20 to 22, 2007. We hope to see you there.

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006

Association and Member News

Committee Reports
The Human Animal Mutualism Division Committee is working hard on finalizing the
application process for Service Animal Consulting and Therapy Animal Consulting. We hope to
have this in place by early next year. We also have a new member, Christy Hill, who is helping us
develop these documents.
 IAABC Vice President Debbie Winkler, CABC, CPDT, reports that a marketing committee
has been formed to help market IAABC as a member benefit. 
Member News
Beth Adelman, CCBC, gave a lecture on Feline Play and Environmental Enrichment at the
annual conference of Pet Sitters International. Brochures about the IAABC and how to refer a
pet sitting client to a behavior consultant were given to all conference attendees. Beth also has a
regular Sunday column about cats in the New York Post.
Darlene Arden, CABC, is doing book signings and radio and newspaper coverage for her
newest book, Small Dogs, Big Hearts. She just completed her teaching assignments at Kutztown
University for dog trainers, a course created by IAABC member Susan Bulanda. She has also
agreed to be a spokesperson for Second Nature, the litter box training system for dogs. 
Jim Barry, CPDT, CDBC and Susan Smith, CPDT, CDBC, together with Mary Emmen, have
just published the first book in the United States on force-free training for sporting breeds. The
book, Positive Gun Dogs: Clicker Training for Sporting Breeds, is currently available in electronic
format from
Patricia Bentz, CPDT, CDBC, appeared on Fox 29’s “Good Day Philadelphia” with George
Mallet on June 15th.  The purpose of the segment was to work with one of their staff members
and her rambunctious Jack Russell Terrier to show how behavior counseling can help both
the dog and the owner.  Viewers in need of help in dealing with their dogs’ behavior were
encouraged to seek the advice of a qualified professional behavior counselor by going to the
IAABC Web site.
Mychelle Blake, MSW, CDBC, is the Editor for The Dog Trainer's Resource: The APDT
Chronicle of the Dog Collection. This volume features past articles from the Association of Pet
Dog Trainers' newsletter and is available from
Sue Bulanda, MA, CDBC, has a new program at Kutztown University that awards CEUs
through the IAABC. The program is called Canine Training and Management. Information on the
program can be downloaded from
Kathie Compton, CDBC, CPDT, released her first book, Dogs...Made Easy! The Jeff Davis
County Humane Society in Fort Davis, Texas, includes the book as part of its adopter package.
The book is available from, major book stores, and Kathie’s Web site, www.
Barbara Davis, CPDT, CDBC, was elected president of the Golden Retriever Club of Greater
Los Angeles Rescue (GRCGLA) in July 2006. GRCGLA is a 501(c)3 charitable organization whose
mission is to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome Golden Retrievers in southern California. With
120 volunteers operating in six counties surrounding the Los Angeles basin, GRCGLA Rescue
is the largest breed rescue organization in the region, rescuing more than 500 retrievers each
Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice
Fall 2006
Association and Member News 

year. 2006 marks her fourth year on the Board of Directors. One of her main goals is to stress
the training and behavior component of GRCGLA’s rehab program by educating volunteers and
adopters, as well as by working with qualified behavior consultants throughout the region, to
make better matches between dogs and the adopting families.
Michelle L. Douglas, CPDT, CDBC, published two articles on “Training the Chinese Shar
Pei” and “Separation Anxiety” for Dr. Jeff Vidt’s Web site (the “official” veterinarian for the
Chinese Shar Pei Club of America). IAABC is referenced in both articles. They can be accessed
at She has also started a new YahooGroups discussion list for owners
and families who have dogs who have turned out to be a bit more than they bargained for. It is
a support group for these families and for the trainers and behavior consultants who work with
them, as well as rescue volunteers and shelter staff. The group can be found at http://groups.
Lynn Hoover, MSW, CDBC, published a book in July, The Family in Dog Behavior
 Nannette Morgan, CDBC, launched a community service project offering free post-
adoption orientations for new dog owners. The orientations go over “deal-breaker” issues that
can often land the dog back in the shelter or returned to a rescue group.
Amy Shojai’s, CABC, new book, P’ETiQuette: Solving Behavior Problems in Your Multipet
Household (M. Evans Co), was favorably reviewed in The APDT Chronicle of the Dog, which
states in part,  “...packed with excellent management and training information that hails from a
pet-friendly, modern perspective.... Offers force-free training and management tips and makes
appropriate use of both operant and classical approaches.... Overwhelmingly positive and well-
presented information....” She was also interviewed by Family Circle Magazine about the book
for a feature to be published in October 2006. As the behavior expert for the article, she was
asked for suggestions on choosing appropriate pets and helping multiple pet households build
loving relationships. Amy mentioned her affiliation with IAABC and gave readers the Web site for
finding behavior help.
Amy has also been named the dog and cat behavior columnist for the re-launch of
the HomeAgain (Schering-Plough) Web site. The weekly column, titled “Competability,” alternates
dog topics one week with cat topics the next in a question and answer format that illustrates
and explains some of the most common feline foibles and canine quirks. The Web site is set to
debut in September 2006, with the weekly behavior column launching in October. This marks
her fourth ongoing column (all of which cite IAABC quite regularly). Her other columns are the
bimonthly, and the weekly and Petiquette newspaper column.
Barbara Shumannfang, CPDT, CDBC, has a new book, Happy Kids, Happy Dogs: Building
a Friendship Right from the Start. Part of the royalties are donated to Project Pooch (www.pooch.
org), a program that matches shelter dogs with incarcerated youth for their mutual benefit.
Steve Dale says the book, “…is a desperately needed book, and the title says it all!... This book
is more than about preventing dog’s all about making those special child/canine bonds
happen and then flourish.”
Cheryl S. Smith, CDBC has completed three sections of the Nestle Purina’s online
nutrition course and is waiting for them to have the final unit ready. She is also now an official
evaluator and scout leader with Dog Scouts of America, and will lead Legacy Canine’s Dog
Scouts mini-camp in July 2007. She is currently at work on a book detailing how to take a dog to
a dog park (or decide to stay away) for Dogwise Publications. The book will be available in early
Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice
Fall 2006

Ad Hoc Public Education Committee

Jo Jacques, Valerie Pollard, Liz Wilson

Book Study Group

Susan Pfadt, Chair; Skye Anderson, Wendy Herkert, John Metcalfe, Kathi O'Malley

Consultant for Feline Behavior Consulting Education

Pam Johnson-Bennett

Editorial & Journal Review Board

Mychelle Blake, Editor; Beth Adelman, Associate Editor; Susan Bulanda, Mary Burch, Linda Case, Steve Dale,
Ian Dunbar, Lynn Hoover, Pam Johnson-Bennett, Sue Kapla, Myrna Milani,
Joanne Oliva-Purdy, Merope Pavlides, Valerie Pollard, Veronica Sanchez, Dani Weinberg, Liz Wilson

Education Collaborative
Rachel Friedman, Chris Hamer

Media Committee
Steve Dale, Chair; Darlene Arden, Michael Burkey, Parvene Farhoody, Pam Johnson-Bennett, Mira Jones,
Veronica Sanchez, Amy Shojai

Members Assisting with Standards, Criteria, and Consultant Education

Jim Barry, Patricia Bentz, Mychelle Blake, Jane Bowers, Mary Burch, Kathie Compton, Michelle Douglas, Anne Ferry,
Elise Gouge, Lore Haug, Pam Johnson-Bennett, Mira Jones, Bonnie Kenk, Marilyn Krieger, Pam Kundro, Lorraine
Martinez, Lisa Mullinax, Susan Pfadt, Valerie Pollard, Kelly Ryan, Pia Silvani, Dani Weinberg, Liz Wilson,
Debbie Winkler, Caryl Wolff

Publications Consultant
Beth Adelman

Scientific Studies Committee

Linda Case, Barbara Davis, Jo Jacques, Sandy Myers, Valerie Pollard, Daphne Robert-Hamilton, Norine Twaddell,
Thomas Van Winkle, Debbie Winkler

Shelter Task Force

Jenn Barg, Mary Burch, Vinny Catalano, Dee Ganley, Sarah Kalnajs, Jill Nugent, Pia Silvani, Sue Sternberg,
Kelsey Williams


Cat Behavior Consulting Division

Pam Johnson-Bennett, Chair & Founder; Steve Dale, Marilyn Krieger, Jennifer LeBaron Michels

Horse Behavior Consulting Division

Debbie Strother, Chair; Melinda Berger, Co-Chair; Connie Dwyer

Human-Animal Mutualism Division

Veronica Sanchez, Chair & Founder; Darlene Arden, Tara McLaughlin, Jane Miller, Robin Pool, Janet Velenovsky,
Mara Windstar, Debbie Winkler

Parrot Behavior Consulting Division

Liz Wilson, Chair & Founder; Mattie Sue Athan, Kim Bear, Jody Bright, Pamela Clark, Christine Davis, Marguerite Floyd,
Phoebe Green-Linden, Cathy Isbell, Bonnie Kenk, Joanne Oliva-Purdy, Bianca Zaffarano

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006

Blind Trust: The Joy of Owning a Blind Horse

Debbie Strother, MS, BCBA, CABC

This article combines a case study with a very personal description of the behavioral
rehabilitation of a blind horse. Case studies are most often written in a scientific, third-person
style. Because this intervention was done with my own horse and has implications for how
ethical and practical decisions regarding treatment are made, I have elected to use a non-
traditional first-person style in this article.

The purpose of documenting this case study is to describe the difficult ethical decisions and
methods used to assess a blind horse and determine that he can have good quality of life despite
the handicap.
The subject in this case study is an 11-year-old Thoroughbred named FlipACoin, or Flip.
Flip is a rescued ex-race horse who is boarded at Hoofbeat Hollow, a barn for Hunter-Jumper
show horses in Middleburg, Florida. Almost overnight, Flip began to engage in behavior problems
that signaled serious issues. He became spooky and unpredictable on some days, and initially,
no pattern could be seen in his behavioral outbursts. The cause was not obvious, and on days
when he was having problems, he would not let me get in the saddle. When I tried to mount, he
would take off with my foot in the stirrup, bucking and galloping until I hit the dirt.
After extensive, repeated observations, I hypothesized that this unusual behavior was related
to physical discomfort and possibly a sensory issue.

Background and History

Flip is boarded at Hoofbeat Hollow which is owned and operated by several generations
of a local family. The 27-year-old granddaughter of the owners is the Hunter-Jumper training
instructor and she is a well-accomplished rider. Hoofbeat Hollow is a unique, compassionate
place where the owners set the tone that everyone who boards there becomes family. If an
individual horse has a problem, it becomes everyone’s concern.
Flip is one of eight Thoroughbreds who were former race horses rescued by the Hoofbeat
Hollow group. When their owner died unexpectedly, all of these horses were abandoned and
neglected for nearly nine months. When the horses were rescued, they had received little food
or water for eight months. All of the horses were so weak they could barely walk, and their
skeleton-like appearance was horrific. Many of the Hoofbeat Hollow extended family (boarders
and their families) became immediately involved in the rehabilitation process for several of the
horses. Several other local barn owners also volunteered to assist in rehabilitating the horses.
On the first night the horses arrived at Hoofbeat, a local volunteer came with a horse
trailer to take Flip to another barn for rehabilitation. Even though the people attempting to load
him were extremely experienced at loading a horse into a trailer, Flip flipped the trailer and
required more than 100 stitches in his chest. The volunteer’s trailer was basically destroyed. Flip
was sending the message that he was not leaving his herd.
By the time the trailer was turned back over and the emergency veterinarian had been
called, I had seen enough. I said, “I will take responsibility for this horse and he will be boarded

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12 Blind Trust: The Joy of Owning a Blind Horse

here at Hoofbeat with my other horse.” I liked Flip’s spirit and felt an instant bond with him,
even though the logical, behavioral side of me knew it was touch and go as to whether any of
these horses would make it.
According to Jockey Club records, when Flip was in California, he was known as Karat of
Gold and he had a very successful racing career. When he flipped the trailer so that it landed
upside down, the barn owner, Mrs. Nancy Baker, said, “Let’s change his name to FlipACoin. We
all immediately began calling him Flip. The veterinarian who stitched Flip up warned us that such
an injury further compromised his overall poor health condition. FlipACoin’s prognosis would
indeed be like flipping a coin.
It took one full year of rehabilitation before I could slowly and easily ride Flip. Before that
time, he had only been ridden by a jockey, so a canter was foreign to him. He had a full out
racing gallop with lead changes and he sped up as he saw fit. This horse loved to go fast. As Flip
became healthier and we progressed in our riding lessons, he became a star in cross-country
events and he was showing great potential in Hunter-Jumper events.
In these cross-country events, there are five-mile classes through the woods with natural
jumps and many opportunities to “fly” in the back parts of the course. Flip was always a blue
ribbon winner in the five-mile events. It was exhilarating for me to ride this horse in an event
and he also seemed to enjoy competition activities. Flip’s progress continued and, in addition to
cross-country, we began competing in Hunter-Jumper events at local horse shows.

Assessment of Behavior Problem

Soon after we began to compete in the Hunter-Jumper events, I noticed that Flip’s behavior
was beginning to change. There was unusual spookiness that might be frequent only on certain
days. On these days, this horse was very dangerous. I began to notice that his eyes were tearing
and red, but it was summer in Florida and the flies were awful. He destroyed seven or eight fly
masks that he would tear off, or the herd would do this for him. When he attempted to his tear
fly masks off in the stall, he was also attempting to rub his eyes on the mask, as they must have
hurt and itched.
I began the data collection required for a Functional Assessment. Several weeks of data
showed a clear pattern: Every time the American flag was hanging up across the road from the
jump field, Flip would go crazy when I tried to mount him. Once I was in the saddle, he would
take off bucking and side-stepping at a quick pace. The Functional Assessment data showed that
Flip engaged in this behavior on weekends—the only time the flag was flown across the street.
Given a choice, Flip began avoiding the section of the field nearest the flag. The flag had been up
on weekends since Flip had first arrived at the barn some two and a half years before the onset
of the problems, but clearly, something had changed. The Functional Assessment data soon
pointed to Flip having a visual problem that had not yet been detected in veterinary check-ups.
I requested a vet check, and by this time Flip’s left eye had become swollen and cloudy.
There were blood streaks in the eye and he seemed to be experiencing extreme pain. He would
not eat and was dangerous if anyone tried to touch his face. The vet said he was having a
serious ERU (equine recurrent uveitis) attack in the left eye. This was treated as an emergency
and the typical medications for uveitis were given four times a day.
Chronic uveitis is one of the most common eye problems in horses. Because the disease
seems to come and go, it was once called Moon Blindness. Over the course of months to years,
ERU can cause blindness in one or both eyes of horses that are affected. In some cases, the

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Blind Trust: The Joy of Owning a Blind Horse 13

horse develops glaucoma, and if this happens, to prevent extreme pain it may be necessary to
remove the eye.
Within a few short days, even with the aggressive medical treatment, Flip was totally blind
in his left eye, the retina had detached, and cataracts were present. It seemed obvious that he
was partially blind in that eye when he first began spooking at the flag, and the eye may have
been deteriorating for a long time.

Protective Equipment: The Guardian Mask
With the onset of Flip’s blindness, I went through the stages of grief. Heartache, devastation
and fear were soon moved aside and an all night, every night, research binge started. I
discovered the guardian mask (, available through Sid
Eby. In horse circles, we call Sid “the eye man,” and he provides individualized advice for each
and every horse who needs his products. The guardian mask has 95 percent UV protection and
is extremely well made (with the best Velcro I have ever seen on a horse product).
The theory behind these masks is that they protect the eyes from the sun, which means
they can prevent further uveitis attacks and the horse can still go outside. Flip wears his mask
24 hours a day. We believe the uveitis symptoms that were already beginning to develop in other
eye prior to applying the mask developed more slowly than they would have without the mask.
As a result, Flip lost all vision in his other eye over a 10-month period, instead of immediately.

Handling Protocols
During the months that Flip was becoming completely blind, I developed procedures for
leading him out of his stall. In addition to established protocols for how and when equipment
was to be used, the direction in which Flip would be led, how he was to be approached, and how
all daily routines were to be conducted, I taught him voice commands. These voice commands
were also taught to the two other people who handled him. The procedures included talking in a
soothing voice when initially approaching his stall and then barely touching him when he moved
in your direction to signal your presence. Sometimes it would take up to 30 minutes to be able
to pet him while talking to him in a gentle voice.
Flip wore the guardian mask at all times, so initially I would tell Flip, “We are putting
on your halter now” (later changed to a Monty Roberts dual halter). When his equipment was
secure with a lead rope attached, talking to him all the while, the most difficult procedure,
leading him out of stall to the exercise area, was initiated. I would say, “Flip we are turning
toward the door now.” Then he was prompted “walk straight,” which he learned quickly.
When we were out of stall, I would say, “turn right” and then “walk straight,” as it was
about 10 feet from stall to his exercise area. He would enter with “walk straight” and his
preferred horse companion was already there waiting for him.
The procedure back to stall was more awkward but was handled in same manner. Of
course, he already knew the verbal cue “whoa” on the ground and when I was in saddle. I
also taught him "wall” for any near item that he was approaching too closely. He learned and
practiced “turn left,” “step up,” “step down,” and “give me a kiss”—which he already knew, but
now it would orient him to the location of my face. He also already knew “back up” both in
and out of saddle, but he had to re-learn this verbal prompt because the situation was much

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Fall 2006
14 Blind Trust: The Joy of Owning a Blind Horse

Initially, treats were used intermittently as a reward for small approximations to the
correct behavior, and then faded as he made progress. He continues to receive preferred edibles
for chains of behaviors and compliance throughout handling procedures without any problems.
Two other trainers at the barn have been trained to follow the same procedures.
On the rare occasions when there was an emergency and a trained person was not
available so a substitute barn worker handled Flip, he knocked down one wall of his stall and
knocked down three panels of fence. Any time his protocols were changed for any reason,
there would be a spooking problem, usually with damage to Flip, property, and sometimes the
unfamiliar person.

Finding a Partner for Flip

We systematically began to pair Flip with other horses who could be his partner when he was
outside. His problem was that once he wasoutside, he had a difficult time finding his way around.
Another horse would help.
All the geldings at the barn were placed outside during the day in a big field for play.
Initially, when Flip arrived and was rehabilitated to the point where he could join the larger
gelding herd, he was a top player in the dominance hierarchy. At about the time he was
becoming progressively blind in second eye, the herd began picking on him and the pecking
order changed and he was at the bottom. They would not let him eat and they bit him and
surrounded him. He was so fearful that we knew it was time for a change.
Luckily, there were several smaller locations that were used for sick horses or ponies who
could not hang with the “big boys.” We tried him with about four different small ponies, one a
day, and they would also dominate him and attempt to harm him. He was tried with two original
geldings who were “40-something,” but they had been together so long and the same thing
happened. Flip was not allowed to eat, or interfere with their rituals.
After Flip had been outside for exercise time alone for about a month, a huge
Thoroughbred mare (17 hands) arrived who could not stay in the big field with the other mares.
She was only about two-and-a-half years, just a baby. It was dangerous for her with the mares
because the young, large Warmblood and Belgian Thoroughbred would run her around, chasing
her and dominating her in every way. They would not let her drink or eat. The first day she was
with mares, we had to move her immediately and the only open area for her at that moment
was where Flip spent his outside time alone.
While we were figuring out a different and safer plan, she and Flip fell in love. The huge
baby Thoroughbred mare became his daily partner. Currently, they are very bonded, and they
bathe each other every day, and one cries if the other is removed early for some reason. We
placed bells on the halter of the mare. The bells assist Flip in knowing exactly where his partner
is at all times. Flip is dominant over the mare, but they are gentle with each other.

Building Trust
From the beginning of our relationship, before he became blind, Flip and I developed a trust
that was unknown to me in a relationship. Indigo (my other Thoroughbred) and I are very close,
but he is hot-blooded. When Indigo is spooked or fearful, he engages in a flight response and he
does not worry too much about me. At the risk of sounding anthropomorphic, I would say that

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006
Blind Trust: The Joy of Owning a Blind Horse 15

Flip always took care of me as his first reaction and we trusted each other unconditionally.
This trust grew as he began to experience problems with his vision. We continued to ride
in a small area as he was becoming progressively blind. If he was experiencing a uveitis attack, I
did not ride him until the vet gave the word that he was not in pain. For months after Flip arrived
at the barn, I was only person who had ridden him. My trainer, an experienced rider, tried on one
occasion to ride Flip. He would not go forward with her. He moved backwards and could even trot
backwards. Nothing she did changed this situation. Although with some behavioral interventions
Flip might be trained to accept another rider, we decided to let him express his preference and
have me as the person who rides him.
Both before and after his blindness, Flip and I had a magical bond. We were most secure
with each other and the world when we were riding. People see Flip’s protective mask but many
can’t tell that he is blind. He continues to move like a dream. He trots, canters, and does lead
changes like the pro he has always been. The only big difference is that for safety reasons, we
no longer gallop or jump.
To be clear about the riding, it occurs in a small pen without a systematic focus. We just
ride around in whatever manner he is comfortable. The transitions while we are riding, such as
trot to canter, are spontaneous and are based upon his level of security at any given time. When
I say he does lead changes, it is his decision but it still feels like a dream. One day I hope to
write a glowing follow-up about riding Flip for a purpose, perhaps dressage, and becoming the
best we can be for both of us.
It is important to relate that partial blindness is often much more frightening for horses
than complete blindness. “As Berry was losing vision in his last eye,” says Barbara Steadman,
owner of a blind horse in Connecticut, “he was uncharacteristically spooky and nervous because
he was seeing shadows only. Once his vision was completely gone, that type of behavior went
away and he was back to his old self.” I had the same experience with Flip, but when we say “old
self” it is relative in regard to making the best of a difficult situation.

If we assume the responsibility of caring for an animal with a disability, we are ethically
bound to do everything possible to ensure the animal’s quality of life. The primary goal at all
times is for Flip to be pain-free. He must be able to run safely when we are riding; this is our
most secure time together.
Flip enjoys his current life. While there have been some challenges associated with
rehabilitating an animal who was so badly abused and then experienced a total loss of vision,
Flip enjoys his life and he fills my life with joy.


Note: During the preparation of this article, Flip began experiencing frequent uveitis attacks
in his right eye. Beginning in March 2006, there were attacks at the rate of about one every 10
days. I made the very informed decision to have the eye removed to ensure Flip is pain-free and
that his quality of life is maintained. The prognosis is that Flip will recover from surgery and we
will be able to ride again soon. These will be the rides that will be more reinforcing than all the
blue ribbons on earth. I feel very confident in saying that you will be hearing from us again.

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006
16 Blind Trust: The Joy of Owning a Blind Horse

This article is dedicated to Mrs. Nancy Baker, the barn owner, for her support,
encouragement, compassion, and mostly for her selflessness throughout this entire ordeal.
Early on, the vet said Flip needed a dark stall. Mrs. Baker immediately moved him to one of the
few “castles” reserved for the prime-time show horses. That stall became his permanent home
without question. Thanks and God bless you, Mrs Baker.
Thanks to Dr. Mary Burch, consulting editor, IAABC (dogs, horses), CABA, Tallahassee,
Florida. Dr. Burch is certified as an Applied Animal Behaviorist through the Animal Behavior
Society (one of less than 50 in the United States); Board-Certified Behavior Analyst; Author of
Wanted: Animal Volunteers (2002), AKC Dog Care and Training (2002), and with co-author Dr.
Jon Bailey, How Dogs Learn (1999), Research Methods in Applied Behavior Analysis (2002),
Ethics for Behavior Analysts (2005), and How to Think Like a Behavior Analyst (2006), as well
as numerous articles. Dr. Burch is the Director of the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Program and is
a media spokesperson for the AKC.

Bailey, J. (2004). Behavioral diagnosis and treatment: Information form. Florida State University
and Behavior Management Consultants.

Ball, M. (1999). Understanding the equine eye. Lexington, KY: The Blood-Horse Inc.

Blind Horses Web site:

Hillenbrand, L. (1996). Leading the blind. Equus, 229. (Available on the Web at http://www.

Nelson, M. (2005). Equine recurrent uveitis: Information for the horse wwner. Retrieved from:

Street, E. (2005). Dealing with the dark. Retrieved from:


Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006

Case Study: Feline Aggression with a Twist

by Marilyn Krieger, CCBC

Flea and Freckles have been best friends for their entire lives together. By their own choice,
the two cats have never been far from each other. Until August of 2005 they could be found
grooming each other, playing, sleeping together or eating from the same dish. Something
happened in August that changed the happy little cat couple into two remote, aggressive cats,
intent on killing each other.
August 15, 2005, started out like every other day in Mort and Debbie’s household. Mort
was alone with the two cats, since his wife Debbie had gone out for the day. The two cats were
playing together outside on the second floor deck and Mort was checking his e-mail in the office
located under the deck. Mort was alarmed when he heard a cat scream and a loud crash. He
rushed up as fast as he could, only to find Freckles lying on the deck screaming and writhing in
pain. Mort rushed her to the emergency veterinarian. The veterinarian found that her intestines
had been perforated, but there was no evidence of any external injury. Two inches of her
intestines had to be removed. Freckles almost died.
When Freckles came back from the vet she was a changed cat. Her reactions to Flea’s normal
overtures of play were to viciously attack him. Flea’s idea of play was to jump on top of her back
and playfully bite her neck. Before the accident, Freckles would respond by rolling and playfully
engaging with Flea. But now, Freckles responded to her friend with extreme aggression. Flea
then reacted to Freckles’ response by being aggressive back.
The owners turned to their veterinarian, Dr. George, for help. In January 2006 he put Freckles
on Fluoxetine for two months, but that did not help the situation. At the recommendation of Dr.
George, Debbie and Mort separated the two cats and on March 20th they called me for help.

Household Composition
• Freckles: Five–year-old spayed female
• Flea: Three-year-old neutered male
• Both cats were spayed and neutered early.
• Debbie: primary care giver, a woman in her late 30s with a full-time job
• Mort: in his 50s with a full-time job
• The house is spacious, with two levels. The interior room doors are made of glass. There
is a sliding glass door that goes out to a protected deck.

Before formulating a diagnosis, I needed to find out what had happened to turn Freckles
into a furry ball of claws and teeth. I asked the owners to describe what a typical play session
used to be like between the two cats before the accident. They told me that before the accident
the cats played roughly with each other, typically chasing each other and jumping onto objects
and furniture in their play. Flea used to regularly pounce on top of Freckles as part of their play

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18 Case Study: Feline Aggression with a Twist

I asked Mort to walk me through what he heard and saw the day of the accident. Luckily, the
furniture on the deck was exactly how it was on that awful day in August. In addition, Dr. George
described Freckles’ injury in detail to me, outlining exactly where Freckles perforated intestine
was located.
After reviewing the scene and armed with information from the veterinarian and Mort
and Debbie, I was able to reconstruct what probably occurred. It was very likely that during
the intense play session with Flea, Freckles jumped and landed on the metal arm rest of the
lawn chair on the deck, landing in such a way as to perforate her intestine. Flea may have
simultaneously pounced on Freckles’ back in his usual exuberant way.
Evidence supports the hypothesis that Freckles’ aggression towards Flea was triggered by the
intense pain of the injury, coupled with Flea’s proximity to Freckles when the accident occurred.
This probably caused Freckles to form an association between Flea and the pain. It appeared
that Freckles was responding to Flea with aggression rooted in pain and trauma.
The veterinarian and I discussed other possible causes, including the possibility of Freckles’
hospital visit triggering Freckles aggressive reaction towards Flea. We ruled it out, since the
problem began when Freckles initially responded with aggression to Flea’s normal overtures of
play, and not the other way around. Prior to Flea’s playful pounce on Freckles, he had shown no
evidence of being triggered by the hospital smells that probably lingered on poor Freckle’s fur.

General Treatment Plan

My job was to find a way to convert these warring cats back to being buddies, or at least to
where they could coexist without trying to kill each other. The problem had to be attacked from
two perspectives. We needed to change Freckles’ perception of Flea from one of pain and trauma
back to the original association of friend, and we needed to modify Flea’s behavior so that he
wouldn’t pounce on Freckles, triggering her trauma response.
To change their perceived associations with each other, the cats needed to have positive
experiences at the same time within sound, smell and sight of each other. Debbie and Mort
needed to provide those experiences, one sense at a time. Consistently providing the positive
experiences to both cats would, we hoped, enforce mutual positive associations.
While implementing this part of the plan, the cats needed to remain separated from each
other and reintroduced slowly. The locations of the cats could change, but until they showed
evidence of being able to get along, they could never be together in the same room. Having
glass doors was an added benefit, because it enabled the cats to have visual but not physical
contact with each other.
Modifying Flea’s behavior so that he would not jump on Freckles’ back would take a more
creative approach. A few days after my initial visit with the client, Dr. George and I discussed the
case. Both of us have a tendency to think out of the box, and habitually we brainstorm into the
absurd. Sometimes that can result in unique recommendations. This was no exception. Jokingly,
Dr. George suggested we buy some studs or spikes and make a vest for Freckles. Every time
Flea jumped on Freckles he would get a mouth full of metal. I liked his initial idea, and modified
it for our current challenge.
I know someone who hand makes walking jackets for cats. She agreed to modify her
standard walking jacket design and add studs and spikes to the jacket, as well as modify it

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006
Case Study: Feline Aggression with a Twist 19

slightly to cover Freckles’ neck and more of her back and sides. After hours of searching, Debbie
found the perfect studs and spikes and sent them on to the jacket-maker, along with the design
modifications. Detailed instructions were included in the treatment plan concerning how Debbie
and Mort should gradually introduce and acclimate Freckle’s to her stylish new punk jacket, since
Freckles would probably not readily accept wearing a walking jacket.
If implementing this treatment plan didn’t improve the situation, Dr. George suggested the
client repeat the treatment plan concurrent with giving a course of medication to both cats.

Working with the Client

I break my plans down into phases, since the treatment plans I recommend take a
commitment of time and consistency from the client, I find clients are more comfortable
following a weekly agenda with concise steps. During the treatment plan I am in regular
communication with the client, modifying the recommendations as needed. Sometimes steps are
slowed down or speeded up, depending on how the cats are responding to the plan and how the
client is doing with implementing the plan.

Detailed Treatment Plan

The plan I developed for Debbie and Mort consisted of four phases with flexible durations. As
I explained to them, one of the keys to success was being consistent in the implementation.
There were several items that Debbie and Mort needed in order to implement the plan. I
recommended they buy:
• Two Comfort Zone™ diffusers, one for the bedroom and one for the living room
• Feliway™ spray
• Tasty cat treats
• Cat Dancer™ toy, or a similar flexible toy with something on both ends that will maintain
the interest of both cats
• Tall cat trees
• Small furry balls
• A fishing pole toy
• The modified walking jacket
• A pole to wedge in the sliding glass door.
The Phase 1 recommendations were based on encouraging the cats to associate pleasant
smells with each other by taking advantage of the cats’ friendly pheromones exuded from glands
on their cheeks. Debbie and Mort were instructed to rub each cat’s cheek twice a day with a
separate clean sock and then exchange socks, placing Flea’s sock in Freckles’ bed and Freckles’
sock in Flea’s bed. Debbie also received instructions on how to start to accustom Freckles to the
new stylish walking jacket.
The pheromone exchange went very well between the two cats. Debbie and Mort were
encouraged by Flea’s and Freckles’ responses to the socks. Flea carried around the sock that had
Freckles’ pheromones on it and Freckles rolled on the sock that contained Flea’s pheromones.
After just a week, we determined that the clients and cats were ready to move on to Phase 2.

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Fall 2006
20 Case Study: Feline Aggression with a Twist

In Phase 2 I recommended continuing the pheromone exchange, but with one modification.
Instead of placing the socks in the cats’ beds, I recommended that after gathering the
pheromones from their cheeks, each sock be rubbed on the other cat’s cheek. In addition
to the pheromone exchange, I suggested adding two other activities that would increase
positive associations: food and play. Debbie and Mort were counseled to feed both cats treats
simultaneously, next to each other but separated by the closed glass bedroom door. The treats
needed to be very tasty. If this was successful, then Flea and Freckles could be fed their regular
meals next to each other, still separated by the door. If the cats refused to eat, it was suggested
that Debbie move the food away from the door to a comfortable distance. When the cats were
at their comfort distance for eating, the feeding stations could be moved closer to the door.
Before each meal it was recommend that Debbie spray the bottom of the bedroom door with the
Feliway spray.
Once the two cats were adjusting well to being fed next to each other, I recommended
encouraging non-threatening play twice a day between the cats by positioning the Cat Dancer
toy or a similar double-ended toy under the door so that the cats could play tug of war with
the toy and with each other. Before each play session it was recommend that Debbie spray the
bottom of the bedroom door with the Feliway spray.
Phase 2 proceeded without any hitches. Both cats readily adjusted to eating next to each
other, separated by the door. They also enjoyed playing tug of war with each other, and since the
doors are glass, they played footsie with each other on the glass as well, and played with each
other in the space under the door. After two weeks in Phase 2, both cats voluntarily spent lots
of time together, though still separated by the door. Debbie, Mort and the cats were ready for
Phase 3.
The recommendations in Phase 3 were a little more challenging for the cats. Debbie knew
that each phase was to be done slowly, and if there were any setbacks, to go back to the
previous successful step for awhile. Recommendations in Phase 3 consisted of first putting Flea
outside on the deck and Freckles in the house. The client was counseled to hold the sliding door
open about one to one-and-a-half inches while allowing the cats to sniff each other for 5 to
10 minutes, gradually increasing the time to 30 minutes several times during the day. Before
encouraging the nose touches, Debbie was told to spray Feliway spray on the edges of the
slider and the window frame, near where they would be interacting. The Feliway needed to be
sprayed before each nose encounter. To keep the cats from pushing the sliding door open, a pole
was positioned in the door track so that it would only open about 1½ inches. After a few days
of successful nose encounters, I recommended the cats change locations, with Freckles being
outside on the deck and Flea inside. Other than these deck exercises, the cats were separated in
the house.
Phase 3 lasted approximately three weeks. There was one incident that caused everyone to
catch their breath. Flea pushed the sliding door open and came into the house where Freckles
was. He did not pounce on her, but touched noses and proceeded to eat the food that Debbie put
out to divert him. Cats and humans were ready for Phase 4.
Phase 4, the last phase, was when the face-to-face introductions would occur. I talked awhile
with the clients about the necessity for them to be relaxed, nonchalant and as stress-free as
possible, since the cats could pick up on their anxiety and become tense themselves. Freckles
needed to wear her new walking jacket for the first encounters. I recommended that the client
never leave her alone while she was wearing it.
When first reintroducing the cats, I recommended opening the door to the bedroom. As soon

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006
Case Study: Feline Aggression with a Twist 21

as the door was opened, I suggested that Mort feed Flea while Debbie feed Freckles. They would
need to feed the cats about a room length away from each other so that the cats could see,
smell and hear each other. When the introductions were going well, I recommended that the
times the cats were together be extended, though the cats needed to be supervised and never
left alone with each other.
It was mandatory that Debbie and Mort closely monitor Flea’s and Freckles’ body language
for signs of stress and potential aggression. I gave them detailed descriptions of what physical
signs to watch for. These included ear positions, body tenseness, dilating eyes, piloerection, tail
positions, vocalizations, etc. Additionally, if Flea looked as if he was going to playfully pounce on
Freckles, I recommended that Mort or Debbie distract him by throwing small toys or balls parallel
to the floor, in the opposite direction of where Freckles was located, or distract him with a fishing
pole toy. If he did pounce on Freckles, the spiked walking jacket should deter him. On the small
chance that the jacket didn’t stop him and the cats engaged each other in a serious fight, I
recommended that the client take necessary precautions, safely separating the two fighting cats
immediately. They would have to start the introduction process again, but this time medicating
both cats, as recommended by Dr. George.
Debbie and Mort have just started Phase 4 of the Treatment Plan. To date the cats are
doing well together, eating across the room from each other. While Debbie and Mort held their
collective breaths, Flea crossed over into Freckles’ room and interacted with her. Freckles showed
no signs of aggressiveness towards Flea. We are all keeping our fingers crossed, though we
know it will be some time before the two can be alone together and Freckles stops wearing her
stylish punk jacket.

For an excellent book about pheromone exchange, read: Johnson-Bennett, P. (2004). Cat vs.
Cat. New York: Penguin Group.

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006

Canine Aggression
By Stephen N. Robinson

These articles were initially published in the May 2005 and September 2005 editions of Schutzhund USA.
They are reprinted here with permission from the author. Copyright Common Scents Canine Center, Inc.
2006. All rights reserved.

Aggression as a Component of Canine Life Strategy

Dogs have been a part of our landscape for approximately 14,000 years. From their early
beginnings, dogs have wormed their way into the hearts and lives of the humans with whom
they cohabitate. We anthropomorphize them - we revere them. There are countless stories
of dogs’ courage, bravery, and unselfishness. But are such patterns of altruistic behavior
compatible with a life strategy?
The ultimate goal of dogs – all dogs – is self-preservation. So is it with all living creatures –
plants and animals alike. To execute this goal, dogs have one agenda: meeting their own needs.
Opportunism is the means used to execute this strategy.
What about the stories of heroism in the face of adversity? Are they all to be discarded as
fables? Dogs, at least in our society, have become a part of our lives. We identify with them.
We want them to be brave and noble and strong. However, to paraphrase author Jon Katz, “the
anthropomorphizing of the canine species does it a great disservice by building expectations that
cannot be met.”
If we are to discount our dogs’ motive, how then can we explain behavior that appears to be
built out of loyalty and selflessness?
There are many theories that have been used to explain acts of “altruism” in the animal
world. An important contribution to this study was made by Richard Dawkins in his book “The
Selfish Gene”. Dawkins theorizes that the gene (allele) itself is the driving force behind evolution.
Because, through making copies of itself (mitosis), genes have an indeterminate lifespan,
Dawkins theorizes they are able to program each organism in a way that perpetuates their
existence. Many “altruistic” behaviors designed to protect closely related individuals actually
“protect” the donor’s genes that are copied in the related individual. This is known as the
“kinship theory of selection.”
Perhaps we then need to take a step back into examining the “whys” of canine behavior.
The most compelling answer takes us right back to an animal’s basic need to survive. Agonistic
behavior - aggressive or defensive social interaction – is one important element related to this
survival. For pack animals like wolves and dogs, it becomes a primary force for self-preservation.
However, the complexities of dog’s interaction with man have given rise to a myriad of theories
that micro-analyze dog aggression into as many as 22 different categories. This categorization
is designed to give the canine behaviorist and practitioner an outline from which to formulate a
plan of corrective action.
On the surface, this scholarly work, backed up by extensive research, appears well-founded
and palpable. But is it helpful in treating unwanted canine aggression? Has the community of
canine behaviorists made the subtle error of “not being able to see the forest for the trees?”
Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice
Fall 2006
Aggression as a Component of Canine Life Strategy 23

Whatever our wishes, dogs are not as complex as human beings. Because humans (only) are
capable of conscious thought, their mental processes are infinitely more complex than any other
species on earth. This includes our beloved dog. I love dogs. I live and sleep dogs. They are my
profession and they are my hobby. But my love of dogs has taught me to be objective about who
and what they are. While they are “intelligent,” it is questionable as to whether or not they have
a consciousness. They are very adept at associative learning, and exhibit fairly complex patterns
of behavior. But through all the haze, they are animals that are trying to survive – by using
opportunism as a mechanism to meet their own needs. If we accept them for what they are, we
can not only enjoy a more enriching, rewarding relationship with them, but we can also help to
solve behavior problems that take them off the path of compatibility with our society.
Human directed aggression is the most pressing and conflictual behavior issue faced by
dog owners. There is no other pet behavior problem that demands such immediate attention.
If we, as pet behavior practitioners, are to help with that problem, we need to return to
basics. Whether or not the various classifications of aggressive behavior are distinct enough to
warrant separation, it is imperative that we identify the root cause of the behavior. Variations in
treatment protocols suggested by sub-categories of aggression would also be suggested by the
realization that every dog is an individual and needs to be treated as unique. More important,
the “why” of the behavior, while individualistic, must rely heavily on the very principles that
assist the animal in its fight for survival. Aggression is one of these tools.

Aggression – An Instinctive Behavior

For naturally evolved canid pack species, aggression is an integral part of the complex
behavior pattern that serves to establish and defend rank, resources, and personal safety.
While this interactive conflict occurs on a continual basis in nature, we attempt to expunge
this behavior in our domestic canines. In theory, supplying the dog with all its needs should
significantly reduce or eliminate this form of competitive aggression. There are, however, two
factors that work against this hypothesis:
1) the domestic dog’s behavior patterns are a part of his genetic make-up, and
2) we, as owners, aren’t able to eliminate the competitive stresses that, in part, drive
With regard to hard-wired programs, it would take thousands more years of selective
breeding to even begin to change the basic nature of the dog. In fact, indiscriminate breeding
often increases the predisposition toward aggression by producing dogs that are a poor fit for
our society.
Ideally, the transition to domestication should eliminate many of the forces that trigger
agonistic behavior. However, our imperfect world contains stressful stimuli that often far exceed
those imposed by nature. Our domestic pets, being fully integrated into our lives, must use all
available resources – including aggression – to deal with these stressful situations and events in
a way that, as they perceive it, improve their chances of survival.

Aggression – An Instinctive Behavior

For naturally evolved canid pack species, aggression is an integral part of the complex
behavior pattern that serves to establish and defend rank, resources, and personal safety.
While this interactive conflict occurs on a continual basis in nature, we attempt to expunge

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006
24 Aggression as a Component of Canine Life Strategy

this behavior in our domestic canines. In theory, supplying the dog with all its needs should
significantly reduce or eliminate this form of competitive aggression. There are, however, two
factors that work against this hypothesis:
3) the domestic dog’s behavior patterns are a part of his genetic make-up, and
4) we, as owners, aren’t able to eliminate the competitive stresses that, in part, drive
With regard to hard-wired programs, it would take thousands more years of selective
breeding to even begin to change the basic nature of the dog. In fact, indiscriminate breeding
often increases the predisposition toward aggression by producing dogs that are a poor fit for
our society.
Ideally, the transition to domestication should eliminate many of the forces that trigger
agonistic behavior. However, our imperfect world contains stressful stimuli that often far exceed
those imposed by nature. Our domestic pets, being fully integrated into our lives, must use all
available resources – including aggression – to deal with these stressful situations and events in
a way that, as they perceive it, improve their chances of survival.

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006

Human-Directed Canine Aggression – An Empirical View

Aggressive behavior toward humans is without question the most serious of all behavior
problems faced by dog owners. While other unwanted behaviors are often tolerated or ignored,
a dog that displays aggression toward family members, friends, or visitors usually sends owners
running for help. The origins and causes of dog aggression have been a controversial topic of
great importance for behaviorists, scholars, and trainers, resulting in a wide variety of theories.
As a practicing animal behaviorist, I encounter the problem of dog aggression on an almost
daily basis. Of all problem behaviors for which clients seek consultation, human directed
aggression accounts for approximately 75% [1]. In some cases, the analysis is fairly simple,
while in others, the complexity of the issues requires the assembly of a puzzle piece by piece.
However, through the maze of a multitude of dogs and clients seen over the years, a common
thread has emerged which has given rise to a theory and methodology which withstands the
test of practical application. This does not mean that our paradigm can be used to explain every
aspect of aggressive behavior, but we are comfortable that we can use our theory to explain over
95% of the situations we encounter, and we think that’s pretty good.
There are two reasons which prompted us to put our theories and views into writing. The
first is the frustration we encounter from consultation with clients who are not only confused,
but have greatly exacerbated their problems by reading and following a vast array of advice
and suggestions, many of which are downright bad. The second reason is the vast amount of
literature, written primarily from a scholarly perspective, which tries to classify the majority of
cases involving human – directed aggression as a “dominance” issue. This perspective often
suggests that the offending dog is attempting to be the “alpha” of the family, and that “putting
him in his place” with tough love and discipline is an appropriate solution.
In our experience, both the analysis and the suggested treatment are fallacious. The words
“dominance” and “aggression” are clearly not synonymous, but they are often confused.
Dominance does not necessarily lead to aggression, and not all displays of aggression – in
our view, very few – have their roots in dominance. People come to us because their dogs are
aggressive, whatever the causative factor. However, sorting out the root cause of the problem is
a necessary step in developing an effective strategy for treatment.
While the information presented is empirical in nature, it is based on over 30 years of
experience in both training aggression (schutzhund, personal protection and police work) and
solving aggression problems for pet owners. A complete understanding of aggression requires a
comprehensive working knowledge of both ends of the spectrum. My conclusions are based on
this understanding and supported by widely accepted principles of canine behavior and ethology.
The analysis of dog behavior is both science and art. To those who believe that only
quantifiable hypotheses are worthy of consideration, I will yield that what we espouse is not
“science”. But it is also purely not “art.” It is empiricism based on a large sample size which
we believe will withstand a test of time. The most important objective in the presentation of
this material is to stimulate the thinking of other behaviorists, consultants, and trainers whose
life work is helping people and their pets with problem behaviors which interfere with the truly
wonderful phenomenon we call the dog-human bond.
[1] Intraspecific (dog to dog) aggression, which makes up the bulk of the remaining consults, often exists without
aggression toward human beings, and is a subject that requires separate evaluation. The next two most frequently
seen problems are separation anxiety and house soiling.

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26 Human Directed Canine Aggression - An Empirical View

Aggression – What Is It?

Aggression, in the context of our discussion, is an agonistic – aggressive or defensive social
interaction - response to a threatening or challenging stimulus which is designed to neutralize
or defeat the stimulus in question. The action on the part of the dog is a combination of
physical and psychological responses which transmit the animal’s intention to actively engage a
competitor or offending stimulus. In dog terms, this means a bite.
Dogs do not “think.” “Thinking” involves cognition, “the act or process of knowing, including
both awareness and judgement” (Webster). Virtually all behaviorists would agree that this
is beyond the scope of canine abilities. Instead, dogs react to a stimulus. In the case of
aggression, the stimulus – actually stimuli – are two triggers which lie at opposite ends of a
continuum: challenge, and threat [3]. The truly dominant dog will react to an aversive stimulus
as a “challenge” to his sovereignty. On the other end of the spectrum, the fearful dog will
react to an aversive stimuli as a “threat” to his safety. In reality, all aggressive reactions will
be a combination of dominance- and fear-based aggression. There is no truly “fearless” dog
that reacts totally without concern for his safety, and even the most fearful dog learns that an
aggressive response helps to gain control over the offending stimulus [2].

Utilizing an intruder entering into a dog’s territorial domain, we may show an aggressive
response in the following way:[3]


Perceived Threat Territoriality Perceived Challenge

Triggers > FEAR Triggers > DOMINANCE

Territorial aggression may be analyzed as follows: the dog reacts to the intrusion into its
domain as a challenge to its sovereignty (dominance). On the other hand, the intruder also
represents a threat to the dog’s self-preservation, so it reacts in an aggressive manner to make
the threat go away.
Herein lies the basis for confusion about dominance-based and fear-based aggression.
Because the dog gains an advantage by acting aggressive, there are those who would classify
most aggressive behaviors as “dominant” when in fact, the reaction may – and most often is
– based primarily in fear.
The balance between dominance and fear in any aggressive response depends on many

[2] This analysis does not include predatory aggression, a more instinctive form of behavior that includes predatory
hunting and a reactive mechanism that causes a dog to lunge out after, or chase, a moving object. While often seen
as a unique form of aggression, a case could be made for including it as a sub-category of dominance aggression, as it
is offensive in nature.
Predatory aggression does have some relevance to human-directed aggression, as it can be triggered by an object
(human) that moves rapidly within the dog’s field of view or is seen as an object of prey – in this case, primarily
a small child. This behavior can be exhibited by an individual dog, or triggered by group interaction. Predatory
behavior generally plays a minor role in the overall evaluation of human-directed aggression.
[3] Analysis adapted from a concept put forth by Konrad Lorenz in On Aggression, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World,

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Human-Directed Canine Aggression - An Empirical View 27

factors. It can and does move back and forth on this line. Fear is a natural state in nature. It
is an integral component of the instinct for self-preservation. Self-preservation is the number
one priority for all living creatures. The dog’s basic temperament is the most critical factor in
determining where on the continuum the reaction will take place. The differences between
individuals are a matter of the degree of fear, and how it is manifested.
Dogs have four options for dealing with an aversive stimulus:
 Flight > move away from the source of stress
 Avoidance > eliminate interaction by turning away or engaging in a
displacement behavior
 Submission > appeasement, submissive posturing
 Aggression > an agonistic response designed to make the aversive stimulus
stop coming or to make it leave.
Not all dogs react with aggression; this is highly specific to temperament (genetics).
Other factors include learned behavior, and the degree of stress internalized by the dog upon
presentation of the stimulus (situation). However, in our experience, most dogs, if pressed to a
point where, in their perception, their own mortality is in question, will bite. It is nature’s design,
and nature’s intent.
At the other end of the paradigm is the dog that is truly self confident and sovereign. He
owns the world around him. His threshold is fairly high. Many elements which would serve as
triggers for fear-based aggression are ignored. However, if he feels challenged, either in terms
of his status or over competition for a resource, he will react forcefully to repel the challenge.
These animals are the true “alphas” of the dog world. In our experience, they are the exception.
However, the belief in their populous presence is fed by a strong motivation: the perception of a
dog as our protector is an extension of our internal desire for power and control.
What we are left with then, are dogs who react primarily with fear-based aggression to an
aversive stimulus that they perceive is a threat to their self-preservation. This, in our experience,
includes the vast majority of dogs.
What are the implications of this premise to the canine behaviorist and trainer? They are
vast, and for many, would mean a total change in approach to a solution. The truly dominant
dog is in a struggle with the owner for position. The solution is to get the dog to assume
a subordinate rank. This necessitates the owner taking a very assertive approach with the
dog, allowing only a narrow latitude of behaviors, and demanding compliance at all times.
Punishment, in the form of strong aversives, should be avoided, as this will tend to trigger the
dog’s defensive instinct to mount an aggressive response in return.
On the other hand, a strong, assertive approach with a fearful dog may backfire. Fearful dogs
by nature have a lower threshold to stressful stimuli, and can react to even mild aversives with
a strong or even panicked reaction. The dog will now have two elements of stress to deal with:
the stimulus that evoked the fearful response, and the owner who comes down hard on him for
trying to protect himself.
The resolution of fear-based aggression requires a structured approach which utilizes the
tools of behavior modification: desensitization, habituation, and counter-conditioning. We must
learn to both manage the dog’s environment, reducing or eliminating the stimulus that provokes
aggression, and, at the same time, raise the dog’s threshold of fear with the tools available.

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28 Human-Directed Canine Aggression - An Empirical View

While prevention is always the goal, aggressive responses can be controlled by putting the dog
under pre-emptive command prior to or as soon as an aggressive reaction is present or appears
imminent. This must be done in a take- charge manner which conveys authority without anger,
threat, or intimidation. These emotional responses will only serve to exacerbate the reaction.
Rehabilitation programs that utilize the tools of behavior modification take more time
and patience, guidance and perseverance, than those that utilize a punitive approach. The
dividends, however, are a much higher rate of success. The details involved in implementing
these programs will be the subject for a future article.
The photos shown below are designed to demonstrate the different postures of flight,
avoidance, submission and aggression.

Flight Avoidance

1. An example of flight as the dog attempts 2. Avoidance: This dog is looking away to
to move away from the handler. avoid eye contact.

Avoidance Avoidance

4. Nose to the ground (avoidance behavior) is

3. This dog also avoids eye contact. another way of avoiding interaction.

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Human-Directed Canine Aggression - An Empirical View 29

Submission Aggression

5. Paw giving is a classic submissive gesture.

6. This dog is moving forward in a confident
manner prepared to challenge his confronter.

7. A strong aggressive pose. Ears are slightly 8. A strong show of aggression with a higher
back, demonstrating a somewhat less than degree of fear than #7. Notice the ears are
fully confident challenge. further back.

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30 Human-Directed Canine Aggression - An Empirical View

Aggression Aggression

10. A weak challenge from a dog that is

poised for flight. This dog would be very un-
likely to bite unless trapped.

9. This is the same dog in #8 who now shows

more fear in her aggressive response. Her
challenger has not backed down and she is
now more unsure of her ability to prevail.

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006

Treating Irrational Fears with Desensitization

by Jennifer LeBaron Michels, CABC

Dogs, cats, and humans can all develop irrational fears. Commonly known as phobias, these
are fears that do not serve a purpose, such as preventing injury. Generally, an organism will
habituate to a novel stimulus after it has been repeatedly presented and no danger results.
There is a clear physiological explanation for habituation. Studies have detected a decrease in
the amount of neurotransmitters released by the sensory neurons with repeated exposure to a
stimulus (Mazur, 2002). For instance, after moving to a new neighborhood, a person might hear
a train in the distance for the first few weeks, but after a while, the sound is habituated and the
train is no longer noticed. However, in the case of phobias, habituation does not occur; the train
would continue to wake the person up each night.
Phobias may be initiated with innate or acquired responses. An innate response, such as
the startle response elicited by a sudden loud noise, may not habituate because the stimulus
is initially too strong. At high levels, the stimulus itself is an aversive, and it will strengthen
the fear response (Hart & Hart, 1985). Phobias may also be acquired by association with an
unconditioned stimulus. For example, Little Albert, an 11-month old baby, was used in an
experiment in which a loud noise (the unconditioned stimulus) was presented along with a white
rat (the conditioned stimulus). Tragically, Little Albert developed a phobia of white rats (which
generalized to any furry white furry object), and it persisted long after the loud noises stopped
(Kassin, 2004).
Phobias can also be learned through observation. Rhesus monkeys raised in captivity did not
fear snakes until they observed newly introduced monkeys’ fear reactions (Mineka, Davidson,
Cook & Kerr, 1984). Japanese quail’s emotional reactivity to humans was found to be modulated
by the mother’s reactions, and this had a long-term effect on the young birds (Bertin, Richard-
Yris, 2004). For this reason, a parent may choose to suppress their own fear response to snakes
or spiders in the presence of children. Likewise, pet owners should beware of exposing their
young animals to other animals’ fear reactions.
If an animal or human fears a specific situation or an item, it can be addressed in several
1. Escape: As the word suggests, this is when the animal runs and hides in response to
the presentation of the feared stimulus. This is the typical reaction for an untreated phobia.
Other responses may be to tense and freeze in place, lose control of bladder or bowels, destroy
property, bark or cry excessively, or attack others, leading to inconvenience, loss of opportunity,
or reduced quality of life. Animals may injure themselves in an attempt to flee, and this will only
serve to strengthen the fear. Unless the fear stimulus is presented on extremely rare occasions,
escape is a poor solution.
2. Avoidance: In avoidance, the animal is removed from the opportunity to encounter the
feared stimulus. Consider the cases of a cat who fears the sound of a coffee bean grinder and
a dog who freezes and urinates when the front door is opened for a package delivery person.
The most reasonable solution may be to place or lure the animal into a “safe” area, such as the
bedroom, before grinding beans or answering the door. Similarly, humans with a snake phobia

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32 Treating Irrational Fears with Desensitization

may avoid the reptile exhibit in a zoo and refrain from walking in tall grass. Avoidance is the
safest, easiest, and most effective way to prevent fear. However, it requires constant alertness to
avoiding the fearful stimuli.
3. Modeling: Since many phobias are acquired by observing the behavior of another, it
is possible that the observation of a model who does not fear the problem stimulus can help
relieve the phobic fear response. This “participant modeling” is often a successful treatment for
humans (Mazur, 2002), but soliciting the help of another animal is not always practical for phobic
4. Flooding: Flooding is an attempt to facilitate habituation. If the phobic stimuli are always
avoided, the animal will never habituate to it. In flooding, the patient is saturated with the fear-
causing stimulus until the fear reaction is extinguished (Kassin, 2004). A study by Morganstern
on the effectiveness of flooding versus desensitization (discussed below) revealed that the two
methods may be equally effective for humans (Mazur, 2002). Specific accounts of the successful
use of flooding to eliminate the fear of loud noises include an 11-year old boy (Yule, Sacks,
Hersov, 1974), and a young adult man (Houlihan, Schwartz, Miltenberger, Heuton, 1993).
However, the use of flooding is not without risk. Theoretically, it should succeed, but the
person administering the stimulus must keep the intensity high until habituation occurs.
Stopping too soon will actually make the problem worse. It can therefore take quite a bit of
time and perseverance. Further, for humans, and even more so for animals, it is ethically
questionable. It may cause more fear, may prevent habituation from ever occurring (Hart & Hart,
1985), may damage the relationship between animal and owner, and can clearly be classified as
making use of aversives for training.
5. Desensitization: If avoidance is not sufficient, systematic desensitization should be
a consideration. This involves a slow, deliberate, step-by-step exposure to the feared item
or situation. The owner (or trainer) presents the stimulus at a low level to start, and then
gradually increases it as long as the animal remains comfortable. What actually happens is that
habituation occurs at this low level of intensity, and the learning is generalized as stronger levels
are introduced (Hart & Hart, 1985). This may take tremendous commitment and patience on
the owner’s part. The exact steps to take, and the duration of each phase, will depend upon the
animal’s individual characteristics and progress along the way.

Desensitization Methods
With humans, the client is taught relaxation techniques before any exposure to the feared
stimulus. This may involve deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and/or soothing
visualization. Once mastered, these techniques can be used for counter-conditioning during
each phase of exposure. For animals, then, contexts, actions, and items that are relaxing and
pleasantly distracting for the particular animal must be identified. Choices may include the use
of calming pheromones, a favorite bed or blanket, low noise levels, the presence or absence
of other animals or people, favorite toys, treats, and time of day (particularly relative to other
activities). It is imperative that the owner can identify and understand the signs of fear and
relaxation for their animal. It is also important that the owner/trainer is relaxed.
Successful desensitization requires significant pre-planning. It must be determined precisely
what the animal fears. For instance, is it men with hats or any person with a black hat (Grandin,
2005)? What will be the exact method of increasing the stimulus: successively taller people,
successively closer people, or successively darker hats? The steps should be carefully written

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Treating Irrational Fears with Desensitization 33

in a plan, in consultant collaboration with the owner. Nothing in the environment except the
stimulus strength should change from session to session. Also, precautions should be taken
to avoid the presence of the fear stimulus when the animal is not in a training session. This
requires everyone in the household to be committed to the plan.
The most crucial factor in systematic desensitization is never to proceed to the next level
of stimulus intensity until the animal is totally at ease with the current step. For the animal to
generalize stimuli, the increase in strength must be virtually undetectable to the animal. It is
better to err on the side of proceeding too slowly than too quickly. If there is a display of fear,
the entire process should be started over because it is likely that the animal will associate the
context (for example, location, the person, or petting) with the fear stimulus. Rushing can create
a problem larger than the original one.
Often, the fear response is already severe at low stimulus intensities. This means there is
no level at which to begin. With humans, relaxation techniques can be used before the first
level is introduced. With animals (and humans, too), it may be wise to consider an anti-anxiety
medication before getting started.

Desensitization Examples
With companion animals, desensitization methods can be used as a way of introducing
something new such as clipping nails, putting on a collar or harness, handling, grooming,
brushing teeth, using a crate or carrier, riding in a car, or introducing new animals, people,
items, or furniture. For active fears, such as thunder, certain people, children, specific items, or
locations, desensitization can be used to re-introduce animals to these things in a way that they
feel is safe.
The following examples illustrate the step-by-step nature of desensitization. Desensitization
plans should be unique for each animal, depending on the exact circumstances. They may
require more steps, or fewer steps. These examples are intended to give for a sense of the level
of planning and detail needed for desensitization. Talking through some examples with the client
(particularly a human example) will help ensure that they are tuned in to the nature of fear and
grasp the importance of the process.

Case 1: A Female cat, two-years-old, tolerates being held for short periods of time
but has never had her nails clipped.
Most cats are uncomfortable with nail clipping, and we can therefore assume ahead of time
that there will be fear. One way to begin would be to chase the cat down, grab her, hold her
paws, and attempt to clip her nails. Most likely, very few nails will be clipped and the cat will
begin to fear being held, the clippers, and the trainer. This is likely why owners commonly
complain that their cat will not allow them to clip her nails.
The following method may be more successful in the long run:
1. Once a day, wrap the cat loosely in a towel and carry her to the bathroom. (The towel will
protect you from rear paw scratches when clipping the front nails). Speak softly to her, pet her
head, give her a treat, and set her free. Proceed to the next step when this step is completed
with no stress.
2. Once a day, wrap her loosely in a towel, take her into the bathroom, sit down on the floor,
and hold her for a few moments. Secure her body against your side as you sit, allowing her rear
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34 Treating Irrational Fears with Desensitization

paws to rest on your left hip and her front paws to stick out of the towel, resting on your thigh.
Your left arm will be securing the cat, leaving your right hand free (reverse if you prefer to clip
with your left hand). Give the cat a treat and set her free. Proceed to the next step only when
she is comfortable with this routine.
3. Continue with the above steps, but begin shutting the bathroom door for a few moments.
A timid cat will usually be alarmed at this sudden barrier, so be sure to use the counter-
conditioning techniques (speaking softly, petting, and treats), to distract her and to form a good
association. Increase the amount of time the door is closed as she is comfortable.
4. Now add the handling of her paws. Cats are naturally sensitive in this area, so pay close
attention to her behavior. She should not be constantly pulling her paw away. If so, start higher
on the leg and work down to the paws. Slowly get her used to the feeling of having her paws
touched, top and bottom. You will eventually need to apply light pressure with your thumb on
top of the paw and your forefinger on the bottom of the paw, as this will cause the nails to
extend. Practice doing this. As always, reward with a treats and praise, and release her.
5. Next, present the nail clippers. At first, simply allow the cat to smell them and paw them.
Wait until she no longer shows interest in this new item, and then proceed. From this point on,
be sure to have the nail clippers out and handy before bringing the cat into the bathroom. This
way, you will be able to begin clipping without delay.
6. Now, begin to clip. The first time, clip one claw only. Once the first claw is accomplished
without a struggle, add another. Continue adding claws only if she shows she is comfortable.
Continue with the soft speaking, petting, and treats, which she will associate with the previous
comfortable sessions.
If, at any time, the cat cries, hisses, attacks, or flees, wait a week or two and then begin the
entire process again, starting with step 1. If possible, use a different person, room, and towel to
break negative associations with the original contexts.
The number of sessions that will be required is highly dependent upon the individual animal’s
temperament, the owner’s behavior, and the owner’s patience. A reasonable benchmark for
progress might be two weeks (14 sessions).

Case 2: A boy fears dogs after observing another child being attacked by a dog.
This procedure will require a second person and a well-trained small dog. In the case of
humans, the client and therapist should discuss the problem and together construct a fear
hierarchy, defining the gradual steps. Below, a fictitious, but potentially realistic, hierarchy is
used. Severe phobias or those that accompany another disorder should be treated under the
guidance of a therapist trained to work with humans.
1. Every day, sit with the boy and have a snack at a table near the front window of his
house. Discuss topics of interest to the boy and be sure that he is relaxed.
2. Teach the boy to concentrate on his breath and relax his muscles. Continue for few days
or until he is able to do this for half an hour or more.
3. When the boy is in a relaxed state, ask him to imagine a woman walking a small, leashed
dog past the house. Describe the dog as attractive, affectionate, and well-behaved around
people. Continue with the mindful breathing and body relaxation. Ask the boy to assess his fear
upon imagining this dog. In addition to his verbal response, assess his heart rate, breathing,
muscle tension, and desire to flee.

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Treating Irrational Fears with Desensitization 35

4. Once the boy can imagine this and he reports no feelings of anxiety, have your helper
walk a small, leashed dog quickly past the house. Again, assess the boy’s symptoms. If they
are absent, continue this level of exposure repeatedly to practice and be sure the symptoms are
completely gone.
5. Next, watch the dog slowly walk by, turn around, and walk back the other way. Continue
with reassuring words, breath concentration, and muscle relaxation.
6. Next, have the dog walked up the driveway and back to the sidewalk, increasing the time
of his exposure to the sight of the dog.
From this point, the dog can stay longer, the dog can increase in size (i.e., solicit larger dogs
for this exercise), the boy and helper may sit outside instead of in the house, he might begin to
leave treats for the dog, etc. Gradually decrease the distance between the dog and the boy until
the boy can begin imagine petting the dog without symptoms of fear. Then proceed to actually
petting the dog.
The number of sessions that will be required is highly dependent upon the boy’s initial level of
fear, motivation, and cooperation. Also, the helper’s skill in defining the stages, helping the boy
to feel relaxed, assessing the boy’s level of fear at each stage, and determining when it is safe
to proceed will directly affect progress. A reasonable benchmark for progress might be 8 to 10
Note that a very similar process can be used for a dog who fears boys. Controlled exposure
with counter-conditioning and slowly decreasing distance work similarly either way.

When to Recommend Systematic Desensitization

The following guidelines may be used by animal behavior consultants in determining whether
to recommend using the desensitization process:
• Avoidance is clearly unacceptable. This could be because it significantly interferes with the
humans’ lives or because is decreases quality of life for the animal.
• The level of fear is not excessive. If there is no level of stimulus intensity that is low
enough to get started, the plan will fail. Consider medication or other measures to keep
everyone safe.
• The consultant and the client can agree upon a detailed, step-by-step plan.
• The consultant finds the plan appropriate and is welcome to participate in the plan. This
will help prevent the urge to rush, and will add creativity when needed; or:
• The owners are extremely committed to carrying out the plan themselves. This will
become clear as the detailed plan is laid out. Do the owners ask specific questions about each
step? Do they consider exactly who will be involved and how to present reinforcers, and do they
grasp the need for all family members to cooperate?
• The owners are open to working at the animal’s pace, not within a time frame in which
they would like this problem solved.

• The plan has a very good chance of success.

• The plan has a low probability of failure.

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36 Treating Irrational Fears with Desensitization

Bertin, A. & Richard-Yris, M.A. (2004). Mothers’ of human affects the emotional reactivity of young
in domestic Japanese quail. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 89, 215-231.

Grandin, T. (2005). Animals in translation. New York: Harcourt. (pp. 210-219, 235).

Hart, B.L., & Hart, L.A. (1985). Canine and feline behavioral therapy. Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger,
(pp. 56-68, 209-210, 217-219).

Houlihan, D., Schwartz, C., Miltenberger, R., Heuton, D. (1993). The rapid treatment of a young
man’s balloon (noise) phobia using in vivo flooding. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimen-
tal Psychiatry, 24, 223-240.

Kassin, S. (2004). Psychology: 4th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall. (pp.
188, 755).

Mazur, J.E. (2002). Learning and behavior, 5th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. (pp.
47-51, 81-83, 183-184, 295-299).
Mineka, S., Davidson, M., Cook, M., & Kerr, R. (1984). Observational conditioning of snake fear in
rhesus monkeys. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 93, 355-372.

Yule, W., Sacks, B., Hersov, L. (1974). Successful flooding treatment of a noise phobia an elev-
en-year-old. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 5, 209-211.

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Excessive Vocalizations in Companion Parrots

by Liz Wilson, CVT, CPBC

A prior version of this paper was first published in the online proceedings for the
North American Veterinary Conference, Orlando, Florida, 2005.

Excessive noise is a common complaint heard from parrot owners, and it highlights how a
caretaker’s unrealistic expectations can cause problems for companion parrots. People often ask
how to teach their parrots to be quiet, as if this were just a matter of training. On the contrary!
Nature did not give psittacines their impressive voices and then expect them to be unused.
Parrots are loud animals and they cannot be taught to be otherwise. Unfortunately, lay bird
magazines still print articles that publicize particular species as being “quiet,” without explaining
that that this does not mean they are silent. Instead, some species are considered “quiet” (i.e.,
budgerigars, cockatiels, pionus) when compared to those species that are considered extremely
loud (i.e., cockatoos and macaws).

Normal vs. Abnormal

“Normal” noise levels vary from species to species, as well as between individuals. Generally
speaking, psittacines vocalize (often loudly) throughout the day. Macaws, Amazons, and
cockatoos normally produce 15- to 20-minute bursts of ear-shattering, gut-wrenching screams
several times a day, especially in the morning and evening. This is perfectly normal for these
species, but frequently unacceptable for humans. Parrot behavior consultants are frequently
asked to adjust the noise level of a parrot who is not vocalizing excessively. The author uses
videotapes with phone consults, and is constantly amazed at how quiet people expect their
parrots to be. On the other hand, a parrot who screams for hours on end definitely has a
problem, and so do the humans with whom it lives.

Unintentional Rewards
The basic rule is this: A parrot who screams excessively has been rewarded for screaming.
The first step in changing a behavior is to examine its purpose, so questions must be asked
about the owner’s response to a screaming episode. In a valiant effort to reduce the racket,
some people inadvertently reinforce the behavior with drama and attention. When questioned
regarding their response to the racket, owners often admit such things as giving the parrot a
treat to quiet it.
Others make the classic mistake of ignoring a parrot when it is quiet and noticing it only
when it screams. Obviously, attention is a reward. The classic human response of hollering at a
shrieking bird simply exacerbates the problem, because now the opiate of High Drama has been
added to the mix.1

The “Time Out”

Adopted from child psychology, the “time out” technique also provides an unintentional
reward for a parrot. The bird screams and the human responds by picking it up and taking it

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38 Excessive Vocalizations in Companion Parrots

into another room where it is left by itself. Since parrots appear to connect a behavior with what
happens immediately afterwards, they seem to make the connection that they scream and they
get picked up. However, a variation of the “time-out” can be effective, and this will be discussed
later in this article.

Problems Intrinsic to Excess Noise

Two issues usually complicate cases of excessive screaming, and the first is the time factor.
The longer parrots practice a behavior, the better they get at that behavior. Hesitant to seek
professional advice, many owners seek free, ineffectual “quick fix” techniques (such as squirting
the bird with water or covering the cage) until family members or neighbors finally lose patience
and present an ultimatum. Owners then become frantic to change the behavior NOW. It is
essential that everyone understand that it takes time to create problem behaviors and resolution
takes time as well. Additionally, the longer the behavior has continued (i.e., been rewarded), the
longer it will take to change it.
The second problem with cases of excessive noise is that retraining a screaming parrot
requires the cooperation and consistency of all the humans in the area—which can be difficult to
achieve. If one person continues to reinforce the screaming, the behavior will not change despite
the best efforts of everyone else.

Curbing the Noise

Resolving problem behaviors requires a step-by-step approach. First, people in the area need
to collect information as to the timing and possible etiologies of screaming episodes. Diaries are
excellent for this, and everyone in the environment is asked to participate. With each screaming
incident, important information to record includes:
• Time of day
• Day of the week
• Phase of the moon
• What is happening at the time
• The recorder’s mood
• The bird’s apparent mood
• The apparent moods of any other humans present
• People’s reactions to the noise
• Anything else that might be relevant
Owners are instructed to collect data for 10 to 14 days, and are warned not to review the
information prior to that time. Humans are fond of patterns and unknowingly will produce a false
pattern if they are not careful. At the end of the data collection period, the participants should
analyze and compare their notes, looking for patterns in the excessive noise. If patterns exist,
steps can be taken to change what leads up to the behavior, therefore changing the behavior
To successfully decrease excessive screaming, owners must be consistent and patient. If a
bird screams while caretakers are in the room, they can turn their backs and briefly withdraw
their attention. This maneuver is the other, more effective “time out” technique. The second the

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006
Excessive Vocalizations in Companion Parrots 39

bird quiets, they should turn back and reward it with praise and/or food treats. If the screaming
is renewed, caretakers should turn their backs and leave the room, leaving the bird alone. They
should not return until the bird has quieted, even for a couple of seconds.
If they are not in the same room when a screaming episode begins, they are to do nothing
until the bird quiets briefly and/or makes an acceptable sound (such as talking or whistling).
Owners should then instantly re-enter the room and reward the bird.
It is vital to understand that extinguishing excessive screaming will not produce a quiet bird.
Extinguishment will return the racket to a more normal level—not eliminate it.
Cage location also can influence levels of psittacine vocalizations. If a cage is placed directly
in front of a window with no hiding place, noise levels can increase exponentially. Biologists
define this as “vigilance behavior” and it is part of a parrot’s genetic make-up.3 Owners should
provide a hiding place in the cage or move the cage to back it partially against a wall. Hiding
places often help alleviate screaming situations.

Earsplitting Amusement for Visitors

Parrots often scream excessively when guests arrive, which likely is a territorial issue (“Get
out of my house!”), combined with the urge to participate in a social event. Owners can alter
this pattern by following these steps: Give the bird no food treats for several hours before the
company’s arrival. Then encourage the parrot to participate in a rambunctious flapping session,
followed by a drenching shower. Once accomplished, the happily tired bird is moved to a cage
in a separate room. The bird is then given very special food treats that take a while to consume
(i.e., treats hidden in puzzle toys, nuts in the shell, corn on the cob), as well as a fabulous new
toy that has been reserved for this purpose. The bird has now been removed from the space and
is happily absorbed elsewhere before company arrives. Consequently, no excessive screaming
occurs. As always, prevention is the key. If owners want their guests to meet the bird, they can
bring it in on the hand for introductions, then return it to the isolated cage with additional treats.

Teaching a Contradictory Behavior

Owners can also teach their birds a “contradictory behavior” to help to neutralize excessive
noise. Using the basics of trick training, most parrots can learn to make a simple sound on
command. Parrots who are taught to whistle or sing a response when owners initiate it cannot
scream at the same time. This is an effective technique, as it gives the birds an alternative to
screaming that reaps more rewards.

When Noise Needs a Response

There are two exceptions to the rule of ignoring unwanted sounds. When the human “flock”
reunites, parrots tend to celebrate this occasion with raucous noise. This appears to be a natural
response, and owners should not ignore the bird in this situation. Instead, they should greet
their birds and spend a couple of minutes interacting with them. Owners should then ignore any
noise that happens after a parrot is suitably greeted.4
The second exception is the “contact call.”5 In the wild, a parrot’s flock represents the safety
and protection of numbers; once separated from the flock, a bird is more likely to become a
predator’s meal. Consequently, a prime function of that powerful voice is to enable parrots to

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006
40 Excessive Vocalizations in Companion Parrots

communicate with each other when other flock members are not visible. In this circumstance,
they use a contact call, and its function is to identify the location of other flock members.
Companion parrots also do this to see if they are alone. Contact calls vary widely with domestic-
bred parrots, so caretakers need to pay attention and identify the sound their parrots use in this
If contact calls are not answered, they will escalate to a scream—which usually gets a
response. In this way, humans teach a parrot that the only contact call that gains a response
is one that involves excessive noise. Therefore, people need to answer a contact call from
anywhere in the house.
African greys (Psittacus erithacus erithacus) in the companion home frequently learn to
replicate the ringing of phones and the beeping of microwaves. Greys have doubtless learned
that these sounds always get a response, so they mimic them when seeking contact with their
humans. In other words, a ringing telephone and beeping microwave are human contact calls.6

A Lack of Independence
One could say that redundant screamers are birds who are unable to amuse themselves
in acceptable ways; if so, this problem can be perceived as a failure of independence.7
Consequently, caretakers must find multiple acceptable activities for their parrots, such as
chewing and shredding wood, beating up on wonderful toys, and eating (and throwing) lots of
interesting and delectable foods.

Parrots are, by nature, noisy animals, and they can be nothing less. However, many
parrots learn they get attention by screaming excessively, and this sets them up for failure as
companion animals. The process of rehabilitating screamers is not to “unlearn” the behavior.
Parrots will never be quiet animals. But through patience and consistency, they can easily
learn to replace obsessive noise with other behaviors that are more acceptable to their human

1. Blanchard, S. (1991) Games parrots play. Bird Talk Magazine, 11, 48-54.
2. Wilson L. & Lightfoot T. (2006). Chapter II: Concepts in behavior, Section III: Pubescent and
adult psittacine behavior. In G. Harrison & T. Lightfoot, (Eds). Avian Veterinary Compendium (pp.
73-84). Palm Beach, FL: Spix Publishing.
3. Burger, J. (2001). The parrot who owns me. New York: Random House Inc. (pp. 134-135).
4. Blanchard, S. (1999). Companion parrot handbook. Oakland, CA: Abbey Press. (pp. 13-14).
5. Forshaw, J. (1993) Parrots of the world. Melbourne, Australia, Landsdowne Press. (pp. 423).
6. Hallendar, J. (1999). Contact calls: The communication link with our parrots. Pet Bird Report,
42, 62-65.
7. Athan, M.S. (2002). Parrots: A complete pet owner’s manual. New York: Barron’s Educational
Series. (pp. 67).

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006

Book Review:

Raising Puppies and Kids Together—A Guide for Parents by Pia Silvani, CPDT and Lynn
Eckhardt, Neptune, N.J.: T.F.H. Publications, 2005, 250 pages, $16.95.

Reviewer: Patricia Bentz, CPDT, CDBC

If you are looking for a book to recommend to your clients about raising puppies and kids
together, this is certainly it. Silvani and Eckhardt’s informative guide is written and presented in
such a way that even the busiest parents can immediately locate the information they need or
read the entire book from cover to cover in a short period of time.
This book is nicely organized into five sections, starting with a discussion of what a parent
should know and consider before getting a puppy. This is followed by a section on puppy
behavior, early training, socialization, and housetraining. While all of the information in this
section is relevant, important and actionable, there may not be enough detailed information
to satisfy every reader. To address this, the authors provide an appendix listing of various
professional resources that are available.
The third section of the book focuses on fostering good relationships with the family puppy by
understanding canine body language and carefully supervising interactions between children and
puppies. It is loaded with excellent advice, straightforward case studies, and specific games that
encourage appropriate play between kids and pups. A subject that is particularly relevant to all
puppy owners is what to expect when their puppy matures. This topic, covered in section four,
focuses on leadership, toys, and critical warning signs. The authors conclude with an informative
section on preparing the family dog for the arrival of an infant.
Throughout the text, parents are provided with guidelines for determining when they should
seek the advice of a qualified professional in the field. Descriptions of the various types of
professionals (certified dog trainer, behavior counselor/consultant, applied animal behaviorist,
and veterinary behaviorist) are provided in the appendix.
The layout and presentation of the material in this guide truly makes the reader want to pick
it up and read it. What I also like about this book is how Silvani and Eckhardt use numerous
examples and simple case studies to reiterate key points without sounding repetitive. Wherever
possible, all of this is done with wit and humor, looking at each situation from the dog’s
This guide should be mandatory reading for all parents (or soon-to-be parents) who either
have a puppy or are contemplating getting one. It should also be in the library of all novice
trainers. While there is not a lot of information here that may be new to an experienced trainer,
recommending this book to clients as follow-up reading will certainly reinforce the points covered
during a consultation or training session.

Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice

Fall 2006