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Unit information: Clinical Skills in Companion Animal Behaviour in 2020/21

Unit name Clinical Skills in Companion Animal Behaviour
Unit code VETS30037
Credit points 40
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Horseman
Open unit status Not open




School/department Bristol Veterinary School
Faculty Faculty of Health Sciences


This unit further develops the theme of animal learning and discusses the development of abnormal behaviours. The various aspects of understanding and modifying undesired animal behaviour are discussed, together with an introduction to medical differentials and psychopharmacological therapy. The unit will prepare students with the basic tools they need to conduct behavioural therapy consultations, providing a sound basis for certification as a clinical animal behaviourist. This unit also provides students with an understanding of concepts in welfare science and the analysis of ethical and legal issues associated with the use of animals.
Using a series of case examples, filmed and live, this unit enables students to formulate approaches to assessing and rehabilitating animals showing a range of undesired behaviours. The unit also gives students the opportunity to develop related communication skills in a supported environment. The ability to evaluate where clinical animal behaviourists or veterinary surgeons are needed for individual assessment or treatment of animals is discussed. The unit also enables students to develop skills relevant to each stage of behavioural modification, from initial obtaining information from owners and assessing an individual animal’s behaviour, through deciding the best course of action for each individual animal and provide follow-up support.

Unit Aims:
• To ensure a systematic understanding of all aspects of animal behaviour, and the way in which learning and developmental processes influence the behaviour of an individual.
• To ensure that students can apply the methods and techniques to treat real animal behaviour problems, taking into account ethical, practical and communication issues.
• To build an appreciation of the role and limitations of pharmacology, nutraceutical use and pheromonotherapy in the modification of companion animal behaviour.
• To present and explain the professional standards and responsibilities required of the veterinary profession, including the veterinary nurse.
• To develop a sound evidence-based, individual centred approach to the treatment of common behavioural problems
• Foster an understanding of the key ethological, psychological and physiological concepts underpinning the evaluation of animal welfare and recognition of the indicators of welfare status in vertebrate animals.
• Introduce various scientific methods of assessing animal welfare.
• Utilise evidence- based methods to evaluate the welfare of animals in domestic systems, within specific training regimes including clinical settings and propose practical solutions.
• Show how different ethical frameworks can guide decisions relating to animal use.

Intended learning outcomes

The learning outcomes for this unit are numerous and worded to match those required by the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB), the external accrediting body. The complete learning outcomes are listed in the Programme Handbook and fall into five themes:

1) Students should recall and evaluate the factors which contribute to the behaviour of an individual animal including the contribution of learning and training, ethology, health and nutrition.
2) Students must demonstrate that they have the skills required to carry out a behaviour consultation including evaluation of the behavioural state of domestic animals, knowledge of common behaviour problems, and demonstrating that they have the communication skills needed to gather a comprehensive history and to build a relationship with clients, ensuring compliance.
3) Students need to recall the different approaches available to treat common behaviour problems, including behaviour modification and pharmacological interventions, and be able to use and evidence base to evaluate these approaches to come to informed decisions about the most appropriate treatment.
4) Students should be able to evaluate the welfare state of domestic animals, based on a consideration of both physiological and behavioural indicators. Applying this knowledge, they must demonstrate that they can propose means to improving domestic animal welfare and evaluate any ethical issues which emerge as a result from welfare assessments.
5) Students must be able to recall key elements of professional behaviour including knowledge of legislation relevant to behaviour consultancy, safety considerations, interactions between behaviour consultants and other professionals, and appropriate referral practices.

Teaching details

Teaching will include lectures, small group workshops, seminars and practicals. A virtual learning environment (Blackboard) will be used to provide resources to students (including further reading) and to submit assignments

Assessment Details

Students will be formatively assessed within case-study discussions both on their clinical rotation in year three (prior to this unit) and during case-based seminar discussions within this unit. In year three students will have the opportunity to complete and submit forms which form part of the ASAB accreditation process to the clinician running the clinical behaviour rotation, and feedback will be provided on those submitted. Formative assessment for their clinical skills will be provided during communication skills practical class. Students will complete a presentation in class based on an evaluation of the literature on alternative therapies, and will receive formative feedback on the content of their presentations. Finally, a workshop, and post-visit discussion will provide opportunities for formative feedback around the students understanding of animal welfare science.
The pass mark for this unit is 40%. Students must obtain a minimum of 40% in assessment A. Assessment B will be assessed on a pass/fail basis and students must pass this assessment in order to pass the unit.
A) Students will complete three case-study forms (adapted versions of those required for CCAB accreditation) based on three video case studies (100%)
B) Two short (15 min) communication exercises (collecting and delivering information) and 500 word reflective piece Pass/fail

Reading and References

Essential - (Core materials for the curriculum that all students must read)
These will mostly be journal articles relevant to the teaching which are current at the time of delivery of the lectures.
Recommended-- (Materials needed for a deep and comprehensive understanding of the subject that students should read but perhaps selectively)
Bowen, J. and Heath, S. (2005). Behaviour problems in small animals: practical advice for the veterinary team. Saunders Ltd.
Atkinson, T. (2018) Practical Feline Behaviour. Understanding Cat Behaviour and Improving Welfare. CABI, Wallingford, UK

Crowell-Davis, S.L. and Murray, T. (2006). Veterinary psychopharmacology, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK.

Dodman, N.H. and Shuster, L. (1998). Psychopharmacology of animal behaviour disorders. Blackwell Science.
Donaldson, J. (1996). The culture clash. 2nd ed. James & Kenneth Publishers, US.
Horwitz, D. and Mills, D.S. (2009). BSAVA manual of canine and feline behavioural medicine. 2nd ed. BSAVA, Quedgeley, Gloucester

Overall, K. (2013). Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats. Mosby, Missouri, USA.
Pryor, K. (2004). Clicker training for dogs. Interpet Publishing, Dorking, Surrey, U.K.
Rang, H.P. Dale, M.M. and Ritter, J.M. (2007). Pharmacology. 6th ed. Churchill Livingstone.Rochlitz, I. (2005). The welfare of cats. Springer: Dordrecht. Waran, N. (2002). The welfare of horses. Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Rogers, S (Ed). (2018). Equine Behaviour in Mind: Applying Science to the Way We Keep, Work and Care for Horses. 5m publishing, Sheffield, UKStahl, S.M. (2008) Essential psychopharmacology: neuroscientific basis and practical applications. 3 rd ed. Cambridge University Press.
Yin, S. (2009). Low stress handling, restraint and behaviour modification of dogs and cats. Cattledog Publishing.