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Unit information: Clinical Skills in Companion Animal Behaviour in 2018/19

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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. Emily Blackwell
Open unit status Not open

All first, second and third year units


All other fourth year units

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. Behavioural therapy integrates aspects of veterinary and behavioural science. Owners of companion animals, including small animals and horses, increasingly require guidance in behavioural matters as they seek animals that are content, well behaved and where there is mutual benefit in the human animal interaction. In this unit, the various aspects of understanding and modifying undesired animal behaviour are discussed, together with an introduction to the importance of medical differentials and aspects of psychopharmacological therapy. The unit will prepare students with the basic tools they need to conduct behavioural therapy consultations, in liaison with a veterinarian, and provides a sound basis for certification as a clinical animal behaviourist. This unit also provides students with a further understanding of concepts in welfare science and in the analysis of ethical and legal issues associated with the use of animals.

Using a series of case examples, filmed and live, this unit brings together the knowledge gained by students in the pre-requisite units, and enables them to formulate approaches to assessing and rehabilitating animals showing a range of undesired behaviours. The unit includes emphasis on a team approach to animals with behaviour problems, and 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, for example through discussion of the types of cases where pharmacological support is likely to be required. 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 behavioural repertoire of an individual.
  • To ensure that students can apply the methods and techniques they have learnt 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

Intended learning outcomes

On completion of this Unit, students should be able to (NB these objectives are worded to match those described in the ASAB accreditation process):

1.Articulate and critically evaluate the role of psychopharmacological intervention in the treatment of common behavioural disorders, including the role of nutrition, pharmacology, and pheromones , describing the mode of action and side effects of the major classes of drugs used, the steps required for their correct application, constraints, and contra-indicators. Describe the legal and best practice position of the clinical animal behaviourist, veterinary surgeon and others regarding the diagnosis, prescription and use of drugs and provision of advice (A ,B,C)

2.Describe the mode of action of a range of pheromonal and dietary interventions and explain how these differ from psychopharmacological interventions and the associated risks, including the safety, efficacy and reliability of herbal interventions (B)

3.Identify when psychopharmacological intervention may be desirable and when it is contra-indicated. Discuss the ethical arguments, and relevant health and safety issues concerning the use of psychopharmacological intervention (A,C)

4.Demonstrate an ability to prioritise management and health related investigations and interventions to safeguard the welfare of animals for whom they have assumed responsibility(C)

5.Have an understanding of a range of common behavioural problems to include fears, aggression, stereotypies, anxiety related behaviours. Identify and critically evaluate contributing factors, devise and deliver appropriate treatment regimes, including a system to scientifically evaluate the effectiveness of behavioural modification, set goals and respond appropriately(C)

6.Demonstrate an ability to communicate and deliver information to clients through a variety of media e.g. in face to face consultations and communication via telephone, email, letters and reports with clients and relevant professionals, and to assess and resolve issues relating to client understanding(C)

7.Appreciate behaviour that is likely to encourage compliance with the treatment regime identified and critically evaluate issues that may influence compliance, and the factors that may influence human attitude towards animals and the understanding of clients and others involved in the case.(C)

8.Recognise the importance of record keeping and identify deficiencies in information gathered and their implication for successful diagnosis, prognosis and treatment recommendations of behavioural problems. Identify common professional, legal, ethical or other issues that may arise from a consultation and appropriate action to address these. (C)

9.Appraise structured treatment regimes, using analytical tools and statistics, and identify when further action may be necessary; critically assess and reflect on the outcome of consultations and identify appropriate action, appropriately and professionally judging the need for further referral. (C)

10.Recognise, evaluate and report on the behavioural states of the most commonly kept domestic animals and those that most commonly contribute to the caseload of a clinical animal behaviourist; to include signals indicative of behavioural states such as fear, aggression, ill-health, appeasement, and play (C)

11.Describe the responsibilities and limitations of the role of the clinical animal behaviourist, veterinary surgeon, paraprofessionals, owners and others in national legislation; to include the legal implications and duties associated with the provision of advice, professional liability, and client confidentiality. Identify professional, ethical or other issues arising from a consultation, and decide upon action that may be necessary to address these, explain relevant legal and safety issues that need to be considered before, during and after the consultation, and how these may be appropriately addressed. (C)

Teaching details

Lectures, online exercises, small group working; interactive self-directed learning and group presentations , use of a virtual learning environment (Blackboard) to submit assignments

Assessment Details

Assessment Details Please state the methods used for formative and summative assessment, including essay word length, length and type of exams, projects, etc. The relative contributions of the different summative assessments to the overall unit mark should also be included, e.g. 3-hour written exam (60%), 2000 word essay (40%). Please link the assessment to the intended learning outcomes bearing in mind that it is expected that all intended learning outcomes are assessed. Formative assessments: Essay plan for essay on development of aggression in dogs Peer reviewed desensitisation protocols produced for specific fears in dogs Case study role play and video sessions with students producing peer reviewed client reports The pass mark for this unit is 40%. Students must obtain a minimum of 40% in each of the following assessment components Summative assessments: Essay (on use of drugs in behavioural modification) (Word limit 1,500; 35% weighting : LO: 1, 2, 3, 4, 11) o Alternative therapy evaluation group presentation (Maximum 8 slides; 15% weighting : LO: 1,2) o 3 hour clinical exam Video recorded consultation, hosted via Blackboard and viewed under exam conditions, followed by short answer questions. (50% weighting; LO 5,6 7,8, 10) Students who fail to satisfy any of the above criteria will be deemed to have failed the whole unit and will need to resit that component part. Resits as above

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.

Bradshaw, J.W.S. (2011) In Defense of Dogs. Allen Lane, UK

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

McGreevy, P. (2004). Equine behaviour: a guide for veterinarians and equine scientists. Saunders Ltd. Overall, K. L. (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.

Rochlitz, I. (2005). The welfare of cats. Springer: Dordrecht. Waran, N. (2002). The welfare of horses. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Yin, S. Low stress handling, restraint and behaviour modification of dogs and cats. Cattledog Publishing.

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. Horwitz, D., Mills, D.S. and Heath, S. (2002). BSAVA manual of canine and feline behavioural medicine. BSAVA, Quedgeley, Gloucester.

Rang, H.P. Dale, M.M. and Ritter, J.M. (2007). Pharmacology. 6th ed. Churchill Livingstone.

Stahl, S.M. (2008) Essential psychopharmacology: neuroscientific basis and practical applications. 3 rd ed. Cambridge University Press.