2017 Event

Twenty First Annual Meeting – February 23rd-26th, 2017.
Lone Star Court, Austin TX
The Forum is limited to the first 25 people who submit an approved abstract. This meeting is for people who are experienced in the field, not for those wanting assistance, mentoring, or guidance to enter the field. Everyone who attends must present. Space is limited so we regret we cannot accommodate visitors and onlookers.

2017 Schedule

Friday, February 24
8-8:30 Coffee, Networking  
9:00- 9:30 Introductions  
9:30-10:00 Erica N. Feuerbacher & Lisa M. Gunter Assessment of a Sleepover Program on the Cortisol Levels of Shelter Dogs
10:00-10:30 Barbara Pezzanite ARF’s Shy Dog Socialization Program
10:30-10:50 Break  
10:50-11:20 Kristen Collins & Pia Silvani Social Facilitation as a Tool for Treating Extreme Fear in Undersocialized Dogs
11:20-12:00 Janis Bradley & Amy Marder Do the math: behavior evaluations flunk
12:00-12:20 Flex time  
12:20-2:00 Lunch  
2:00-2:30 Lisa M. Gunter It’s a dog’s life: Investigating behavioral, cognitive, and memory differences between owned and shelter dogs
2:30-3:00 Sasha Protopopova & Kelsea Brown The Effects of Temperament on Stress and Upper Respiratory Disease in Dogs in Animal Shelters
3:00-3:20 Break  
3:20-3:50 Kat Miller & Pam Reid Are Underweight Dogs More Likely To Guard Food in an Animal Shelter?
3:50-4:20 Claire F. Cario More than just playing around
4:20-5:00 Discussion Leader:Lisa Gunter Discussion: How to evaluate wellbeing of shelter dogs?
5:00-5:20 Sponsor session- – Melanie McLeroy  
5:30- Wine & Cheese Party  
Saturday, February 25
8:30-9:00 Coffee, Networking  
9:30-10:00 Suzanne La Croix Relational Aggression
10:00-10:50 Frank McMillan The science of animal happiness
10:50-11:10 Break  
11:10-11:40 Anneke Lisberg, Tina Harasha The over-under on urine marking in dogs
11:40-12:20 Melissa Shyan-Norwalt Case(s) Study: Equal Dogs/interdog Aggression (Or, Where I was confused and failed to help)
12:20-12:30 Flex time  
12:30-2:00 Lunch  
2:00-2:30 Jenna Buley Assessing and addressing pet owner obstacles to companion animal care: Parvovirus prevention in Milwaukee
2:30-3:00 Jessica Lockhart & Amanda Florsheim When will I trust my dog again? Re-establishing trust as part of behavior modification
3:00-3:20 Break  
3:20-3:50 Beth L. Strickler, Ellen Mahurin, & Ayelet Berger The Human Component of Behavior Consultations
3:50-4:20 Kelsea Brown, Sasha Protopopova, Janis Bradely Attitudes Toward and Perceptions of Canine Problem Behaviors
4:20-5:00 Flex time  
Sunday, February 26
9:00-9:30 Coffee, Networking
9:30-10:10 Scott Coleman Effects of Therapy Dogs on Mood States of College Students
10:10-11:10 Discussion Leader: Sasha Protopopova Discussion: Evaluations and considerations of wellbeing of working therapy and service animals
11:10-11:30 Break
11:30-12:00 Wrap-up and Check out
12:00-1:30 Working Lunch: Planning for Next Year

 

2017 Abstracts

Updated – 2 7 17

Do the math: behavior evaluations flunk

Janis Bradley, Amy Marder

Shelters use batteries of provocative stimuli referred to as behavior evaluations for various purposes. One purpose is as screening tools to predict, in dogs deemed possible candidates for adoption (i.e., those not screened out at intake) whether they will later exhibit dangerous behaviors in a home. However, there is wide agreement that such tests have not been validated or uniformly administered and there are ongoing attempts to develop better instruments. This presentation will illustrate how existing data and principles of diagnostic test evaluation demonstrate that reliably predicting problematic behaviors in future adoptive homes is vanishingly unlikely, even in theory, much less under the logistical constraints of real world shelters. In other words, when a shelter dog tests positive for dangerous behavior on one of these formal tests, it is much more likely that the test has failed the dog, rather than the dog having failed the test. Among numerous barriers to validating a behavior evaluation is the relatively low level of incidence of the behaviors of interest in the general population of shelter dogs, making the occurrence of many false positives inevitable. As a result, formal behavior evaluations of dogs in shelters are unlikely to ever be better than or even as good as tossing a coin in predicting whether dogs will express threatening or biting behavior once adopted. This raises the question of whether it is humane or prudent with regard to public safety to use these tests to make adoptability decisions. The predictably unreliable results can create an unjustified sense of security and can have life and death consequences for the dogs. It is time to consider low tech, low cost, readily available alternatives that may be more likely to reveal the true personalities of dogs and make them better candidates for adoption in the process.

Assessing and addressing pet owner obstacles to companion animal care: Parvovirus prevention in Milwaukee 

Jenna Buley

As with many companion animal behavioral problems, changing dog owner behaviors is often the greatest obstacle to addressing dog veterinary issues. In Milwaukee, rates of parvovirus are much higher than other areas of the state and country. This is an easily preventable disease from a medical standpoint and as such, its continued occurrence is likely due to human/owner variables. With data gathered from a Milwaukee, inner-city veterinary clinic and an inner-city charter school with extensive bilingual resources, we will attempt to quantify barriers to obtaining basic preventative care for pet dogs. This will include data related to geography, income, transportation, language & cultural barriers between pet-owners and animal care professionals, and community and cultural knowledge of a specific disease (parvovirus) and its prevention. We then hope to analyze these data to promote the dispersion of knowledge and to improve access to vaccination. This model is important in that it addresses a significant disease and can model how to identify and change human variables to better improve other aspects of the complex relationships that we have with domestic and companion animals.

Assessment of a Sleepover Program on the Cortisol Levels of Shelter Dogs

Erica N. Feuerbacher, Lisa M. Gunter

One of the greatest stressors for dogs living in animal shelters is social isolation. Many studies have demonstrated that human interaction reduces cortisol in shelter dogs and incorporating longer periods of interaction yields even greater effects. These interventions are contingent upon removing the dog from the kennel with cortisol reductions often lost when the dog returns to the kennel. Increasingly, shelters are utilizing short-term fostering to give dogs a break from the shelter. However, such programs have not been assessed to determine whether they have the intended effect on stress. We assessed the Best Friends Animal Society’s sleepover program in which shelter dogs go home with a volunteer for an evening. We measured the creatinine:cortisol levels from three urine collections: 1) the morning prior to the sleepover, 2) the morning after the sleepover and before the dog returned to the shelter and 3) the morning after the dog returned the shelter. We found that the urinary cortisol levels dropped significantly while on the sleepover, but returned to baseline levels within a day of returning to the shelter. Our data suggests that such programs are useful for reducing short-term stress levels and opens many questions for these programs including what the long-term effects of such programs are and how to enhance them.

It’s a dog’s life: Investigating behavioral, cognitive, and memory differences between owned and shelter dogs

Lisa M. Gunter & Clive D. L. Wynne

Previous research has found significantly elevated levels of cortisol in dogs living in shelters compared to dogs living in homes. However few studies have examined possible behavioral and cognitive differences between these two groups of dogs. We compared dogs living in an animal shelter and owned dogs on a series of behavioral persistence, affective bias, memory, and reversal tasks. In Study 1, we trained dogs to touch their nose to an experimenter’s hand for a food reinforcer, and their persistence was measured when food was no longer delivered. We found dogs living in homes persisted longer in this resistance-to-extinction task than shelter dogs. In Study 2, dogs were tested in a spatial location affective bias task to infer differences in their underlying state as measured by latency to approach ambiguous and unbaited probe locations. We found shelter dogs perceived the near negative probe location more pessimistically than owned dogs. In Study 3, we tested dogs’ short-term memory at varying intervals of time on a novel task: a treat was placed behind a box with an identical distractor nearby, and the number of errors was recorded. We found that while owned dogs were more often correct than shelter dogs at all intervals, the difference was not significant. Finally, dogs’ sensitivity to reinforcement contingency was tested in a reversal learning task. Dogs were presented two identical boxes, one baited, and the other not. After a dog reached a criterion level of success in selecting the baited box, the baiting of the boxes was reversed. Reversals continued for 30 trials, and number of correct choices was recorded. Preliminary results from this and the previous studies will be presented and discussed.

Relational Aggression

Suzanne La Croix

Relational aggression is behavior which harms others through purposeful manipulation and damage of their peer relationships (Crick and Grotpeter, 1995). This is currently a hot topic in elementary school circles, especially as applied to aggressive and manipulative behaviors among young girls. It umbrellas social exclusion, friendship withdrawal threats, giving the silent treatment, and spreading malicious secrets, lies or gossip. Relational aggression and its proximate biological bases are of interest to Applied Animal Behaviorists because they provide a new perspective for examining social (mis)behavior in adolescent dogs and offer a construct for describing differential aggressive behavior between male and female adolescent dogs.

The over-under on urine marking in dogs

Anneke Lisberg, Tina Harasha

While many mammals use countermarking (scent marking in response to a conspecific mark) and over-marking (marking over a conspecific mark) as communicative signals, the function of mark placement as a possible signal component is largely untested. In dogs, high-status and high tail-postured male dogs countermark and overmark at higher rates than low-status and low-tailed males, and overmarking appears to follow different sexual and social patterns of use than adjacent-marking (in dogs, urine-marking a few feet away from the original mark.) But does “overmark” placement affect the signal? If so, in what way? Overmarks could a) hide the previous signal, b) blend with the previous signal, c) create a “bulletin board” in which each mark is considered similarly but distinctly, or d) be given preferential or more significant attention than the previous signal. Using a habituation model previously used to test the effects of overmarking in rodents, we tested dogs’ responses to overmarks to differentiate between these four hypotheses. We will share the new results of this ongoing study.

When will I trust my dog again? Re-establishing trust as part of behavior modification

Jessica Lockhart & Amanda Florsheim

Working with clients who are dealing with aggressive dogs can be a delicate balance between treating the behavior issue in the dog and counseling the owner’s lack of confidence. The clients are dedicated to their animals and are committed to making things work; however, they all sing the same refrain, “When will I trust my dog again?” The emotional betrayal that people feel when an otherwise “normal” dog suddenly acts out is on par with being betrayed by a loved one or close personal friend. Owners seem at a loss for how to deal with an emotional slight from a non-human companion. This discussion group will focus on ways to help clients regain lost trust and re-forge a relationship with their companion animal. We will pay particular attention to situations involving new children in the home and circumstances where the owners are almost too stressed/worried to work with their dogs.

The science of animal happiness

Frank McMillan

Happiness (referred to in the scientific literature as subjective well-being) has been an elusive concept to study in humans. However, in the past few decades the research has determined many of the causes and influences of one’s experience of happiness. Short-term, or momentary, happiness refers to the feelings of the moment, and its existence in mammals is not seriously disputed. However, the form of happiness that makes up the primary focus in human psychological research is that which exists as a long-term, life-as-a-whole experience. Happiness has an enduring effect that transcends and outlasts the pleasures and pains of day to day living. It is a pervasive sense over time that all is well, a consideration of life overall. Happiness in humans has been found to consist of an affective and cognitive component – the evidence for an affective component stable over time and comparable to human long-term happiness now exists in non-human primates. The key question is whether animals have the capacity for the cognitive, or evaluative, component. Recent empirical research on inequity aversion as well as anecdotal observations suggest that they do. Moreover, recent research has demonstrated that subjective well-being in animals is, as has been well-established in humans, strongly correlated with personality. This presentation will discuss the scientific evidence for the existence of a long-term happiness state in animals, and why it matters.

ARF’s Shy Dog Socialization Program

Barbara Pezzanite

The Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons rescues dogs from across the United States as well as from Puerto Rico. In some cases, such as dogs rescued from puppy mills and the streets of Puerto Rico, the dogs have been inadequately socialized with people, novel situations, and novel objects, rendering them unadoptable upon arrival at ARF. Typically, however, these dogs are highly social with other dogs. ARF’s Shy Dog Socialization Program was designed to socialize these dogs with unfamiliar people and objects en masse. With the help of a highly social dog, taking advantage of aspects of social learning theory, and the use a small amount of training, more of ARF’s “shy” dogs can be socialized at once, helping them progress faster to suitability for adoption.

The Effects of Temperament on Stress and Upper Respiratory Disease in Dogs in Animal Shelters

Sasha Protopopova & Kelsea Brown

Individual variability is evident in behavior and physiology of human and non-human animals. The influence of temperament on immune function and the endocrine response in dogs has not received much attention. An inquiry into the relationship of these systems is not only interesting from a basic science perspective, but, more crucially, may influence the management of dogs housed at animal shelters. While normally associated with mild disease and low mortality rates, respiratory disease nevertheless poses significant challenges to the management of dogs in the highly stressful environment of animal shelters. Therefore, the aim of the study is to characterize the relationship between temperament, the HPA axis, immune function, and occurrence and progression of upper respiratory disease in dogs at animal shelters. In a correlational study, close to one hundred dogs were assessed throughout their 2-week stay at a city animal shelter. The dogs were subjected to a temperament test, continuous in-kennel behavioral observations, and the collection of physiological stress and immune function markers (urinary and fecal cortisol and salivary IgA). The occurrence and progression of upper respiratory disease was monitored through repeated clinical exams (rectal temperature, body condition score, and occurrence of nasal and ocular discharge). Understanding the role of temperament in immune responses to disease, disease progression, and sickness behavior may improve shelter management practices, and in turn, result in improved live-release outcomes.

Are Underweight Dogs More Likely To Guard Food in an Animal Shelter?

Kat Miller & Pam Reid

Common animal shelter “lore” suggests that dogs who are underweight or were previously starved are more likely than normal weight dogs to display resource guarding behavior, warning or aggressing towards a human that approaches while the dog is eating. As a result of our anti-cruelty work with law enforcement agencies, each year the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) receives hundreds of dogs that are underweight or emaciated, as well as normal and overweight dogs. These dogs come from large scale cases of dog fighting, hoarding, substandard puppy breeders, and defunct animal “sanctuaries”, as well as individual cases of cruelty and neglect. We administer standardized forensic medical and behavioral examinations soon after intake for all animals seized by law enforcement officers. We analyzed this dataset to examine the relationship between body condition score (BCS) and food and chew guarding behavior as expressed in a shelter behavior evaluation. The goals of this study were to:

1) Describe the prevalence and severity of food guarding among canine victims of cruelty or neglect when assessed in a shelter setting,

2) Examine whether prevalence of food guarding varies by dogs’ cruelty case type,

3) Describe the range of body condition scores found in this population,

4) Analyze the relationship between case type, body condition score, and food guarding behavior,

5) Examine the odds that an underweight dog will be a food guarder compared to normal or overweight dogs.

We had previously collected, analyzed and presented data from a sample of 469 dogs, with ambiguous results concerning the effect of cruelty case type. We therefore collected data from an additional 431 dogs and will now present our revised results from a sample of 900 dogs.

Case(s) Study: Equal Dogs/interdog Aggression (Or, Where I was confused and failed to help)

Melissa Shyan-Norwalt

The goal of the present discussion is to share a few cases where I had no idea what to do, and to generate a group discussion about how similar cases were handled by others. There have been a few instances in my behavior consulting where I felt totally confused. These cases involved interdog aggression within a home environment: two dogs fighting in apparent dominance-related activities. (I have been successful with interdog/home aggression under other circumstances: possessive aggression, fear aggression, reactive aggression.) But the few cases I’ve had where the dogs appear to be equal in status, show dominance postures, and fight upon sight just stymie me. (Yes, I know about the operant conditioning elements in these circumstances.) I will present two cases, what I tried and what happened. Then I hope we will generate a discussion of what techniques others have used, what we used to be told to use (deference, selecting the “top dog,” et cet.) and what works. I know that “dominance” terms are not popular now, and I do not have many of these cases. But they completely flabbergast me and I’m not embarrassed to say so.

The Human Component of Behavior Consultations

Beth L. Strickler, Ellen Mahurin, & Ayelet Berger

The essential components of pet behavior consultations include gathering information from the client, engaging the client in the development and implementation of the treatment plan, and ensuring that the client is making progress through the patient’s treatment. Many clients are apprehensive when entering into behavioral treatment for their pet as the unknown can be discomforting. Training of individuals involved in behavioral therapy for pets often concentrates on the interaction with and comfort of the pet while ignoring the human-human interactions. An open discussion of techniques utilized from first contact through resolution of the behavior problem(s) will be discussed by our team. Topics and techniques to be discussed include but are not limited to: Identifying and affirming the client’s emotional state throughout consultation and treatment, reading body language and replying, environmental relaxation tools, and goal setting with reward systems for clients.

Attitudes Toward and Perceptions of Canine Problem Behaviors

Kelsea Brown, Sasha Protopopova, Janis Bradely 

Up to 15% of adopted dogs are subsequently returned. Owner dissatisfaction with their dog’s behavior has been linked to a high risk of both initial surrender and return of adopted dogs. However, only a small proportion of people who subsequently adopted the same dog reported the same behavioral issue, and only half of the problem behaviors indicated by the relinquishing owner were observed by the new adoptive owners, indicating that perception of the behavior as a problem, and not the presence of the behavior per se, may contribute to relinquishment. These effects were particularly evident in Marder, Shabelansky, Patronek, Dowling-Guyer, and D’Arpino (2013), who found that the presence of food-guarding in a new home was not correlated with owner perception of this behavior as problematic. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to identify and compare dog trainers’ and the lay public’s attitudes toward potentially problematic canine behavior in large and small dogs. In a web-based experimental mixed-design, 251 professional dog trainers and 495 non-trainers (N=746) were randomly assigned to view videos of either small or large dogs behaving in various ways. The participants’ perception towards the behavior clips and the attitudes towards the dogs were assessed using quantitative and qualitative measures. Results showed effects of both dog size and profession on perception of behavior as problematic. The findings highlight the importance of perception of behavior when considering education, behavior consulting, and relinquishment interventions.

Social Facilitation as a Tool for Treating Extreme Fear in Undersocialized Dogs

Kristen Collins & Pia Silvani

ABS certified behaviorists on the ASPCA®’s Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team have the unique opportunity to work with animals seized from abusive situations. One of the more common populations we deal with is fearful, undersocialized dogs. The case study we’ll showcase describes the treatment protocols we implemented to address extreme fearfulness in an adult male Australian Shepherd mix. After being trapped as feral, Ozzie was sent to the ASPCA®’s Behavioral Rehabilitation Center. He made little progress over his first weeks in the program. Initially he was terrified of both people and dogs. In an attempt to reduce his incapacitating anxiety, we focused on socializing him with other dogs first. Only after he became comfortable with conspecifics was Ozzie able to progress through our other treatment protocols. Social facilitation proved a useful tool; Ozzie appeared less anxious and more playful interacting with people and engaging in novel experienc es when in the presence of confident dogs. Eventually, Ozzie learned to bond with people, to enjoy being handled and to feel at ease with strangers. Ozzie graduated from the program after 32 weeks in treatment and was successfully adopted into a pet home.

Effects of Therapy Dogs on Mood States of College Students

Scott Coleman

Purpose: Human interaction with dogs and other domesticated animals affords multiple physiological and psychological benefits. Numerous studies show a reduction in anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate among other well-being indices. These effects have been identified in critical human populations with cognitive, development, social, and cardiovascular health disorders. More recently, research has investigated the impact of human/animal interactions in pedagogical domains. The present study investigated the effect of human-animal interactions on the short-term mood states of college students.

Method: Two hundred-forty college students served as participants in this study. Participants were recruited from a large pool of students that attended regularly scheduled therapy dog visitation at the central library on the UTA campus. This study utilized a questionnaire format to assess the mood states of participants immediately before and after interaction with therapy dogs. Mood states were measured using the Profile of Mood States short form (POMS-SF) Shacham (1983). In addition to mood state assessment, participants indicated areas of physical contact (i.e., petted) on the therapy dog using a check list. The duration of the interaction with the therapy dog was also obtained. Thus, the questionnaire provided measurement of length of time and topographical characteristics of the participants’ human-animal interaction.

Results: As expected, total negative mood disturbance decreased from before (M = 47.60, SE = 1.73) to after (M = 21.61, SE = 1.08) engaging in physical contact with a therapy dog, F(1, 224) = 368.16, p < .001, ηp2 = .62. Participants with higher negative mood prior to the session had larger decreases during the session, b = -0.65, SE = 0.03, t(221) = -20.21, p < .001. However, this effect was enhanced by both greater time spent with the therapy dogs, b = -0 006, SE = 0.003, t(217) = -2.28, p = .02, as well as the more total contact areas, b = -0.025, SE = 0.007, t(217) = -3.64, p < .001. However, time spent and areas touched were only marginally associated, r(223) = .13, p = .05.

Conclusions: College students face challenging day-to-day situations that provoke negative mood states, stress, and anxiety. Our study demonstrated the efficacy of instituting an on-campus therapy dog program to ameliorate negative mood in college students. Given the current findings, we anticipate the existence of a wide range of therapeutic effects stemming from human-animal interaction in academic settings. We discuss our finding in relation to the application of therapy of therapy dog in areas of research relevant to health psychology. Future research will investigate the relationships between antecedent factors, such as attitude toward pets, personality, and test anxiety for the potential beneficial role of human-animal interactions.

More than just playing around

Claire F. Cario

By designing a tool that assesses a dog’s intraspecific sociability while measuring changes seen over time, we can provide valuable information to potential adopters, rescues or fosters and evaluate the impact of off leash interaction among conspecifics in a shelter environment. This information may also decrease length of stay as well as returns. Animal Care Centers of NYC is an open admission shelter with an intake of 10,000 plus dogs every year. In Brooklyn alone, we receive an average of 400 dogs every month. The average length of stay is between 10-14 days with a handful of long stays here 3 months or more. The primary form of enrichment that is provided is daily playgroup. Initially the program was introduced to reduce stress and to assist in the daily cleaning of the kennels. However, it now serves both those purposes as well as an opportunity to gather behavioral information on the population and provide socialization sessions for fearful and under-socialized dogs. The development of a scale that assesses a dog’s level of sociability, tolerance and energy level in relation to other dogs may provide a simple, yet informative way to convey behavioral information to adopters, rescues or fosters. This may also may improve the chance that a dog will be rehomed into an environment that would be most compatible with who they are. Additionally, we intend to track changes (eg: Day 1, 4, 7, 14, and 30) throughout the dog’s stay to measure the effect playgroup has on the population.