Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


47th Annual Convention; Online; 2021

All times listed are Eastern time (GMT-4 at the time of the convention in May).

Event Details

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Symposium #99
CE Offered: BACB
Expanding the Influence of Behavior-Analytic Contributions to Great Animal Welfare
Saturday, May 29, 2021
3:00 PM–3:50 PM
Area: AAB/TBA; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Terri M. Bright (MSPCA Angell)
CE Instructor: Terri M. Bright, M.S.

Over the past decade, animal welfare has become a focal point for laboratory, equine, companion, and zoological animals. This presents a unique expansion opportunity for the behavior analytic community. In 2001, the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis published its first applied animal behavior (AAB) article. Since then, AAB research has continued to gain momentum and demonstrated effectiveness with species ranging from rats, dogs, horses, birds, big cats, non-human primates, and killer whales. Previous research has improved animal welfare by utilizing discrete trial training, functional analysis, extinction, noncontingent reinforcement, and differential reinforcement procedures. This symposium highlights efforts being made to continue the reach of AAB by furthering research to puppy guide dogs, domestic cats, penguins, Asian elephants, and birds of prey. Attendees can expect to learn about descriptive functional behavioral assessments, behavior skills training, procedural fidelity, and how effective data-based decisions have been used with animals, their caretakers, and successfully improved animal welfare. The symposium will shed light the challenges practitioners face with zoological research, the necessity of collaborative diverse teams and innovative approaches, along with the impact and adaptations zoological research required due to Covid-19.

Instruction Level: Advanced
Implementing Functional Behavior Assessment of Undesired Puppy Behavior in a Guide Dog Training Organization
JANIE A FUNK (University of Nevada, Reno)
Abstract: Guide dogs are an important resource for the community with visual impairment. Puppies begin training for a career of a guide dog as early as eight weeks old until they are upwards of two years old. Despite the many resources allocated towards preparing the dogs for their guide dog career, a leading guide dog training organization reports over half of dogs in the training program fail to meet behavioral standards. Guide dogs are trained in a complex system making it difficult to pinpoint the primary contributor(s) to poor training outcomes. However, the puppy-raising period has been identified as a period during which puppies begin to engage in behaviors that threaten their suitability as a guide dog. The present research evaluated the treatment utility of a descriptive functional behavior assessment for puppy raisers’ management of undesired puppy behavior. The assessment informed a successful function-based intervention for three of the four participants. Results suggest utility of functional assessment of puppy behavior and assessing puppy raisers’ compliance to organizational training protocols. Implementation of assessment-informed behavioral intervention is an important step towards data-based decisions regarding the puppies’ best interest when it comes to continuing the career path of a guide dog.

Improving Rescued Bird-of-Prey Welfare With Behavior Skills Training


Animal welfare has become a leading discussion within the zoological community. Several accrediting organizations require zoos to have management positions that oversee animal training/behavior, enrichment, and animal welfare. The Five Freedoms, Five Domains Model, and the Opportunities to Thrive are animal welfare models that zoos adapt to assess animals in their care. In many cases, the skill of the animal trainer (trainer), animal-trainer dynamic, and the frequency or quality of animal-trainer interactions are not considered in these models. At SeaWorld Orlando, we assessed the frequency of off-perch trainer interactions (OPTI) with four rescued birds of prey (BOP). Behavior Skills Training (BST) was implemented to teach five critical BOP-trainer interaction skills across four novice dyads. BST criteria was set at five consecutive trials at 100% fidelity, one test trial per day. Trial-by-trial interobserver agreement was 98% across 50% of BST intervention and 97% across 33% of maintenance trials. Results demonstrated a total increase of OPTI at 128% from baseline to maintenance phases. This presentation will discuss our method and results, how we addressed an instructional limitation from our killer whale study, suggestions for future zoological welfare research, and will address the challenges and adaptations the study encountered due to Covid-19.


Enhancing Captive Animal Welfare: Behavior Analysis Can’t Do It Alone

KATHRYN L. KALAFUT (The Chicago School of Professional Psychology)

Applied animal behavior is a fast-growing area of behavior analysis. Many of its practitioners operate in captive animal environments such as animal shelters, sanctuaries, zoos, and aquariums. These environments provide considerable challenges for research. For example, staff often have limited time to collect behavioral data and require significant study to understand each species’ natural histories. Moreover, staff must carefully consider the widely different physical and mental capabilities of the species being studied. To address these challenges, practitioners must look outside our field to identify creative solutions. This presentation will discuss four studies now being conducted at The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. The subjects include Asian elephants, little blue penguins, African penguins, and domestic cats. Each study seeks to better understand these animals’ behavior and enhance their welfare. In addition, the presentation will examine each study’s unique challenges and setbacks. Finally, the presentation will explain the development of these studies and describe the diverse team needed to conduct this research. The unique data presented here illustrate the need for novel approaches when studying captive animal welfare as well as the immense benefits of a diverse collaborative team.




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