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.


49th Annual Convention; Denver, CO; 2023

Event Details

Previous Page


Symposium #3
CE Offered: BACB
Evaluation of Modified Functional Analyses of and Treatment for Feline Aggression Toward Humans
Saturday, May 27, 2023
10:00 AM–10:50 AM
Hyatt Regency, Centennial Ballroom E
Area: AAB; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Jennifer N. Fritz (University of Houston-Clear Lake)
CE Instructor: Jennifer N. Fritz, Ph.D.
Abstract: Aggression exhibited by cats toward humans is a common reason for relinquishment of cats to animal shelters. This symposium will include two presentations focused on modified approaches to functional analyses (FA) of aggression – trial-based FA and precursor FA. Both approaches were evaluated to potentially minimize instances of aggression during assessment and inform effective, function-based treatment. Varied approaches to treatment were evaluated in the studies, and the relative effectiveness and advantages to each approach will be discussed.
Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): aggression, function-based treatment, functional analysis, shelter cats
Target Audience: The audience should have experience with functional analysis and function-based treatment for challenging behavior.
Learning Objectives: 1. Describe how to implement a trial-based functional analysis (FA) with cats 2. Describe how to implement a precursor identification assessment and precursor FA with cats 3. Describe how to implement various function-based treatments with cats to decrease aggression, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each approach

Trial-Based Functional Analysis With Shelter Cats

STEVEN W. PAYNE (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), Valerie Guzman (Butterfly Effects)

Shelter cats who exhibit problem behavior are less likely to be adopted and may be euthanized. Functional analysis has been shown useful for identifying the variables that maintain problem behavior in some nonhuman animals. However, traditional functional analysis methodology can be difficult to use in shelter settings. Trial-based functional analyses (TBFAs), which are conducted in the natural environment and require few instances of problem behavior, may be useful. However, the efficacy of TBFAs has not been demonstrated with non-humans. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to assess the TBFA for use with shelter cat problem behavior. TBFAs were conducted on the aggressive behavior of three cats and the results were used to create a function-based interventions. Results showed that problem behaviors were maintained by escape from humans and function-based treatments reduced problem behaviors to below 80% of baseline levels. Implications and practical issues will be discussed.

Functional Analysis of Precursors to Aggression Exhibited by Cats During Petting
JENNIFER TRANG NGUYEN (University of Houston-Clear Lake), Jennifer N. Fritz (University of Houston-Clear Lake), Victoria Fletcher (University of Houston-Clear Lake), Amanda Davis (University of Houston-Clear Lake; Concept Connections)
Abstract: Treatment of aggression based on the results of a functional analysis (FA) is one of the most effective methods to increase the adoptability of aggressive shelter cats and decrease the rate of relinquishment following adoption (Fritz et al., 2021; Salmeron et al., 2021). However, previous studies examining the use of FAs with feline subjects have cited injuries to the experimenters as a limitation. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of precursor FAs when used to determine the function of aggression exhibited by felines. First, the experimenters conducted a precursor assessment and a probability analysis to objectively identify precursors to aggression. Then, both a precursor FA and an aggression FA were separately conducted, and the results compared to evaluate the degree of correspondence. For all participants, FA outcomes showed that precursors were maintained by the same variables as aggression. Thus, FAs of precursors may be an effective and viable means to determine the function of aggression exhibited by cats in order to inform behavioral interventions.
Treatment Comparison for Escape-Maintained Aggression by Cats During Petting
VICTORIA FLETCHER (University of Houston-Clear Lake), Jennifer N. Fritz (University of Houston-Clear Lake), Amanda Davis (University of Houston-Clear Lake; Concept Connections), Abigail Konecki (University of Houston - Clear Lake), Jennifer Trang Nguyen (University of Houston-Clear Lake)
Abstract: One of the most common reasons cat owners give for re-homing is aggression. Functional analysis methodology has been shown to identify the function of aggression in cats and function-based treatment was effective in decreasing the behavior. This study aimed to identify the most effective and efficient treatment for reducing cats’ aggression maintained by escape from petting. Noncontingent reinforcement (NCR), differential reinforcement of other behavior (DRO), and DRO with arbitrary positive reinforcement (SR+) were evaluated. For one cat, all three interventions were effective in reducing aggression in a comparable number of sessions. For two other cats, DRO with SR+ was more effective than the other two treatments and aggression met mastery criteria in fewer sessions. Identifying more efficient and effective interventions for problem behavior may reduce injuries sustained by lessening the occurrences of behavior, be easier for non-behavior analysts to implement, and lead to higher social validity. If shelter or rescue staff are able and willing to implement procedures, treatment may be implemented and available for more cats who engage in aggression during petting, which may increase the likelihood that they will be adopted.



Back to Top
Modifed by Eddie Soh