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.


50th Annual Convention; Philadelphia, PA; 2024

Event Details

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Symposium #118
Constructional Approach to Understanding Our Animal's Emotions and Creating Individualized Function-Based Programs
Saturday, May 25, 2024
3:00 PM–4:50 PM
Convention Center, 100 Level, 102 AB
Area: AAB; Domain: Theory
Chair: Maia Huff-Owen (University of North Texas)
Discussant: Morgan Katz (MSPCA-Angell)

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Constructional Approach (Goldiamond, 1974), this symposium will examine Constructional Approaches to caring for animals, teaching social interactions, and implementing individualized function-based training programs to achieve meaningful goals. Working with animals often presents unique challenges to identifying the function of behaviors and understanding how the present contingencies could influence their emotions. There are decades of research on the Constructional Approach to achieving meaningful outcomes with humans (see Layng et al., 2022), and this symposium represents an extension of this work to the world of animal welfare and training. This symposium provides examples of the generality and effectiveness of the principles identified by Dr. Israel "Izzy" Goldiamond and those who have followed in his footsteps. Presentations in this symposium will provide examples across several species of applications of the Constructional Approach to better understand animal emotions, teach social behaviors, and address undesirable behavior by establishing new behaviors that obtain the same consequences.

Instruction Level: Basic
Keyword(s): Animal Training, Animal Welfare, Constructional Approach, Function-based Intervention
Heart of the Matter: The Story of Three Dogs and the Importance of Understanding the "Why" in Aggression
MAASA NISHIMUTA (Constructional Approach to Animal Welfare and Training), Sean Michael Will (CAAWT)
Abstract: Not all instances of aggressive behavior are equal! For any given behavior, there can be multiple "meanings" or functions. Furthermore, the function cannot be assumed purely by examining the topography of behavior. It can be tempting to "interpret" behavior through body language or assume function from how we feel our animals "typically" behave. However, this presentation will go beyond the topography and demonstrate how different instances of aggressive-looking behaviors can require entirely different training programs and consequences. This presentation will feature three dogs that all engaged in what could be assumed to be "aggressive behavior." Understanding the function of each dog's aggressive behaviors was critical to get to the "heart of the matter" and provide a function-based training program. Through these cases, this presentation will explore how we planned and interpreted assessments, and created three completely different individualized function-based programs to achieve desired outcomes for each of these dogs and their families.

Animal Training That Transforms and Measures Emotional Welfare


Animal emotions, being private events, are a topic that has been difficult to directly evaluate in the world of animal training, welfare, and behavior. However, Goldiamond (1974) identified that emotions are private outcomes of different contingencies. This means that when contingencies are altered, emotions can be changed. This can guide animal training interventions to focus on addressing contingencies to transform overt emotional behavior and the associated covert private emotions. Adopting this approach to understanding emotions and emotional behavior can provide insight to help structure living and training environments that better suit our animals' individual needs. This presentation will provide examples of how this powerful strategy can be used to measure behavioral responses in animal training programs, which can provide a more objective evaluation of emotions, resulting in improved welfare. Analyzing the contingencies surrounding emotions and the associated behaviors can add an entirely new dimension to typical approaches to measuring animal welfare.

Canine Social Etiquette Redefined: Conjugate Reinforcement Schedules in Dog Behavior Training
BOB KEITH SIEMENS (Calgary Humane Society )
Abstract: This presentation will examine the transformative impact of Conjugate Reinforcement Schedules, a concept initially championed by the eminent Ogden Lindsley (see Lindsley, 1963). These schedules, recognized for their adaptability in social reinforcers, infant education, medical applications, advertising, and more, now take center stage as the architects of polite canine interactions. Ogden Lindsley stressed the importance of conjugate schedules with regard to social interactions. He stated that conjugate schedules are ideal for the delivery of social reinforcers. Furthermore, he also states that social reinforcers lose their reinforcing value when delivered through an episodic schedule. A benefit of conjugate reinforcement schedules that is completely different from other schedules is that some level of the functional reinforcer is always available. In these cases, the learner always has access to some amount of the reinforcer, thus minimizing the likelihood of contacting extinction and the undesirable outcomes associated with extinction. During this presentation, keeping in line with the 50th anniversary of the Constructional Approach, we will explore Constructional applications of conjugate reinforcement schedules to teaching reactive dogs the fine art of polite greetings and channeling the enthusiasm of exuberant puppies into socially adept playmates.

Building Trust With Reptiles Through the Constructional Approach


This presentation will examine the question of whether it is possible to establish social interactions with reptiles. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Constructional Approach, we will showcase how the Constructional Approach enabled the development of mutually enjoyable interactions with two reptiles. Through the exploration of these captivating case studies, we offer insights into the fascinating world of human-reptile relationships. We will explore two cases featuring an Indian Star Tortoise and Emerald Tree Skink, both of which initially engaged in distancing behaviors in the presence of people, and how a Constructional Approach was applied to better understand these reptiles and build individualized function-based training programs. A unique and detailed analysis of these two reptiles' behaviors will be presented during this talk to demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach in fostering trust and positive engagement with reptiles. By examining these cases, we aim to contribute to our understanding of the potential for human-reptile relationships and open new avenues for research and conservation efforts.




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