The decision making process used by a companion animal professional  to determine how intrusive training and behavior interventions should be is driven first and foremost by the professional’s ethical obligations. The companion animal professional must use the least intrusive and effective intervention available. The companion animal professional has an obligation to use effective protocols to address the target behavior but must also recognize that they are responsible for the animal’s entire wellbeing (O’Heare p 14 2009).

When developing training programs or behavior change interventions the professional needs to decide if they are adding to the animal’s behavior repertoire, training a new behavior or reducing the strength of an existing problematic behavior.  When choosing an intervention or a training program, the risks and benefits must be considered particularly when taking into consideration whether to use aversive stimulation. Intrusiveness is on a continuum and the professional, having completed a function assessment and developed a contingency statement, should proceed forwards using the least intrusive procedure available to them from a recognized behavior change strategy (O’Heare p 10 2009).

The companion animal professional should start their intervention at the lowest level of “the least intrusive effective behavior intervention algorithm and levels of intrusiveness table” (LIEBI). If the least intrusive behavior change program is unsuccessful the professional trainer needs to reconsider and revaluate the components used to determine the contingency statement and then make the necessary adjustments to the behavior change program.

If the professional has continued failure in achieving the behavior plan goals using the intervention then before considering an increase in the intrusiveness of the intervention it would be wise to obtain another perspective on the problem from a more qualified professional and either work under their supervision or consider referring the case to them. The professional trainer can also decide at this point to move to level 2 or level 3 on the LIEBI model as both of these levels are considered minimally intrusive (O’Heare p 14 2009).

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If the behavior change program is still not effective and the companion animal professional is considering more intrusive interventions a decision should not be made prior to or without considering if the client needs to explore psychopharmacological solutions. The professional also needs to, in concert with the animal’s owner, consider if the behavior is an unacceptable safety risk or is unmanageable. It may be necessary, based on these factors, to make a decision on whether the environment can be manipulated through antecedent control measures to “mitigate the effect of the problem behavior” (O’Heare p 15 2009).

The professional should consistently be looking at the risks and benefits prior to making any decisions particularly as they move further along the algorithm. The decision to make use of more intrusive interventions is weighed against doing the least harm and the animal’s dignity. The decision to increase the intrusiveness of the intervention needs to be well thought through and justified. Could the consequences of a failed behavior change program be more aversive to the animal then a behavior change program with a more intrusive intervention?  If a companion animal professional  is considering using an aversive behavior change program they need to decide if they are competent enough to ethically carry it out and if not, they  should decide between referring the case or working on the case under the supervision of  a more competent professional (O’Heare p 14 2009).

O’Heare, J. (2009). The least intrusive effective behavior intervention (LIEBI) algorithm and levels of intrusiveness table: A proposed best-practice model. Journal of Applied Companion Animal Behavior. 3(1), 7-25.

Niki Tudge is the owner and founder of The DogSmith, America’s Dog Training, Dog Walking and Pet Care Franchise. To learn more about joining the DogSmith visit https://www.dogsmith.com

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You can reach Niki via email at NikiTudge@DogSmith.com or www.DogSmith.com