Presented by Dr Robert Falconer-Taylor, BVetMed, DipCABT, MRCVS, Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE).

Hosted by: COAPE Poland, chaired by Mr Andrew Kłosiński.

Date: Saturday, November 12th 2016.

Review written by: Katarzyna Wawryniuk, Zoo Psychologist. Behaviourist. Instructor training dogs

This article is translated from the original Polish article HERE, with permission, big thank you and all acknowledgements of ownership of the original material to the original author Katarzyna Wawryniuk.

It’s a chilly Saturday, November 12th, 7:50AM. I open my eyes as I’m woken by the noise of cars slipping and sliding on the icy road outside. I turn on the small, somewhat archaic television perched on a table beside me in the humble little room in the hostel. I slowly begin preparing to leave, when I hear the voice of Tomasza Kamela [presenter on Polish National morning TV] “…and now in our studio, we ask the question – do dogs dream?” And we have well-known animal behaviourist Andrzej Kłosiński, leader of COAPE in Poland, here on the programme, to answer this question for us. Prophetic; I couldn’t have come up with a better start to the day if I tried! COAPE Poland is the organiser of the seminar, chaired by Andrew Kłosiński himself, I’m here in Warsaw to attend.

Dr Robert Falconer-Taylor is a lecturer and veterinary director of COAPE in the UK and COAPE Poland. COAPE (Centre of Applied Pet Ethology) was one of the first organisations to offer specifically targeted pet training and behaviours courses, and its affiliated COAPE Association of Applied Pet Trainers and Behaviourists (CAPBT) is the largest organisation of professional trainers and behaviourists in the UK. COAPE also designed the renowned EMRA tool used for over a decade by behaviourists and trainers all over the world. This system is described in the book “EMRA Intelligence: The revolutionary new approach to treating behaviour problems in dogs” written by COAPE partners Val Strong, Professor Peter Neville and Dr Robert Falconer-Taylor.

Dr Falconer-Taylor has lectured and consulted in many countries worldwide, publishes articles in the press for veterinarians and in other specialised magazines. He is also the author of a blog on the COAPE website. These publications have been used many times by organisations, trainers and behaviourists from around the world.

Dr Falconer-Taylor is an international consultant to the pet industry producing goods and accessories for animals, including enrichment toys to improve welfare and relationships with owners. He helped develop the first risk assessment tool specifically designed to quantify the risks to the pet, rather than their humans, associated with their use. He regularly conducts training and behaviour seminars for organisations such as Dogs Trust, the largest dog rescue charity in the UK. He was also involved in the development of The Puppy Plan in 2012 and its second edition in 2014. The program was the result of a collaboration between Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club. He also sits on the behaviour advisory panel of International Cat Care.

Dr Falconer-Taylor’s main interest is the study of cognitive processes of companion animals, their emotions, diet and its impact on behaviour, and applied neurophysiology, pharmacology in the treatment of behavioural disorders. His guiding motto is that ‘The key to animal welfare lies in the proper education of their humans’.

The grand lecture theatre at the Warsaw Agricultural University was full! There were even people sitting on the stairs. Among the audience were many prominent and well-respected specialists including Dr Tadeusz Kaleta, my undergraduate teacher and group leader with whom I studied and practiced training and behaviour at the Warsaw zoo. It was a great pleasure for me to meet her again so many years after my graduation from the university. The atmosphere in the auditorium was amazing, so many experts in one place all at the same time, all filled with the same curiosity and anticipation of what they might hear from Dr Falconer-Taylor!

I will start with a synopsis of Dr Falconer-Taylor. Despite the fact that he is a great authority in his field, he turned out to be a fantastic, likeable and open man who passed on his knowledge in an interesting and accessible way. Dr Falconer-Taylor was an inspiration to all listening, igniting thoughts in all of us about how we go about the practice of behaviour and behaviour therapy in our own lives.

Using an extremely substantial body of evidence-based material in the lecture slides, Dr Falconer-Taylor discussed the many different inter-disciplinary aspects of what constitutes ‘behaviour and behaviour problems’ in pets. A true understanding of behaviour and competence in solving complex behaviour problems in spans a wide knowledgebase including animal psychology, ethology, behavioural ecology, neuroscience, pharmacology and medicine. Tapping into this knowledgebase requires close cooperation and collaboration between veterinarians, trainers and behaviourists. We must all remember that solving behaviour problems is not just a matter of finding the quickest and most convenient fix, for example using aversive techniques including punishment. Dogs and cats are living creatures with feelings much like our own so their long-term well-being, and of course that of their owners, must be respected at all times. Working together, we now have the knowledge to do things better and more humanely.

Dr Falconer-Taylor discussed once again the different aspects of the selection of training methods, backed up by many studies over decades, and what every good behaviourist knows. Electric collars electrical, prong collars and chokes chains belong on the shelves of history, along with VHS video cassettes, vinyl records and mobile phones with flip antennae. We now have much better and more effective ways of working with dogs.

A pet dog learns the basics of living with his human family from the family members, so his long-term welfare is dependent on the family’s knowledge. We now know that all mammals have a discrete set of both positive and negative emotional systems through which they learn, and these in turn are responsible for defining the animal’s overall mood state over time, good or bad. Using training methods that engage the positive emotional systems helps to ensure that the dog’s overall mood state, and therefore his welfare, is healthy and balanced. The end result is a secure and happy dog living in harmony within the family – the whole point of having a dog in the first place.

Happy dogs are eager to learn and they learn complex tasks faster because they are not frightened to make mistakes, and when they do, they readily look for guidance and help from their trainer. Learning this was is a partnership. Compare this with training a dog using aversive techniques, which often engage the more primitive, limbic systems of the brain and in particular reflexive avoidance behaviours. This kind of learning is inflexible because it makes dogs frightened of trying new things while being trained. Worse, the negative emotional consequences of aversive experiences can last a lifetime.

Dr Falconer-Taylor gave an example citing a study done on police dogs trained using shock collars. 10 years after their retirement, the dogs were re-introduced to their trainers and their reactions to them were surprising – they showed signs of stress and avoidance. All those years later, the negative associations the dogs had with these men remained.

My own personal interests related to the emotions and moods in dogs and cats. in a very transparent manner, Dr Falconer-Taylor discussed the definitions, the differences and the applied practical applications in behavioural therapy in these animals. It gave me great inspiration and motivation to explore these ideas in my own work. In addition, Dr Falconer-Taylor discussed the applications and appropriateness of a range of drugs in relation to support pharmacotherapy in behavioural therapy

Animal behaviour and especially behaviour problems must be assessed comprehensively. A good behaviourist is neither the alpha, nor the omega in the process. Good behaviourists are the ones that know what they do not know. They collaborate with other professionals, such as veterinarians and dog trainers, in order to properly evaluate an animal’s behaviour, behaviour history, lifestyle, relationships with other animals and relationships with humans. Only this way can the most effective and evidence-based therapeutic plan be put into place as quickly as possible.

This approach benefits both the animals involved and their humans. Dealing with behaviour problems in dogs is not a process of trial and error. Some behaviour problems, especially those related with fear, can take a long time to fix and may benefit enormously from the use of prescription medications as part of the behavioural plan. These things cannot be rushed, the behaviourist is not a magician. Sometimes there are other concomitant diseases present, such as endocrine disease, which can negatively affect mood state and therefore behaviour. These animals need plenty of time, passion and commitment from all involved in order to get well again.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that Dr Falconer-Taylor’s seminar in Warsaw is the second this year hosted by COAPE Poland. In July, we had Professor Raymond Coppinger’s seminar ‘Ethology and the behavioural ecology of the domestic dog’, with which I was equally pleased. Two fantastic experts, researchers, practitioners. Two different approaches. Together they gave us all a comprehensive injection of modern and reliable knowledge. COAPE Poland, thank you again for the opportunity to develop and improve our skills as animal behaviourists, see you at the next seminars!


© copyright Robert Falconer-Taylor and Katarzyna Wawryniuk, 2016
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