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.


46th Annual Convention; Online; 2020

Event Details

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Symposium #191
CE Offered: BACB
Applications of Functional Analysis Methodology to Feline Aggression
Sunday, May 24, 2020
11:00 AM–11:50 AM
Area: AAB; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Steven W. Payne (California State University, Fresno)
Discussant: Christy A. Alligood (Disney's Animal Kingdom and University of Florida)
CE Instructor: Christy A. Alligood, Ph.D.

Domesticated cats may engage in a variety of problem behaviors that adversely affect their lives and the lives of humans that adopt them. While some problem behaviors can be relatively minor, human-directed aggression can cause potential harm to owners and others, which may be more likely to lead to shelter relinquishment or euthanasia. Additionally, cats that engage in problem behavior like human-directed aggression may be less likely to be adopted from shelters. If identified, effective behavioral interventions may decrease the likelihood of future pet relinquishments and increase adoption rates, and in doing so, euthanasia rates may decrease. Functional analysis (FA) is an empirically based method for identifying the function of problem behavior, which can then be used to develop effective, function-based treatments to reduce problem behavior. While FA has been heavily studied in humans, there is a small but growing literature base supporting its use in identifying the function of problem behavior non-human animals. This symposium will present two studies that used FA methods to identify the functions of human-directed aggression in domestic cats in foster homes and shelters and develop function-based treatment. Implications of the application of FA and animal welfare will be discussed.

Target Audience:

The target audience for the symposium are behavior analysts interested in the application of functional analysis methodology to new populations and species.

Functional Analysis and Treatment of Feline Aggression in an Animal Shelter
Maria Salmeron (Trumpet Behavioral Health), Steven W. Payne (California State University, Fresno), Arielle Brianna Hegr (California State University, Fresno), QUETZALI BASULTO SUAREZ (California State University, Fresno)
Abstract: Problematic behavior of cats in animal shelters may prevent the adoption of the animal and may lead to euthanasia. Currently, no formal assessment is conducted on cats to identify the function of problem behavior. Functional analysis (FA) is an empirical tool that has been used to identify the function of problem behavior by manipulating possible antecedents and consequences that may influence the occurrence of the problem behavior. By identifying the variables that maintain the problem behavior, a function-based treatment can be developed to treat the problem behavior. FAs have been successful in various populations (i.e., human populations, captive non-human animals, domesticated non-human animals), however, there are currently no published studies using FAs to identify problem behavior in domestic cats. This study analyzed the effectiveness of a FA by developing and implementing treatment based on the function of feline aggression in shelter animals. The subjects were found to have problem behavior maintained by social-negative reinforcement, and a function-based treatment was designed. For all cats, a reduction of at least 80% of problem behavior from baseline levels were observed. Implications regarding FA procedures and cat adoption will be discussed.

Functional Analysis of Aggression Exhibited by Cats Towards Humans During Petting

VICTORIA FLETCHER (University of Houston-Clear Lake), Jennifer N. Fritz (University of Houston-Clear Lake), Megan Skrbec (University of Houston-Clear Lake), Samantha Dyer (University of Houston-Clear Lake)

Human-directed aggression is a common problem, which can often lead to re-homing or relinquishing the cat and can cause injuries and infections for the human. Methodology exists to determine the function of problem behavior in humans and has been applied to various topographies of problem behaviors. The current study applied this methodology to assess human-directed aggression exhibited by cats during petting and implement function-based treatment. Results suggested that aggression during petting for all three cats was maintained by escape from petting. Extinction and providing the functional reinforcer (i.e., escape from petting) contingent on the absence of aggression was implemented with all three cats, which decreased aggression for each cat.




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