Are you a veterinary, behaviour or training practitioner looking for mentoring or supervision?

Mentoring

I offer mentoring for undergraduates, postgraduates, trainee behaviourists and those starting out as animal behaviourists.

I am fully qualified, insured and registered at the highest level with the Animal Behaviour and Training Council as a Clinical Animal Behaviourist, with 15 years experience as a behavioural practitioner running my own successful consultancy business.

I enjoy mentoring anybody who is new to behaviour practice and who seeks to develop their professional expertise, including provisional APBC members and anyone looking to become a Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist (CCAB)behaviourists.  I take pride in having mentored a number of new behaviourists who are now achieving success in their own practices.

I can mentor you one to one within two hours’ travelling of Manchester, UK, and online via Skype, Zoom or phone.

If you are looking for a mentoring placement with an experienced and fully qualified clinical behaviourist, please email me to discuss your requirements at info@animalbehaviourclinics.com

Clinical Supervision

I offer clinical supervision and consultancy to organisations and professionals working in the fields of veterinary medicine, animal behaviour consultancy, and animal training.

I am fully qualified, insured and registered at the highest level with the Animal Behaviour and Training Council as a Clinical Animal Behaviourist and I practice as a psychotherapist under membership of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.  I have provided clinical supervision and consultancy in a wide variety of animal practitioner environments, including trauma specialists, animal behaviour organisations, established clinical behaviourists and professional horse and dog trainers.

I can supervise you one to one, or as a small group, within two hours’ travelling of Manchester, UK, and online via Skype, Zoom or phone.

If you are looking for clinical supervision or consultancy, please email me to discuss your requirements at info@animalbehaviourclinics.com

New book: The Horse: A natural history

the horse book2

I’m proud, delighted and very pleased with my new recently published book, co-authored with Catrin Rutland, Associate Professor of Anatomy and Developmental Genetics at Nottingham Trent University.

An evolutionary, anatomical, behavioural and anthrozoological overview aimed at equine professionals, enthusiastic amateurs and undergraduates, it’s an easily-readable and accessible book that has been academically peer reviewed by Princeton University. Published by QuartoKnows/Ivy Press, “Ivy Press specialises in producing books that take innovative approaches to the subjects that you want to read about. The books are written by experts in their fields and designed to the very highest standards. Ivy Press produces titles that will inspire you…. books that will inform you, books that will expand your mind, and books that will stimulate you, however much you already know. Its bestselling non-fiction list includes titles on natural history, general reference, popular science….”.

“The Horse: A Natural History looks not only at the horse in the human context, but also at its own story, and at the way horses live and have lived both alongside people and independently. An initial chapter on Evolution & Development takes the reader from the tiny prehistoric Eohippus to modern-day Equus. Subsequent chapters on Anatomy & Biology and Society & Behavior offer a succinct explanation of equine anatomy, and outline the current thinking on horse behavior, incorporating information taken from the most recent research. Chapter 4, Horses & People, studies the part the horse has played in human history. Finally, a visually stunning gallery of breeds offers wonderful photographs alongside individual breed profiles. This is an essential addition to every horse enthusiast’s library.”

Amazon link here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Horse-natural-history-Debbie-Busby/dp/1782405658

Training – is it a choice?

Horse – health care treatment video

Some of you will know I’m not a fan of some of the purportedly “animal has choice” videos that are out there in the worlds of horse and dog training and management. I see many where the animal is being asked to do something frivolous, not beneficial to its wellbeing, and is clearly at/over threshold, aroused and/or finding the situation unpleasant, but stays around for the treats because they are so salient as species-specific biologically relevant stimuli.

Recently I watched a video (not the one linked here) where a horse being clipped stood like a little tin soldier whilst being “clicked and treated” (rewarded with food after the click of the marker signal); however an examination of the subtle signs of sympathetic arousal were indicators that the horse was in a negative emotional state, just as if he had been cross-tied to be clipped.

It’s ethically questionable to use a sufficiently salient positive stimulus operantly to coerce an animal into putting up with an aversive experience. The article linked below discusses this further with reference to humans. However, it is culturally normative for us to restrict other species both spatially and in terms of the opportunities we allow for the expression of behaviours on their natural ethogram. It comes to pass, therefore, that we need to engage in caregiving activities to maintain good physical and psychological health.

This video, link above, by horse trainer Melanie Watson is an example of good health care practice within a management and training paradigm that focuses on positive reinforcement and positive affect. The horse, Magic, is physically unrestrained and as Melanie observes, is sometimes at threshold because he does not find the washing a pleasant experience. His biological systems combine to express this externally by lifting his hind leg or swishing his tail. These are the early stage expressions of negative emotional state that have the potential to escalate into walking away (if free to do so) or fidgeting/biting/kicking (if physically restrained).

Something that Melanie has done, however, which wasn’t present in the other video I saw, is to have previously classically conditioned in her horse a positive emotional response to standing on the mat. This will have been achieved by many many repetitions in many different environmental contexts. This is what keeps Magic in place despite not loving the treatment he is receiving. The combination of the strong positive classical conditioning to the mat (think child + teddy at the dentist), plus the conditioned stimulus of the clicker and food rewards, and the psychological effects of selective attention, are sufficient for Magic to allow Melanie to continue washing him, yet he is still free to express any behavioural signs that he has reached a threshold where Melanie knows she may have to change what she’s doing, or give him a break. Their long interspecies relationship over time is part of this effect too.

I have also seen this method used by a colleague to trim the feet of an unhandleable pony, again using a previously classically conditioned “comfort” stimulus to elicit positive emotions.

https://mh.bmj.com/content/41/1/40

Caregiver responses to equine emotions

horse-head-2775082_1920 (1)

This study (link below) reflects an important stage in human behaviour change. Participants reported beliefs that horses have complex emotions including fear, pain and joy; however they also reported that they act towards their horses in ways that will cause psychologically negative emotions, despite stating that they wanted their horses to have a good life and avoid negative feelings. For example some of them knew that keeping a horse in social isolation or causing fear would lead to negative emotions, but they accepted this as part of domestic equine life.
“Some management practices that may cause negative emotions to horses are so common in the equestrian environment that people do not perceive them as causes of affective, emotional, or welfare problems for horses.”
What this says is that captive, managed horses are being kept in ways that represent poor emotional and physical welfare as a matter of course. To have this recognised from a scientifically evidential perspective adds weight to the transition towards a new paradigm in equine management. On the Transtheoretical model of behaviour change (five stages of change) this is an early stage, inviting and initiating contemplation which may lead to greater recognition of, and motivation to provide, the constituents of equine wellbeing.

https://thehorse.com/171321/horse-emotions-human-beliefs-and-how-they-drive-care/

UK dangerous dogs legislation fails to protect the public while harming animal welfare

My APBC clinical animal behaviourist colleague and erstwhile university lecturer David Ryan gave oral evidence in June to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, as part of their inquiry into Dangerous Dogs: Breed Specific legislation. The report is published today and calls for a full-scale review of current dog control legislation and policy to better protect the public, recognising also the effect on dog welfare.
The report recommended better education about responsible dog ownership and staying safe around dogs, and crucially it highlighted the need to ensure that better education is not undermined by bad practices in private industry. The committee said the Government should investigate the impact of poor dog training practices, and it should consider *stricter regulations to ensure all trainers are properly accredited according to a standardised framework.*
The Committee recommended removal of the ban on transferring banned breeds to new owners. This ban was declared misguided, resulting as it did in the unnecessary destruction of good-tempered dogs that could have been safely re-homed.
The Committee also proposed an independent review into the factors behind dog aggression and attacks, and whether banned breeds pose an inherently greater threat. The robustness of the Government’s evidence base on Breed Specific Legislation was challenged, citing evidence that some legal breeds can pose just as great a risk to public safety as illegal breeds.
Any new dog control model should include early intervention and consistently robust sanctions, including mandatory dog awareness courses for owners involved in low to mid-level offences.
You can read the full report on David’s website:

https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/dangerous-dogs-legislation-fails-to-protect-the-public-while-harming-animal-welfare/

Equine Behaviour in Mind

Applying behavioural science to the way we keep, work and care for horses. I’m very proud to have co-authored this book with a group of esteemed colleagues.


Intended for people who work with horses and for owners who want to learn more, Equine Behaviour in Mind provides ideas for practical ways that changes can be incorporated into daily interactions with horses. This book advocates a mindful approach to working with horses, encouraging the reader to think in a horse-centric way. Academic behavioural research is used to underpin understanding of horse behaviour and changes that can be made to positively improve horses’ lives. The aim is to provide both the theory behind behaviour-minded horse management and the practical application to enable impactful changes to be made. Real world examples and case studies are provided to highlight these points. Horse behaviour is discussed in a range of contexts, including breeding, training and competing. A behaviourally minded approach to teaching riding, to medical and dental check-ups, to rehabilitation and rescue, and to driving change for horse welfare in both developed and developing countries is also covered. Equine Behaviour in Mind will enable readers to think critically in an objective way about how they manage and work with their horses.

E-BARQ Equine Behaviour Assessment and Research Questionnaire

Horse owners! Can you help to develop a new and exciting equine behaviour questionnaire which will greatly advance our understanding of how training and management affect horse behaviour. This current questionnaire is a draft which will eventually turn into a final version due for wider release next March. There are already canine and feline versions of this assessment tool, designed to provide owners and professionals with standardised evaluations of temperament and behaviour, and the canine one particularly is well on its way to being recognised as the only behavioural assessment instrument of its kind to be extensively tested for reliability and validity on large samples of dogs of many breeds. This is what the E-BARQ aims to replicate for horses, and it would be great if you could help with its development at this early stage. Link to the survey below, should take about 30 minutes but you can save it and do it in stages.

https://www.kandooequine.com/p/e-barq

Beyond “being nice”


Who doesn’t understand the confirmation bias? I mean really. It’s so basic, all undergrad Psychology second years are just so familiar with it. See what I did there? Read on… there is so much to like in the article below (click on the link to open it). It’s interesting to think about human behaviour change in the context of the many changes taking place in our understanding of domestic horses, how they feel and function.

Information about how our management and training affects our horses’ health and physiology is still generally more persuasive than information about how our decisions affect them emotionally, even though both are from equally valid and scientific sources and indeed overlap in their effects on a companion animal that we would prefer to be in good physical and mental working order for the various activities we like to enjoy with them. So for example most horse people understand the need for trickle feeding to the extent that this is essential to minimise the risk of colic or ulcers; fewer understand the horse’s essential need for the company of its own species, and I don’t mean across an electric tape or a stable partition. But both are fundamental needs which must be met to ensure good physical and mental health. They are not desirable but essential.

Does a horse’s mental health matter if all you want to do is ride? Some people would be mortified to think they were not doing everything they possibly could to keep their horse happy; others want a physically fit animal capable of performing at the levels they require of them. These two categories are not mutually exclusive!  Clients sometimes ask me why I recommend a treatment plan that emphasises pleasant experiences and avoids unpleasant, fearful or painful ones. I do this because retraining and rehabilitation by activating positive emotions has been found over and over again to be the most effective and risk-free way of changing unwanted behaviour. And this includes permament changes at neural level, right inside the animal’s brain. One of the significant risks of using other methods is the risk that the stress causes to your horse’s health, whether that’s through inflammation (skin conditions, puffy joints), immunosuppression (endocrine/metabolic dysfunction), accident or injury. A napping, rearing, bucking or aggressive horse is a risk to handler safety too of course.

So I wonder why so many horse owners still eschew their horses’ emotional wellbeing, whilst rightly paying so much attention to physical health? Could the confirmation bias be at play?

https://heleo.com/facts-dont-change-peoples-minds-heres/16242/

Equine herd dynamics

feral-horses-956679_960_720I recently replied to a forum question and have been asked to publish it as a blog to a wider audience. The question provided this information:
The horse had been with same caregiver for 22 years, since a foal. Described as “a dominant horse but in a good way. A kind leader. He only has to flick his ears and horses move out of his way. Always the first at the gate. And just generally in charge. Moved yards over the years and always ended up running the group.” Following the most recent move to a new yard his caregiver reported that she was surprised to find him being chased off the food she offered him, and keeping away from any threatening behaviour. The yard owner told her he was not being chased around but was definitely keeping a distance and cantering off if one of the other horses came near. She was surprised that after careful introductions he was not as much of a boss he has been, and asked what might be happening.

I replied:
Your horse is very lucky to have had you as his sole caregiver since foalhood. A few points spring to mind from your post. Yes the flicking ears will keep other horses away in situations where all the horses know each other and understand the individual and group communication; however unlike chickens (it was early studies of dominance in chickens that coined the phrase “pecking order”), the social operation of groups of horses is based on affiliative and co-operative behaviour rather than dominance; their social structure is complex, nuanced and fluid, based on the value, availability and motivation to obtain available resources that are biologically and socially important to the horse. The structure is more like a complex web than a linear hierarchy, so it’s not particularly helpful to try to understand how horse groups operate from a perspective of dominance.

In evolutionary terms, it doesn’t make sense for horses always to be having arguments about access to resources, although on many yards it can seem as if that is the case. As an organism the horse needs to expend its energy moving to safe places, and finding food, water, shelter and shade to survive and reproduce the next generation. Horses haven’t evolved to have energy spare to fight all the time about who gets which choice piece of hay. That’s why you’ll find that where horses live in a settled group they have established extremely subtle communication signals like you’ve seen with your horse’s ear flick. It’s also why horses that move yards, or are turned out with different horses, often seem to have more “arguments” (resource holding contests, which can be small and low key, through to very aggressive), because the group is not settled or consistent, making it harder to learn the communication signals that each horse uses and requiring frequent re-contesting of various resources including piles of hay, and access to the gate which is often a predictor of access to a tasty bucket of food. Even when horses are stabled at night and turned out again together the next day this can create new resource holding contests once the group is back together, because it’s not natural for a group of horses to be separated, so if that happens they need to re-test who is allowed access to which resources each time the group reconvenes.

The measure of the ability of one horse to acquire and hold a specific resource, or to move another horse off a desired resource, be that hay, water, the best sun-bathing spot, the best rolling patch, is referred to as resource holding potential (RHP). RHP is understood in relation to individual resources and individual horses; different resources can take on different values at different times, for example shade isn’t very important on a cold, cloudy day.

Horses don’t have a linear hierarchy, with horse A being at the top and horse Z at the bottom. Instead it is more like a complex web, where different situations have different value for each individual horse based on their past experiences. For example, if horse A has had a history of insufficient forage they might move other horses off forage, and the other horses defer as they have learnt that that resource is less important to them than it is to horse A. However, horse B might highly value shade so will be first in line for that resource over horse A. So understanding horse behaviour in that way can help us to work out the causes of their behaviour.

You can find out more about the structure of group relationships in these articles published by the Equine Behaviour and Training Association (EBTA):
http://www.ebta.co.uk/faq-dominance.html
http://www.ebta.co.uk/faq-herd.html
http://www.ebta.co.uk/dominance-ls.html

Regarding your own horse, it’s interesting that despite several yard changes he has always ended up running the group. Without more information it’s hard to say why this might be, but some of the factors that influence high or low resource holding potential are laid down at a very early age including health status, how they were weaned, the emotional and health state of the mother, very early experiences, stress levels, relationships with other horses in the group, the type of activities they do with their owner, training methods, any specific and salient learning experiences…. These factors plus the health and emotional states of the other individuals in the group, and the different environments on different yards, will all have an effect.

An individual horse’s RHP can also be affected by any recent illness or injury, resource availability and group management. In a settled herd the horses all ‘work out’ access to resources between them and do not need to routinely re-affirm those relationships. But when the herd changes there will be some contests. Perhaps the histories of the new herd-mates means that resources are more important to them than some of your horse’s previous herd mates. Part of the jigsaw is the magnanimity or otherwise of group members and that is also to do with their willingness to contest a resource. At 22 your horse is not that old but certain age related conditions could be starting that might have lowered his RHP, coupled perhaps with the anxiety that comes with attempting to establish the social structure when he is the new horse, unfamiliar with the other horses and the daily routines of the yard.

As you can appreciate without a full understanding of the history of all the horses in the new herd it is difficult to suggest a reason for the behaviour. In terms of solutions you might be looking at good management including deterring congregation around gateways where he could get injured, and if he is still very unsettled then thinking about systematically re-introducing him using the recognised practice of dividing the field and then dividing one part of it again (so you end up with three sections to the field), taking a middle ranking horse (obviously in general terms having said all of the above about how complex the social structure is!) and grazing them in the two smaller sections (one in each smaller section). Eventually over a few days you will see that they start to graze closer to each other and may even start to chat and mutually groom over the fence. When you have seen them doing this for 2 or 3 days take away the temporary fence that divides them. Keep them together but separate from the rest of the herd for a few days and then take away the final section of temporary fence so that the new pair are now integrated into the existing herd.

I hope that helps and I hope your boy is more settled now after more time in the new herd; but if you are concerned then it’s always possible to re-introduce him along the lines explained above.