Pulse - March 2021 - 25

THE RVT

The Behavior Specialist
Joseph G. Herman, BS, RVT

L

eft alone for a night longer than planned, our two
cats managed to open the pantry door, jump onto
the top shelf, and knock down an unopened box of
kibble, into which they then chewed an opening.
They had the means, motive, and opportunity. They also had the
intelligence to pull it off. " Many animals have very advanced problem-solving skills, " said Monique Feyrecilde, BA, LVT,VTS (Behavior), one of only 18 veterinary technician behavior specialists in the
world. " And if you're a good problem-solver, you stay alive. "
Feyrecilde (pronounced " Fair-child " ) works at the Mercer Island
Veterinary Clinic, about five minutes from downtown Seattle. She
also is owner of the consulting business Teaching Animals, and is
a Past-President of both the Society and Academy of Veterinary
Behavior Technicians.
" I'm not convinced, however, that animals think about the
'What if.' That is, if I had done something differently, would it have
turned out differently? Instead, " said Feyrecilde, " they try a number
of behaviors, and then repeat the ones that work. "

Partners in Care
Feyrecilde is coauthor of the book, " Cooperative Veterinary
Care, " which shows veterinary professionals how to recognize and
evaluate stress in their patients, and then reverse it through training. In essence, teaching animals to voluntarily participate in their
medical care.
Using operant conditioning-rewarding the animal for responding with the desired behavior-Feyrecilde can train pets to be
comfortable while undergoing most routine veterinary procedures,
either in the hospital or at home. Procedures range from nail trims
and toothbrushing to IV catheter placement, X-ray positioning,
and cystocentesis. Feyrecilde's record for training a dog to cooperate with an IV blood draw is 10 minutes, spread over five sessions.
" The time required depends largely on whether the dog has a preexisting fear, " said Feyrecilde, " because if they do, it takes much
longer, but can still be done. "
The art of eliciting desired behaviors is not limited to house
pets. " If you look at the zoo model, " said Feyrecilde, " blood can be
taken from killer whales without using any restraint, because you're
not going to put 20 people into a tank with a killer whale and try
to hold it down. So if we can train whales using operant conditioning and positive reinforcement, certainly we can train dogs and
cats and parrots to work with humans in a cooperative way. "

Knowing What Motivates
Positive reinforcement is a crucial aspect of behavior modification. And knowing what the animal likes is key to eliciting the
desired response.
" Positive reinforcement doesn't just mean shoveling cookies into
the dog, " said Feyrecilde. " The dog-the learner-is the one that
gets to tell me what it finds rewarding, " which can be a favorite

PULSE

MARCH 2021

It's important to note that even though
natural instincts are " hard-wired, " the
observable behaviors resulting from
those instincts can still be modified.
toy, being scratched in a certain way, or allowed to pursue its natural instincts.
Her Border collies, for example, love working sheep, " because
that's what they're bred to do, " said Feyrecilde. " I have to know
what they like before I can teach them what I like. It requires
two-way communication. It's the gift of mutual learning. "
It's important to note that even though natural instincts are
" hard-wired, " the observable behaviors resulting from those
instincts can still be modified. " Border collies are very aware of
things that move, " explained Feyrecilde, " including cars. Now,
we're not going to change that intrinsic behavior of noticing
things that move, but we can modify how they respond to that
movement so they don't end up chasing the car. "

The Lassie Myth
For those of you too young to remember, Lassie was a TV series
in which a wonder dog-a collie-would always rush to the rescue
(usually helping save young Timmy, who kept falling down the well).
Lassie apparently knew how to do everything, all on her own,
without any instruction. " She just did those things because she
was a dog, and that's what dogs do, " recounts Feyrecilde. " But, that
image isn't reality, because dogs and all other animals do behaviors that result in reinforcement. They don't do behaviors just
because it's intrinsically appropriate to please humans. Lassie was
just exceptionally well trained. "

The Technician & Behavior Case Management
The following appears on the Mercer Island Veterinary Clinic
website: " More young animals lose their homes or are euthanized
due to unwanted behaviors than any other single cause. "
As to the vet tech's role in stopping this, " It's invaluable, " said
Feyrecilde, because often it's the technician who first becomes
aware of potential problems. " It's the technician who should be
taking the history on every animal, every time they come to the
vet's office, " said Feyrecilde. " We should be asking, 'Are you noticing any changes in your pet's behavior, or are they eliminating in
unwanted areas?' If we can take 10 seconds to ask those two questions, we can save lives.
" It's the owner who does the behavior modification, " added
Feyrecilde. " Our job is evaluation, education, and coaching. And
when properly trained, and when properly leveraged, the technician can do a great job. " P

25



Pulse - March 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Pulse - March 2021

Pulse - March 2021
Chapter Meetings & Calendar
President’s Perspective
SCVMA Profile
SCVMA Profile
Pulsepoints
Practical Pathology
Veterinarians Key to Planet’s Future, UC Davis Global Health Expert Believes
Medical Leeway
UC Davis Update
Tools for Success
Angel Fund
Dear Tabby
The RVT
Industry Insights
Quick Reference
AVMA Diplomates
Digital Photography for Veterinarians
Resources
Disease Table
Classifieds
From the SCVMA Office
Pulse - March 2021 - Pulse - March 2021
Pulse - March 2021 - Cover2
Pulse - March 2021 - 1
Pulse - March 2021 - 2
Pulse - March 2021 - Chapter Meetings & Calendar
Pulse - March 2021 - President’s Perspective
Pulse - March 2021 - SCVMA Profile
Pulse - March 2021 - SCVMA Profile
Pulse - March 2021 - Pulsepoints
Pulse - March 2021 - 8
Pulse - March 2021 - 9
Pulse - March 2021 - 10
Pulse - March 2021 - Practical Pathology
Pulse - March 2021 - Veterinarians Key to Planet’s Future, UC Davis Global Health Expert Believes
Pulse - March 2021 - 13
Pulse - March 2021 - 14
Pulse - March 2021 - 15
Pulse - March 2021 - 16
Pulse - March 2021 - 17
Pulse - March 2021 - 18
Pulse - March 2021 - Medical Leeway
Pulse - March 2021 - UC Davis Update
Pulse - March 2021 - Tools for Success
Pulse - March 2021 - Angel Fund
Pulse - March 2021 - Dear Tabby
Pulse - March 2021 - 24
Pulse - March 2021 - The RVT
Pulse - March 2021 - Industry Insights
Pulse - March 2021 - Quick Reference
Pulse - March 2021 - AVMA Diplomates
Pulse - March 2021 - Digital Photography for Veterinarians
Pulse - March 2021 - Resources
Pulse - March 2021 - 31
Pulse - March 2021 - 32
Pulse - March 2021 - Disease Table
Pulse - March 2021 - 34
Pulse - March 2021 - 35
Pulse - March 2021 - 36
Pulse - March 2021 - 37
Pulse - March 2021 - 38
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Pulse - March 2021 - 40
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Pulse - March 2021 - 48
Pulse - March 2021 - 49
Pulse - March 2021 - 50
Pulse - March 2021 - Classifieds
Pulse - March 2021 - From the SCVMA Office
Pulse - March 2021 - Cover3
Pulse - March 2021 - Cover4
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