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Unit information: Clinical Skills in Companion Animal Behaviour in 2021/22

Unit name Clinical Skills in Companion Animal Behaviour
Unit code VETS30037
Credit points 40
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Horseman
Open unit status Not open




School/department Bristol Veterinary School
Faculty Faculty of Health Sciences

Description including Unit Aims

This unit further develops the theme of animal learning and discusses the development of abnormal behaviours. The various aspects of understanding and modifying undesired animal behaviour are discussed, together with an introduction to medical differentials and psychopharmacological therapy. The unit will prepare students with the basic tools they need to conduct behavioural therapy consultations, providing a sound basis for certification as a clinical animal behaviourist. This unit also provides students with an understanding of concepts in welfare science and the analysis of ethical and legal issues associated with the use of animals.
Using a series of case examples, filmed and live, this unit enables students to formulate approaches to assessing and rehabilitating animals showing a range of undesired behaviours. The unit also gives students the opportunity to develop related communication skills in a supported environment. The ability to evaluate where clinical animal behaviourists or veterinary surgeons are needed for individual assessment or treatment of animals is discussed. The unit also enables students to develop skills relevant to each stage of behavioural modification, from initial obtaining information from owners and assessing an individual animal’s behaviour, through deciding the best course of action for each individual animal and provide follow-up support.

Unit Aims:
• To ensure a systematic understanding of all aspects of animal behaviour, and the way in which learning and developmental processes influence the behaviour of an individual.
• To ensure that students can apply the methods and techniques to treat real animal behaviour problems, taking into account ethical, practical and communication issues.
• To build an appreciation of the role and limitations of pharmacology, nutraceutical use and pheromonotherapy in the modification of companion animal behaviour.
• To present and explain the professional standards and responsibilities required of the veterinary profession, including the veterinary nurse.
• To develop a sound evidence-based, individual centred approach to the treatment of common behavioural problems
• Foster an understanding of the key ethological, psychological and physiological concepts underpinning the evaluation of animal welfare and recognition of the indicators of welfare status in vertebrate animals.
• Introduce various scientific methods of assessing animal welfare.
• Utilise evidence- based methods to evaluate the welfare of animals in domestic systems, within specific training regimes including clinical settings and propose practical solutions.
• Show how different ethical frameworks can guide decisions relating to animal use.

Intended Learning Outcomes

The learning outcomes for this unit are numerous and worded to match those required by the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB), the external accrediting body. The complete learning outcomes are listed in the Programme Handbook and fall into five themes:

1) Students should recall and evaluate the factors which contribute to the behaviour of an individual animal including the contribution of learning and training, ethology, health and nutrition.
2) Students must demonstrate that they have the skills required to carry out a behaviour consultation including evaluation of the behavioural state of domestic animals, knowledge of common behaviour problems, and demonstrating that they have the communication skills needed to gather a comprehensive history and to build a relationship with clients, ensuring compliance.
3) Students need to recall the different approaches available to treat common behaviour problems, including behaviour modification and pharmacological interventions, and be able to use and evidence base to evaluate these approaches to come to informed decisions about the most appropriate treatment.
4) Students should be able to evaluate the welfare state of domestic animals, based on a consideration of both physiological and behavioural indicators. Applying this knowledge, they must demonstrate that they can propose means to improving domestic animal welfare and evaluate any ethical issues which emerge as a result from welfare assessments.
5) Students must be able to recall key elements of professional behaviour including knowledge of legislation relevant to behaviour consultancy, safety considerations, interactions between behaviour consultants and other professionals, and appropriate referral practices.

Teaching Information

Teaching will include lectures, small group workshops, seminars and practicals. A virtual learning environment (Blackboard) will be used to provide resources to students (including further reading) and to submit assignments

Assessment Information

Formative assessment:

  1. Case-study discussions during clinical behaviour rotation in year three. Students can choose to complete and submit case observation forms to the clinician running the rotation, and feedback will be provided on those submitted.
  2. Case-based seminar discussions within this unit.
  3. Feedback during communication skills practical classes.
  4. In class presentation based on an evaluation of the literature on alternative therapies with feedback provided on the content of presentations.
  5. Workshop and post-visit discussions on animal welfare science.

Summative assessment:

The pass mark for this unit is 40%. Students must obtain a minimum of 40% in assessment A. Assessment B will be assessed on a pass/fail basis and students must pass this assessment in order to pass the unit.
A) Students will complete three case-study forms based on three video case studies (100%)
B) Two short (15 min) communication exercises (collecting and delivering information) and 500 word reflective piece (Pass/fail)

The resit opportunity for the VN Programmes is routinely scheduled during the University resit window (Late August / early September).

Exceptionally, the final year resit period shall be scheduled to dovetail with the Veterinary Science Programme's resit opportunity every July.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. VETS30037).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.