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Unit information: Unit 3: Understanding learning theory and its application to behaviour modification and training in 2015/16

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Unit name Unit 3: Understanding learning theory and its application to behaviour modification and training
Unit code VETS10008
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Emily Blackwell
Open unit status Not open

The five units of this course will run in sequential order. Students must achieve a minimum of 40% overall for assessments on the study skills unit (Unit1) before attending subsequent units (no compensation).

Students must achieve a minimum of 40% on Units 2 and 3 prior to progressing to Units 4 and 5. Students must achieve a minimum of 40% on Unit 4 before commencing Unit 5.

Students failing to achieve 40% in units 2-5 will be given the option of resitting the unit before the start of the subsequent unit, or the end of the academic year.

  • Unit 1: Study skills


School/department Bristol Veterinary School
Faculty Faculty of Health Sciences

Description including Unit Aims

This unit introduces the concepts and principles underlying learning theory, and the neurological processes by which learning occurs. The importance of learning in the development of behaviour in individual animals is emphasised, including examples of how animals may learn undesired or ‘problem’ behaviours. Students are also introduced to the techniques by which animal behaviour can be modified in training and rehabilitation. As well as developing a thorough understanding of the principles behind techniques such as desensitisation and counter-conditioning, students will be guided as to how to implement them in practice. The unit includes enabling students to develop the skills of evaluating individual animal behaviour, devising a rehabilitation protocol, and putting this into practice in a supportive environment. The main aim of this unit is that students develop an understanding of the concepts underlying associative learning and its application to behaviour modification and training, which will enable them to identify factors important in the initiation and maintenance of problematic behaviours and implement techniques used in behaviour modification.

Intended Learning Outcomes

At the end of this unit students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the basic principles underlying learning theory, and be able to interpret how different types of training technique are likely to impact on the emotional state and welfare of individual animals.
  • Evaluate the reliability of the wide range of information about animal training available in the literature
  • Apply their knowledge about learning, using a problem solving approach to dealing with undesired behaviour in individual animals
  • Develop practical skills in conducting and evaluating different behaviour modification techniques in companion animals
  • Communicate their knowledge effectively and reliably to others in their workplace.

Teaching Information

The unit is made up of 7.5 days of contact time with students (5 days at University of Bristol, 2.5 days at Dogs Trust training centre, Evesham), and the remaining time is, self-directed study and preparation of assessed material. During contact with lecturing staff, teaching methods include formal lectures, however the emphasis is very much on discussion based seminar and tutorial sessions, where material is related to students’ own work-based experiences, and practical sessions where techniques are demonstrated and students are able to develop their skills. Out with the contact periods, students are directed to access materials available on-line, and via existing library resources in order to complete both formative and summative assessments.The distance learning elements of the unit will be facilitated using online materials produced specifically for the students on this course.

As the unit involves a significant proportion of work-based learning, accessible support from tutors and unit organisers will be essential. At the beginning of the course structured access to tutors and unit organisers will be outlined to students. This will specify appropriate means of communication with tutors (e.g. email), in addition to informing the students of how soon they can expect a reply (e.g. 48hrs) and specific times during the week when their tutors will be available (e.g. Monday mornings).

Students will be allocated a personal tutor and pastoral tutor (programme director) at the start of the first unit (Unit1: Study skills).

Assessment Information

Formative assessment

  • Online MCQs on learning theory
  • Practical desensitisation session
  • Peer assessment

Summative assessment

  • Practical demonstration of a behaviour modification technique in the workplace (assessed by remote video) (40%)
  • 2000 word essay (40%)
  • Online MCQ exam (20%)

Summative assessments will take place and feedback will be provided prior to the student attending the subsequent unit

Reading and References

  • Carrots and Sticks: principles of animal training. Paul McGreevy and Robert Boakes. Cambridge University Press, Cambs, UK.
  • Excel-erated Learning. Pamela Reid. James and Kenneth Publishers, Hertfordshire, UK.
  • How Dogs Learn. Mary Burch and John Bailey. Howell Book House, New York, USA.
  • Blackwell, E.J., Casey, R.A. and Bradshaw, J.W.S. (2010) Rapid shaping of behaviour associated with high urinary cortisol in dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science
  • Schilder, M.B.H., van der Borg, J.A.M. (2004) Training dogs with the help

of the shock collar: short and long term behavioral effects. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 85, 3-4, 319-334