The Success of "In-Clinic" Canine Behavioral Therapy
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2003
Kevin Stafford; Mat Ward
Institute of Veterinary Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University
Palmerston North, New Zealand


The success or failure of canine behavioural therapy is most commonly investigated through retrospective studies by behavioural consultants. In the investigation of therapy success a large proportion of dogs are seen to improve and in a review of home-visit consultation success, Askew (1996) found that 88% of owners reported some degree of treatment success. In a study on the effectiveness of face-to-face consultations in improving dominance aggression the behaviour of 88% of the dogs as assessed by their owners was improved (Cameron, 1997). This was accomplished after one face-to-face consultation and a telephone follow-up consultation. Of the dogs that showed improvement, 12% showed excellent improvement, 44% showed good improvement, and 32% showed fair improvement.

Blackshaw (1991) gives figures ranging from 75% to 94% for treatment success rates for various behaviour problems and in an investigation of therapy success for elimination problems 84% of cases were seen to improve. Results where the extent of improvements is not investigated are not very helpful since what constitutes therapy "success" is not elucidated. Reference to poorly defined success rates is common. For example in a retrospective study carried out by Galac and Knol (1997) a broad figure of 75% improvement for their treatment of fear-motivated aggression was given.

In an investigation of therapy success for inter-dog aggression, Sherman et al. (1996) used two measures. One was the standard owner opinion of behaviour improvement, with a "problem eliminated" category and "problem improved" category. Such a limited scale with only two groupings is less desirable than a more extensive scale. The second measure was a more functional rating of treatment success, where the level of required management of the dog was evaluated. The treatments recommended were most commonly systematic desensitisation and improved control through obedience. Other recommendations included, neutering, reduction in privileges, avoidance of triggers of aggression, use of head halters and muzzles, temporary separation, diet change, and drug therapy, Consultations were held either over the telephone (47%), in the behaviour clinic, or at the client's home.

When advising on therapy for behaviour problems it is sometimes apparent that the initial phases of therapy would be best undertaken by a consultant and in the behavioural practice of one of the authors (MW) dogs are held in-clinic for a period of about three weeks in order to carry out therapy. This period for therapy allows time to ensure that training sessions are short and enjoyable for the dog, and that any modified behaviour can become well established before the dog returns home. On average fifteen 20-minute sessions are completed during the three-week period. During the dog's stay specific treatment protocols relating to the behaviour problem are implemented, and their success is evaluated. Basic obedience commands are also taught. This is due to the positive impact that improved client control over the dog can have on many problem behaviours. Telephone contact with clients is maintained during in-clinic therapy since additional questions often arise during therapy that need answering in order to assist the behaviour modification process.

Once suitable treatment protocols have been established, and the dog is responding well to them, a "transfer-training" session is held with the clients. This involves reiterating to the clients the rationale behind the techniques used, and providing them with practical instruction in the appropriate behaviour modification techniques. This session is the most important aspect of the whole therapy process. It is imperative to ensure that the clients leave the session with a full understanding of how to maintain and improve the new desirable behaviour displayed by the dog during the transfer-training session.

In-clinic therapy also affords other benefits in addition to the main factors mentioned above. While a dog is in-clinic, the consultant can more extensively monitor it, and a greater understanding of the etiology and nature of its problems can be obtained. This ultimately increases the likelihood of successful treatment. During in-clinic therapy it is also possible for the consultant to fine-tune the behaviour modification for the individual dog's temperament, and for the subtleties of the problem. It is not possible to anticipate these intricacies during a face-to-face consultation.

In this study the level of success following the "in-clinic" therapeutic approach will be investigated. In the questionnaire used, the importance of success rating is recognised by assessing improvement in ten gradations for both reduction in intensity and reduction in frequency of the problem.


A questionnaire was sent to 110 clients to assess the success of therapy of 120 dogs seen and treated 'in-clinic' between February 1999 and December 2001. The questions were related to the success of therapy and the patient's response to simple commands before and after therapy. Clients were asked to grade the response on a scale of 1 to 10.


Clients rated the overall success of therapy as 6.9 (SE 0.26) on a scale on 1 to 10 (1 being no success and 10 being extremely successful) and 67% of clients rating the success as above 6 (Table 1). The improvement in the dogs' behaviour was rated at 7.2 (SE 0.17) (1 was much the same and 10 was huge improvement). Other results are shown in Table 1. The obedience of the dog was substantially improved after treatment (Table 2). The success of treatment varied with good success being achieved with aggression towards dogs, sheep chasing and disobedience but cat chasing was not improved substantially (Table 3).

Table 1. The success of 'in-clinic' training as assessed by clients


Mean (SE)



Rate overall success of therapy (1= no success; 10 = extremely successful)

6.9 (0.26)



How satisfied are you with the therapy (1= not satisfied; 10= very satisfied)

7.4 (0.30)



How do you feel about your dogs behaviour (1=much the same; 10=huge improvement)

7.2 (0.17)



Have your dog training skills improved (1=Not at all; 10=greatly)

6.8 (0.27)



Has you confidence in your dogs behaviour improved (1=not at all; 10=greatly)

7.1 (0.25)



Prior to therapy did your dog behave appropriately in all situations (1=no; 10=yes)




After therapy did your dog behave appropriately in all situations (1=no; 10=yes)




In general how do you feel about the effectiveness of the training techniques used? (1=not effective' 10=very effective)




To what extent has your dog's desirable behaviours changed since it first went home? (1=forgotten all; 1-=retained all)




Was the clinic therapy value for money? (1=no; 10=yes)




Table 2. Client evaluation of obedience before and after 'in-clinic' training on a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (excellent)


At Present


5.4 (0.28)

8.2 (0.20)


3.8 (0.30)

7.7 (0.31)


3.5 (0.28)

7.2 (0.29)


3.9 (0.26)

7.4 (0.28)


3.0 (0.27)

6.4 (0.32)


3.0 (0.26)

6.9 (0.33)


3.8 (0.24)

7.5 (0.26)

Table 3. The mean (SE) success rate of 'in-clinic' treatment for four behaviour problems (1=disappears; 10=no change)



Dog to Dog Aggression

5.6 (0.63)

6.3 (0.49)

Sheep Predation

9.3 (0.18)

8.9 (0.83)

Cat Chasing

3.8 (0.92)

3.0 (0.81)


6.9 (0.31)

6.5 (0.53)


The present study investigated a number of different aspects of in-clinic therapy success. This was achieved through the use of a questionnaire presented to clients of our behaviour consultation practice. In general customers were very satisfied with the results of the in-clinic retraining. The results are certainly comparable with those achieved with other methods and may indeed be better for specific problems.

In-clinic retraining allows the consultant more control over what happens and retraining can be done in a safe and controlled environment.


1.  Askew HR. 1996. Treatment of Behaviour Problems in Dogs and Cats. Blackwell Science, Oxford

2.  Blackshaw JK. 1991. An overview of types of aggressive behaviour in dogs and methods of treatment. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 30, 351-361

3.  Cameron DB. 1997. Canine dominance associated aggression: concepts, incidence and treatment in a private behaviour practice. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 52, 265-274

4.  Galac S and Knol BW. 1997. Fear-motivated aggression in dogs: patient characteristics, diagnosis and therapy. Animal Welfare 6, 9-15

5.  Sherman CK, Reisner IR, Taliaferro LA and Houpt KA. 1996. Characteristics, treatment and outcome of 99 cases of aggression between dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 47, 91-108

Speaker Information
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Kevin Stafford, MVB, MSc, PhD
Institute of Veterinary Animal and Biomedical Sciences
Massey University
Palmerston North, New Zealand

Mat Ward
Institute of Veterinary Animal and Biomedical Sciences
Massey University
Palmerston North, New Zealand

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