Functional Assessment & Intervention Design-Recall Case Study Using ABA Techniques To Help Track, Monitor & Execute Behaviour Change By Functional & Motivational Analysis

Recall Case Study Using ABA Techniques To Help Track, Monitor & Execute Behaviour Change By Functional & Motivational Analysis 

By Georgina Lees-Smith (Authors Biography)

Tango: Dog who runs off on walks and when there is no fenced in area & if off-lead. She often will not return for hours. This is done in the presence of other house dog (only when he is present).

List 3 things you really like about this animal:

Despite early neglect with respect to all training and stimulation, this animal is:

a. Very friendly to everyone
b. Makes great decisions around other dogs, even when their behaviour is not tolerated by others
c. Struggles to understand how to live in a domestic setting and adapt her drive accordingly
1. Observe and operationally define the target behaviour. 

When she is off lead in any setting she will run and run without looking back. She will remain close to you if you engage her but she quickly loses interest and will run off with her house mate (a same breed dog). When he is not present she will run far but she will not disappear all together. She has on occasion disappeared off with him for a number of hours at a time. When he is on his own he will not stray more than a few metres from owner.

a. What does the animal do that can be observed and measured?

Running off, when off lead, with the presence of her brother. This starts out as an initial charge of freedom but then it has become part of the actual event and they then disappear. This often results in them trying to find escape routes if left for any time on their own. This is quickly generalised to this happening in every single environment, including walks in novel places. 

2. Identify the distant and immediate physical and environmental antecedents that predict the behaviour. What predicts the occurrence of this behaviour?

The presence of her housemate is an antecedent, as when he is not present she does not run off. It appears that she is the ring leader in this situation and by the time they have realised that their caregiver is not around, they decide to come back. As there are no consequences to this behaviour and the behaviour is itself reinforcing this has become more reinforcing than anything else. This started to happen and was quickly generalised when the owner was staying at a large house with a large garden and they were getting less walks. This coupled with the fact that the walks were around the escape route (which was just on the perimeter of the field) and they were left for periods of time in the garden to develop self employment. The fence was not secure, many attempts were made to secure the fence but this actually caused the dog to become more resourceful and find new ways of escaping. This in itself became a challenge. This was also generalised on walks as soon as the dogs were off lead they would run and run and run and run without looking back. This would happen in any place as soon as there was freedom. 

a. What distant or general conditions or events affect whether the problem behavior occurs?

  • If both dogs are off together this happens
  • If dogs are left unsupervised
  • Never happens when other dog is not present
  • She does run a little far when she is on her own, but is more inclined to stick with caregiver on her own. 
  • When she is not exercised this happens
  • When she is not engaged with
  • She did not respond to any training commands out on a walk or in any situation, including responding to her name
  • She was unmotivated by food.

i. Species, sex, age?

Working Cocker Spaniel (from a working litter) aged 3 female un-neutered

ii. Medical or physical problems?

No medical issues. She does have an issue with being able to control her impulses and resource guards objects in the house. She vocalises if any prevention towards her freedom occurs and is only quiet when she is moving around. She does not control this very well. There is some evidence to suggest that the red strain of the cockers have an over production of Dopamine, possibly linked to the agouti gene sequence and transcription which could be one of the reasons that she is not able to control her drive related behaviour. She has been checked over by a vet and there appears to be no other problems. She has not had a blood test to rule out thyroid.

iii. Eating routines and diet?

Morning feed after exercise or being let out. Kong feeding and evening meal. Treats given in the day for various activities. Fed a natural unprocessed diet: Natural Instinct. Treats Fishmongers Finest small kibble for treat balls.
iv. Daily schedule?

Out in the morning, training, daily walks, let out at least every 4 hours, affection times throughout the day, sleeps in a crate whenever she wants to.
v. Enclosure and activity space?

She sleeps in her crate. She usually goes to bed of her own accord around 7pm and does not surface until the next morning. She has a private garden to roam around with owner at least every 4 hours in the day. In the house she has free access to all rooms except when owner absent and then she has a snug in the kitchen with other house dog. She walks for at least 1 hour per day in a vast landscape nowhere near any roads. She has the occasional day off of a walk and is hardly left. She is given enrichment activities a few times a day and other brain training activities. She is not left alone for long periods unless it is an exceptional circumstance. 
b. What are the immediate antecedents that predict or set the occasion for the problem behaviour, including setting events, motivation operations, and discriminative stimuli (cues)?

Owner opens a door to free access area either a garden, walk or any other place where there is potential freedom. This also happens when they are let off the lead together in any setting or even if they are let off together after a period of calming on a walk. There is some charging when she is let off separately but she does not travel so far without other dog beside her. 

i. When
1. Morning Approximate time(s) 8am
2. Afternoon Approximate time(s) 2pm
3. Evening Approximate time(s) 5pm
4. Other Anytime she is let off lead in any environment with her housemate present.
ii. Where anywhere where there is offlead potential, only outdoors from onleash to offleash around other house dog.

iii. With whom is the behavior problem most likely to occur?

Any handler
i. In what ways is the problem behavior easier to do than the desired behavior?

Running off and exploring the world with no consequences and being able to return at your leisure after you have been exploring birds, watering holes, chasing rabbits and getting muddy are much easier to do than desired behaviour. The problem behaviour has been learned.
ii. Does the behavior immediately follow a caregiver’s demand or request?

NO. The lead might contribute to some extent to the build up of frustration which could make the desire for the behaviour (running off) stronger.

b. When is the animal most successful, that is, under what circumstances doesn’t the problem occur?

The problem does not occur when she is 

  • Off lead on her own
  • has no escape routes from the garden
  • is worried about where her caregiver is
  • Is in a new environment on her own
  • Is being trained on a long line
  • Is being engaged with

2. Identify the consequences that maintain the problem behavior, i.e., the immediate purpose the behavior serves for the animal.

Tango is a red working cocker. She comes from a working litter and is bred to flush and chase birds. She has an excellent nose and is driven by the need to pursue this desire. She naturally has a desire to sniff all objects in her environment. When she first started to disappear with her wingman she was chasing pheasants in the next field through an escape route in the garden. This gradually self shaped to other things that freedom gave. Whilst she does not have the desire to kill other beings she is keen to chase the scent. She is driven by the desire to flush but this became shaped without the human present which is why it is important that you do not allow a bird dog to hunt alone. 
a. What does the animal gain by behaving in this way, such as attention, an item or activity, or sensory feedback?

  • Satiation of olfactory desires met and shaped in line with the dogs natural desires which have been selected and bred through generations of working Cocker Spaniels.
  • Freedom with no consequences as behaviour was self reinforcing there was less need for Tango to be scared when exploring with her housemate.

b. What does the animal avoid by behaving in this way, such as particular people, a demand or requests, items or activities, or sensory stimulation?

Being inside the house and not having access to birds and wildlife.
c. To what extent does this species’ wild environment support the behavior (i.e., what function might it serve from a natural history perspective)?

Working Cockers can work for anything up to 8 hours a day. Their role is to travel around the estate with the game keeper and on shoots. They find and flush birds to the end of a drive where the birds fly into the air and are shot. The role of the Cocker is to explore the environment using their nose and finding these scents. They get rewarded by the drive. It is self rewarding. This particular dog responds very well to praise and is happy to work alone with caregiver. The presence of the other dog is a major factor in these needs being met. 
4. Develop a summary statement that describes the relationships among the distant antecedents, immediate antecedent, the observable behavior, and the consequence for each major situation in which the behavior occurs, as in Figure 1.

  • Distant Antecedents: This dog was rehomed after spending her first year in a house in a busy urban area. She had constant free access to the garden and no training. She now lives with me, with one other dog. 
  • Setting events: Walked, crated, in the house, free in the garden
  • Motivating operation: Not walked or engaged with by owner, no training or structure to work with her drive to chase and hunt.
  • Immediate Antecedent: Being on the lead and then let off the lead, being outside
  • Behaviour: Tango vocalises on the lead until she is let off. When she is let off the lead and is outside she will run and run and run. If there is room she will run off and sometimes not return for several hours. Only if her housemate is present.
  • Consequence: To escape, run and sniff.

Functional Assessment Summary Statement

After the functional assessment summary statements have been developed, the primary caregiver can answer the following questions, in order to plan the behavior-change program.

5. Replacement behavior: What existing alternative behavior would meet the same purpose for the animal as the problem behavior, i.e., result in the same reinforcers?
a. Rather than Running and running and running without looking back for sometimes hours
(Identify the problem behavior)

b. This animal can be taught to check in on a regular basis with a suitable reinforcement and training plan identified which would cover the recall, distance control, hunting and being rewarded for this by caregiver so that the hunting becomes more fun with the caregiver and this will be preferred to running off.
(Identify the replacement behavior)

6. Desired behavior: What behavior do you ultimately want Tango to exhibit?
a. When Tango is let off the lead, she does not charge off in one direction without looking back, she will only run a short distance, because she is reinforced for walking calmly on the lead and then she is calm is let off the lead and her desire to run is less, she will not run off with her house mate if he is being reinforced for checking in (some work done with him to work on the same issue is required here). She is reinforced for all close contact hunting with verbal praise and attention. If she runs off too far, the owner will disappear out of site and she will have to find the owner. This happens everytime she goes too far. This becomes a consequence of her not checking in. She is reinforced for checking in each time.(Summarize antecedents)

b. This animal will hunt close to caregiver when let off the lead when she is calm
(Identify desired behavior)

c. In order to receive verbal praise and have time off the lead to be free to sniff. She is free to sniff, but when she runs off out of site, her caregiver will disappear and she will have to find her. In order for her to have the freedom to sniff she will be praised for being close and being able to sniff. 
(Summarize “payoffs”)

7. What has been tried so far to change the problem behavior?

Letting each dog off separately training recall from scratch on the long-line. Walking them separately, letting them out separately and training in many different environments. Using food as a reinforcer and training before the dogs daily feed time so that the motivation for food it higher.

8. Preliminary strategies: Can I do something differently or change something in the environment so that the behavior doesn’t occur in the first place?

a. I could make adjustments related to WHEN the problem behavior is likely to occur by: Changing the order of events in these environments so that she does not get to practice charging with her housemate. The exact time of day can be managed so that they have only one option of offlead activity together every single day and this can be used for specific training of this task. All other contexts of off lead will be removed. Unless this is managed or arranged to set Tango up to succeed.

b. I could make adjustments related to WHERE the problem behavior is likely to occur by:

Fencing off the garden that she can escape from. Long line training in a new environment so that we change the context of the behaviour. 

c. I could make adjustments related to the ACTIVITY during which the problem behavior is likely to occur by:

Training the other household dog not to run off when she is being let off the lead. He could sit and be reinforced and then released after she has been let off the lead. Then she could be reinforced for her recall and sit whilst he is being let off the lead so that the initial charging desire for the behaviour is reduced. Once they have had some running together they seem to calm down. On occasion they may still charge but this is getting less and less.

d. I could make adjustments related to the people present when the problem behavior is likely to occur by:

e. I could teach/re-teach a behavior such as:

Sit-stay, checking in, watch me, recall.
f. I could adjust some aspect of the environment by adding, removing or changing an item or condition such as:

Making sure that she gets adequate exercise and enrichment. Gets to play scent games in the house and garden as part of this activity. Receives engagement (attention) training on walks and reducing the initial charging off behaviour everytime a door is opened by making her wait until she is released but making sure that one of the dogs sits whilst the other is released and reinforcing this so that they do not run off together. 

g. Other adjustments that can be made are:

Increase the value of the caregiver to both of the dogs on a walk so that the dogs are looking to her for cues. Teaching a default recall and sit as a behaviour modification prevention tool. This means that they will see changes in the environment that they are unfamiliar with and immediately default back to caregiver to await instruction. This is a safety precaution as the walking place has a byway (sand) which has horses and motorbikes. Also, this needs to be a default around other dogs especially if they are uncomfortable with their approach.

9. Training strategies: What skill(s) will the animal need to be taught in order to successfully demonstrate the desired behavior?

Sit, recall, stay, whistle and verbal cues to recall and sit. Watch me commands.

a. Who will provide the training?

Caregiver (only one)
b. When will the training take place?

Every single morning before breakfast. Enrichment activities and training at home will be carried out during the day.
c. Where will the training take place?

At a local dog walking spot which is very quiet and safe- away from roads
d. How often will training take place?

Every day for an hour
e. How and how often will opportunities for practice be provided?

As each stage of the training is mastered it will mean that we can test and proof the training. This will be measured by success of each stage of the training

10. Reinforcement procedures: What will I do to increase the occurrence of the replacement and desired behaviours?

a. Identify potential reinforcers: What preferred items, activities or people might be used as incentives in an intervention for this animal?

Praise for hunting and finding objects, increasing the challenge of these as she progresses. Running off and hiding if she goes out of visual field. Turn this into a fun game when she finds person. Reinforcing (CRF) all movements towards the desired outcome. Reinforcing escape behaviours as a deference towards owner which will be self reinforcing but food will be used to reinforce along with verbal praise being paired with food. This will also be paired with stroking, affection and games on walks to make the owner more interesting. Whilst applying some basic training around the triggers.

b. Establish specific behavior criteria: What exactly must the animal do to earn the above reinforcers?

Check in, make eye contact, stay close, come when called, recall as a default, wait when sitting, hunt for objects, release without running off.
c. Determine the schedule of reinforcement: How frequently can the animal earn the above reinforcers. Typically, continuous reinforcement (a reinforcer for every correct behavior) is best.

CRF initially for every increment towards desired behaviour then a variable schedule or intermittent to keep the motivation for the behaviour high.

11. Reduction Procedures: What will I do to decrease the occurrence of the problem behavior?

No-one is allowed to let her off the lead until she is calm and not screaming to charge off into the sunset. If she does run off, the caregiver will run in the opposite direction and hide. This should be totally out of the way so that Tango has to find her. Tango typically panics when she is out of site and this has been a gift in working with this animal. She must not be allowed any further opportunities to practice this behaviour by using longlines and well timed direction changes on a walk to keep her checking in a motivated to stay with caregiver. 
b. I will stop and redirect each occurrence of the behavior by:

As soon as Tango is let off the lead she has to wait in a sit until released. Her housemate will be sitting at caregiver too. She will be released and he will walk alongside caregiver until the moment has passed and the charging behaviour is less likely. 

12. Implementation details: What other details or explanations would help another person implement this plan accurately and consistently?

Create a training plan of the behaviours outlined above so that the triggers are identified and the appropriate rules around the triggers is reduced. 


  • Teaching a rock solid , sit, release, recall command and proofing this in many environments, from many objects
  • Make sure all involved are consistent with the rules of this training plan.
  • Have a training session with each person involved to make sure they are consistent with rate of reinforcement and how to set this up


13. Tracking change: How can I monitor the animal’s behavior so I have a reliable record of progress and can continue or modify the plan as needed?

a. Describe exactly how data will be collected and recorded.

As this behaviour is not particularly time dependant more context dependant we are measuring this behaviour 1 time per day. The overall performance on a walk is given a mark between 0-10. 10 is the highest meaning that charging behaviour was at its highest.

Number Of Days Frequency Of Charging Behaviour Other Observations, Such As Vocalising, Other Factors Present
Baseline 10  
Baseline 8  
Baselline 9  
Day 1 9  
Day 2 8  
Day 3 7  
Day 4 5  
Day 5 4  
Day 6 4  
Day 7 3  
Day 8 2  
Day 9 2  
Day 10 1  

b. Evaluating outcomes: This program will be considered successful if what outcome is
achieved by both the animal and the caregivers, under what conditions?

  • Tango is able to sit to release rather than charge off. 
  • If she can be interrupted to return to handler without running off
  • If she can walk on the lead when her housemate is off the lead and the sit-swap-release can be executed to reduce and eliminated them running off together
  • If the extra attention and reinforcement helps to reinforce her being at the caregiver
  • If the scent games with the handler work to get her hunting for the human dog team rather than with her housemate and for herself.

Below shows a diagram of the functional assessment and alternate behavior paths used in this case study

Differential Reinforcement Goal Of Behaviour Outcome Definition Objective
DRI (incompatible) Substitute Reduce behaviour by increasing incompatible and reinforce the opposite of desired behaviour Instead of charging off when let off lead we will reinforce a nice sit and release. The reinforcement comes from the sit (food) and the release. The substitute behaviour for running off with other housemate will be for one to walk with caregiver whilst other explores. The start of this arrangement will be with a sit. Instead of charging off this will be replaced with a recall and a reinforcement.
DRA (alternative) Increase Increases a behaviour as reinforcement of appropriate behaviour and developing a functional alternative behaviour Scent games will be carried out in varied environments under stimulus control to avoid any resource guarding issues (see separate ABA protocol). This will work with the function of the scent driven and exploring behaviour. Whilst on a walk the interaction between caregiver and Tango will increase (she responds well to this) so that an interest in her activities is part of the arrangement between caregiver and Tango. In other words she will be hunting for the caregiver and not just for herself. This will take her focus away from housemate and onto caregiver and thus more likelihood of cues being responded to.
DRO (other) Eliminate Reduces the behaviour by focusing on the time it does not occur All instances of attention towards the caregiver will be rewarded. There will be high engagement on a walk and in all activities to look for appropriate opportunities and apply the principles of training. This will greatly reduce the need for Tango to look to her housemate for reinforcement and engagement and therefore eliminate the need for the behaviour to occur
DRL (low rates of responding) Reduce Reducing a behaviour to acceptable levels by focusing on reducing the number of occurrences Everytime Tango pays attention to a command such as sit, look at me, come, whistle, eye contact, go play, she will get reinforced. This will reduce her desire to charge off and the number of its occurrences as a result.

Here is a form on which to list possible strategies to make the problem behavior irrelevant, ineffective and inefficient.

Antecedent Changes Consequence Changes New Skills & Teaching Strategies
Being off lead at the same time as housemate Won’t be able to charge off into the sunset This will greatly reduce the excitement or novelty that exists as a result of them being off lead- Swapping them and waiting until a few minutes into the walk will greatly reduce this excitement.
Being off lead at the beginning of the walk/from car Wont be able to charge off into the sunset Teaching a recall, swap and sit so they are not off lead together
Being off lead from the door of the house to the garden Wont be able to charge off into the sunset One will be onlead whilst the other is off lead
Being off lead together Wont be able to charge off into the sunset This will be managed by teaching recall, sit, stay, swap so that each of them are not off lead at the same time
Being off lead in friends garden Wont be able to charge off into the sunset The garden is now secure. This has totally stopped this problem. Recall training can occur offlead in this garden to great effect.
Being off lead when vocalising or excited Wont be able to charge off into the sunset Practicing attention exercises and sit stays whilst in motion to redirect the behaviour. Not letting off lead until calmer. Swapping who is on and who is off as set out in the training schedule.
Scent work games Satisfies the function of the intrinsic desire to scent Attention will be on the caregiver, strengthens relationship
Exercise every single day Reduces motivation to run off This will be paired with training and reduce the need to run off.
Enrichment games Focuses on using mental energy to reduce desire to find stimulation by running off Helps utilise the motivation of the animal onto tasks that are challenging and prevents boredom and hence running off.


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