Perspective: 2018 IAABC Boston Conference Business and Cat Tracks

Written by Victoria Blais

Here are a few of my thoughts on what I learned and what I intend to implement from the business track on Friday and the cat track on Saturday at the 2018 IAABC Conference in Boston. Since learning theory applies to all species, I greatly enjoyed information from the dog track too!


Building Your Business Your Way – You Can Build a Consulting Business! by Jill Hourihan

I had intended to sit in on only Part 1 of “Building Your Business Your Way,” but Jill Hourihan had me hooked. Part 1 flowed seamlessly into Part 2, with Jill’s bubbly personality, upbeat music, and clear direction to have us walk away with a marketing strategy in hand.

To start, we filled out exercise sheets identifying SWOT: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with our business and our competitors’ businesses. These lists included both internal, external, favorable, and unfavorable factors affecting our day-to-day business activities. I am very uncomfortable doing these types of exercises, but with Jill playing upbeat motivational music, I could not help but enjoy the experience. As one person after another in the room shared their ideas, a nice buzz of creativity flowed. Why examine perceived weaknesses and threats? As Jill expressed, “Do we ignore a leaky roof, or fix it?” Identifying our less favorable qualities allows us to change them for our benefit. The group brainstormed over where potential clients could be found. Lastly, we created customer avatars so we can be clear on who we are trying to reach in our marketing strategy.

In “Building Your Business Your Way, Part 2,” we took a quick quiz to see what our personality type is, either introvert or extrovert. Why does it matter? Personality type plays a role in knowing what fills our emotional bucket and in capitalizing on our natural strengths when marketing our business. Next, we worked through questions until we had one marketing method along with the steps needed to make it a reality. Lastly, introverts and extroverts in the room paired up so that the strength of one could boost the perceived weakness of the other, bringing each one’s marketing plan alive. I was pleasantly surprised how beneficial it was seeing my marketing challenges from another’s perspective, and perhaps becoming business buddies. I walked away with a specific plan for building my business!


Nutrients and the Gut Microbe Biome Influences on Behavior by Lore Haug, DVM

Having a bachelor of science degree in medical technology, I get very excited about being a poop detective. Lore Haug, DVM, not only explained the beneficial function of the gut microbiome, she also artfully detailed the intestinal anatomy at the cellular level. It soon became clear that the gut-brain axis, which is the biochemical communication between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain, has an influential role on health. Interesting points were made about chronic stress changing the gastrointestinal microflora, increasing intestinal permeability and allowing pathogens to colonize. Prebiotics—non-digestible fiber—are nutrients consumed by probiotics in the gut, producing the short chain fatty acids (SCFA) acetate and butyrate. These SCFAs in turn positively effect memory and mood. A relationship exists between having a variety of species-specific gastrointestinal microbiota, having a healthy diet, and reducing disease such as irritable bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, obesity, cancer, inflammation, depression, and anxiety.

Now I understand why animals affected by stressful situations, such as the absence of their owner on vacation, can have better health from consuming prebiotics and probiotics. I came away from this seminar wanting to encourage all to examine the benefits of using prebiotics and probiotics daily.

Feline Human-Directed Aggression by Lore Haug, DVM

As Lore Haug, DVM, pointed out, there are numerous reasons for increased aggression in felines. It could be due to genetics, perinatal environmental challenges, lack of socialization during a critical age, or perhaps environmental influences, including loss of innate behavioral choices or the changing role of cats as the target of owner affection. In multi-cat homes, competition for resources could occur. Some owners lack knowledge of feline body language, missing cues of increased irritation.  Aggression can result in serious injury. Resolving these issues helps improve the owner-cat bond, with the hope of avoiding euthanasia.

Dr. Haug skillfully walked us through the feline case study, Ruby, using the ABCs of applied behavior analysis (ABA).  She covered the A, antecedent, B, behavior, and C, consequence.  Important components of recommendations include medical evaluation, addressing behavioral and physical needs of the cat, and educating the client about feline body language and normal behavior.  Following the hierarchy of interventions, Dr. Haug suggests the following:

  • Control the environment
  • Improve the bond between owner and cat
  • Make the desirable behavior easy (and the undesirable behavior hard to perform)
  • Find non-confrontational solutions to the problem
    • Eliminate punishment
  • Choose a substitute behavior that serves the same function for the cat if possible

I enjoyed the details Dr. Haug shared relating to enrichment, safety, training, and use of medication.  The overall presentation was excellent. I hope it will be available to view on the website.  When helping clients address feline human directed aggression, I will continue to use ABA, as well as remember to relate the importance of providing multiple hiding places to reduce anxiety in cats.

Final thoughts

This was the first IAABC conference I have been able to attend. I was not disappointed. The professional credentials of the speakers with many years of experience built my confidence that we received high quality, science-based information. I was pleasantly surprised at the positive energy flowing in each room as speakers walked us through case studies, encouraging the audience to share their impressions. Fun opportunities to socialize and network were also a delight. I would recommend the IAABC conference to anyone wanting to learn more about animal behavior, whether they are a novice or have many years of experience working with animals. I look forward to attending the conference next year.


Victoria Blais, a feline behavior and training specialist, is owner of Clever Cats Livonia LLC.  Having a bachelor of science in medical technology, Victoria continues to build on her knowledge to help cats be happy and healthy through client education and improvement of the human-animal bond.  Victoria is a certified Fear Free Professional, level 3, a supporting member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Cat Division, and a feline training professional member of The Pet Professional Guild.  When volunteering at The Michigan Humane Society, Berman Center, she incorporates clicker training and enrichment to build confidence in cats, so they can woo their future adopter.