Conference Summary: Human Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare

Written by Catherine Bell, Debbie Busby, Suzanne Rogers, and Dr. Risë VanFleet

A number of IAABC members attended the recent Human Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare conference, held in early October in Dorking, U.K. The conference was the brainchild of—and almost single-handedly organised by—Certified Horse Behavior Consultant Suzanne Rogers. It drew together 200 academics, behaviorists, veterinarians and charity representatives. Participants came from all around the world and worked with dozens of species, both wild and domestic, making it truly international.

One of five keynote talks was given by family psychologist and Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, Dr. Risë VanFleet, who spoke on “Skills for Human Behaviour Change Relating to Animal Welfare.” After describing different ways in which poor treatment of animals takes place, she focused on skills for intervening at the individual and family level. Drawing from her book The Human Half of Dog Training, she emphasized that in order to help animals, we must develop skills for working collaboratively with people. Of importance is the use of empathic listening, developing common goals, and taking action together. She discussed the importance of being genuine, and covered additional specific skills such as floating ideas for change, taking the long view, collaborative coaching, and the use of humor. The last half of her presentation focused on instilling caring attitudes and behaviors in children by providing fun, guided, hands-on experiences with animals in which children learn to understand animal emotions by observing body language, and how to develop mutually respectful relationships. This is all done in a playful context. She ended by reporting on Animal Assisted Play Therapy™ interventions focused on abused children who have hurt animals; these interventions have been very successful in stopping this behavior.

Catherine Bell presented a framework for human behavior change (HBC) based on the best-selling book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. While highly effective amongst people working in sales, fundraising, recruitment, and so on, some of the methods employed feel too manipulative to be appropriate for work in animal welfare, where we are looking for a long-term commitment to change. Catherine proposed changes to Cialdini’s key Principles of Persuasion so that they instead focus on intrinsic motivation, congruence, support, autonomy, relationship, and quality. Thus, the modified framework becomes “Principles of Ethical Change” and is much more congruent with working in the animal welfare sector.

Debbie Busby talked about using the psychological transactional analysis model —a method for studying interactions between people—as a way to achieve more effective communication during consultations.  She highlighted Eric Berne’s ego states and life positions as useful concepts to be aware of in both the on-to-one client-behaviourist relationship and when engaging with the wider multi-disciplinary treatment team.

Videos of all the talks from the conference are now freely available to all. The conference website,, is also intended to become a long-term source of HBC resources.


Suzanne Rogers is a Certified Horse Behavior Consultant based in Surrey, U.K. As well as being an equine behaviourist she hosts educational events and works as an animal welfare consultant. She co-ordinates the Human Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare Community Resource, and is also co-founder of the Change for Animals Foundation, the Equine Behaviour and Training Association and the Aquarium Welfare Association.

Risë VanFleet, Ph.D is a child and family psychologist, play therapist, and Certified Dog Behavior Consultant from Pennsylvania, U.S. She is a co-founder of the International Institute for Animal Assisted Play Therapy™, and trains mental health professionals in relationship-based and welfare-oriented Animal Assisted Play Therapy™. She is the author of numerous books, including The Human Half of Dog Training: Collaborating with Clients to Get Results. 

Catherine Bell is a Certified Horse Behavior Consultant in the South-East of England. In between home-educating her two children, she works as an equine behaviorist and independent barefoot hoof trimmer. She hosts the Thinking Horsemanship Forum and is a co-founder of the Equine Behavior and Training Association.

Debbie Busby is a Certified Horse Behavior Consultant and ABTC registered and accredited animal behaviourist. Based in North West England, Debbie also consults in Turkey and Jordan. She holds a first class BSc (Hons) in Psychology and an MSc with distinction in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare. Debbie works as an equine and canine behaviour consultant and expert witness and presents webinars, seminars, and workshops on all aspects of behaviour and consulting.