Functional Behavioural Assessment

Mar 20, 2023 | Dog Behaviour

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A Functional Behavioural Assessment (FBA) is a process used to identify the underlying causes of a dog’s behaviour. This assessment is a critical part of creating an effective behaviour modification plan for dogs with problem behaviours. By understanding the root cause of a dog’s behaviour, we can create a personalised training plan that addresses the specific behaviour issues the dog is experiencing.

History of Functional Behaviour Assessments (FBA)

The history of FBA can be traced back to the 1960s when researchers first began to investigate the functions of behaviour. In the early days of behaviour analysis, researchers believed that all behaviour was learned and could be modified through conditioning. However, researchers soon realized that not all behaviours could be modified through these techniques. They began to investigate the underlying causes of behaviour and discovered that challenging behaviours often served a purpose for the individual, such as gaining attention or escaping a task.

In the 1980s, researchers began to develop the concept of functional assessment, which involved identifying the function of the behaviour rather than just focusing on the behaviour itself. This led to the development of FBA as a tool for understanding why an individual engages in challenging behaviour.

Key Milestones in the History of FBA:

  • 1960s: Researchers started investigating the functions of behaviour
  • 1980s: Development of functional assessment concept
  • Present: FBA used in various settings and integrated with technology

FBA involves gathering information about the antecedents (what happens before the behaviour), the behaviour itself, and the consequences (what happens after the behaviour) in order to identify the function of the behaviour. This information is then used to develop a behaviour intervention plan (BIP), which outlines strategies for addressing the behaviour.


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FBA Process:

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  1. Collect information about antecedents, behaviour, and consequences (ABC)
  2. Consider the influence of Learning, Genetics, Environment & Self (LEGS)
  3. Identify the function of the behaviour
  4. Develop a behaviour intervention plan (BIP)

Over the years, FBA has become a widely accepted practice for addressing challenging behaviours. It has been used in a variety of settings, including schools, homes, and clinics, to support individuals with a range of disabilities and behavioural challenges.

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on the use of technology in FBA. Tools such as mobile apps and online data collection systems have made it easier for professionals to collect and analyse data, making the FBA process more efficient and effective.

The history of FBA reflects the evolution of behaviour analysis as a field. By focusing on the underlying function of behaviour, rather than just the behaviour itself, FBA has become an important tool for understanding and addressing challenging behaviours.

If you would like to learn more about these important topics, check out our course on The Fundamentals of Leaning Theory:

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Ethics of Functional Behavioural Assessment

To understand the ethics behind such an approach, you may wish to check out our article Building a Better Bond: Understanding the Ethics and Techniques of Dog Training and Behaviour Modification. Also, in our specialist animal behaviour podcast, we chatted to Dr Susan Friedman about these important topics.


Why is a Functional Behavioural Assessment Important?

Many dog owners struggle with their dogs’ behaviour issues, such as excessive barking, destructive chewing, or aggression. These behaviours can cause significant stress and frustration for both the dog and the owner. Without a proper assessment, it can be difficult to determine why a dog is behaving this way, which can lead to ineffective training and potentially even make the behaviour worse.

A Functional Behavioural Assessment is a crucial step in identifying the root cause of a dog’s behaviour. By understanding the reasons behind the behaviour, we can create a more effective training plan that targets the specific issues causing the behaviour. This assessment can help owners and trainers avoid wasting time and resources on training methods that are not effective.


The FBA Process

The process of conducting an FBA can vary depending on the individual dog and their behaviour issues. However, there are a few key steps that are typically involved in the process.

  • Collecting Data: The first step in conducting an FBA is to gather data on the dog’s behaviour. This data can include observations of the dog’s behaviour, interviews with the owner, and reviewing any available medical records.
  • Analyse the Data: Once the FBA is complete, the behaviour analyst will analyse the data to identify the function of the behaviour. This involves looking for patterns in the antecedents, behaviour, and consequences to determine why the individual is engaging in the behaviour.
  • Creating a Hypothesis: Based on the data we have collected and the patterns we have identified, we create a hypothesis about the underlying cause of the dog’s behaviour.
  • Testing the Hypothesis: Once we have a hypothesis, we create a behaviour modification plan that targets the underlying cause of the behaviour. We then test this plan to see if it is effective.
  • Ongoing Assessment: As we implement the behaviour modification plan, we continue to assess the dog’s behaviour to determine if the plan is effective. If it is not, we modify the plan and continue to test until we find a plan that works for the dog.
Functional Behavioural Assessment

The Importance of a Qualified Trainer

While FBA can be an effective tool for addressing problem behaviour in dogs, it is essential to work with a qualified and experienced dog trainer. A trainer with experience in FBA can accurately assess a dog’s behaviour and create an effective behaviour modification plan that addresses the specific issues the dog is experiencing. Here are two of the best organisations to source a qualified and certified trainer or behaviourist:

The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC)

International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants (IAABC)

Importance of Functional Behavioural Assessments for Effective Dog Training Solutions

A Functional Behavioural Assessment is a critical tool for addressing problem behaviour in dogs. By identifying the underlying cause of a dog’s behaviour, we can create an effective behaviour modification plan that targets the specific issues causing the behaviour. If you are struggling with your dog’s behaviour issues, we recommend working with a qualified and experienced dog trainer who can conduct an FBA and create a personalised training plan for your dog.

To help create an FBA, have a look at Dr. Susan Friedman’s Functional Assessment and Intervention Design form.

Flowchart of Functional Behavioural Assessment

FAQs: Functional Behavioural Assessment in Dog Training

1. What is a Functional Behavioural Assessment (FBA)?

A Functional Behavioural Assessment is a process used to identify the underlying causes of a dog’s problem behaviours, enabling the creation of an effective and personalized behaviour modification plan.

2. Why is an FBA important in dog training?

An FBA is crucial as it helps to understand the root cause behind a dog’s behaviour issues, such as excessive barking or aggression. By identifying these causes, trainers can create a more effective training plan targeting the specific issues, which could otherwise lead to ineffective training and potentially worsen the behaviour.

3. How has the FBA evolved over the years?

The concept of FBA originated in the 1960s and evolved in the 1980s with the development of the functional assessment concept. It has further evolved with the integration of technology like mobile apps and online data collection systems, making the FBA process more efficient and effective.

4. What are the key steps involved in the FBA process?

The FBA process typically involves collecting data on the dog’s behaviour, analysing the data to identify the function of the behaviour, creating a hypothesis about the underlying cause, testing the hypothesis with a behaviour modification plan, and ongoing assessment to determine the effectiveness of the plan.

5. How is technology enhancing the efficiency of FBA?

Technology, through tools like mobile apps and online data collection systems, has facilitated easier collection and analysis of data, thereby making the FBA process more efficient and effective.

6. What information is gathered during an FBA?

Information about the antecedents (what happens before the behaviour), the behaviour itself, and the consequences (what happens after the behaviour) are gathered during an FBA to identify the function of the behaviour.

7. What is the outcome of an FBA?

The outcome of an FBA is the development of a behaviour intervention plan (BIP) that outlines strategies for addressing the identified behaviour issues in dogs, aiming for a more effective and personalized training approach.

8. Who should conduct an FBA?

It is essential to work with a qualified and experienced dog trainer to ensure the accuracy and effectiveness of the FBA and the subsequent training plan.

9. Where can I learn more about the ethics of Functional Behavioural Assessment?

You may wish to check out the article “Building a Better Bond: Understanding the Ethics and Techniques of Dog Training and Behaviour Modification” or listen to the specialist animal behaviour podcast featuring Dr. Susan Friedman for more insights on the ethics behind FBA.

10. How is Functional Behavioural Assessment different from other assessment methods?

Unlike other methods that may focus solely on the observable behaviour, FBA delves into understanding the underlying causes and the function of the behaviour, providing a more holistic approach to behaviour modification.

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