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August 25, 26, 27 | Starts at 6pm EST

[Call for speakers] CAAWT Membership Shelter and Zoo Conference 2023.png

CAAWT Membership Conference 2023 was themed on animal shelters and zoos. Invited speakers and CAAWT members working in these fields will present their work on how they have been applying the Constructional Approach (Goldiamond, 1974/2002; Layng et al., 2022)! The speakers presented a wide array of training programs to achieve meaningful behavior change across several species of animals, how we can ask questions to understand their behaviors and emotions better, help identify the training programs best for our learners, and use a variety of different consequences to reinforce good behaviors and more! 

Recordings of the conference are available on CAAWT membership. You can access the recordings by joining the CAAWT Membership from HERE

We want to thank every CAAWT member presenting their programs at this conference. Their dedication to continuous learning, compassion, and brilliant approaches to understanding each of their animals and developing truly individualized programs are setting the standard for modern animal training!

Conference Program

DAY 1 | August 25th




Sean Will

Maasa Nishimuta


Experiments in Constructional Affection: Training for Reactivity and Sound Phobias with Touch

After experiencing the benefits of a “Constructional Affection Lifestyle” with both her own dogs and clients, Shannon’s curiosity lead her to explore the potential of using affection on a conjugate reinforcement schedule in various situations. In this presentation, she shares her experiments in real-life situations with her young dog Timbre for behaviors typically labeled as reactive and phobic. Join us as we glimpse some fascinating examples of how using affection as a reinforcer can transform behavior.


Shannon Lynne Sullivan


Building Trust with Reptiles through
the Constructional Approach

Can we build trusting relationships with reptiles?

Through two cases I worked on with an Indian Star Tortoise and Emerald Tree Skink that wanted distance from me, I will discuss how the Constructional Approach led to building trusting relationships. You will see the transformation through videos and data.


Mika Ishiwata


Beyond ABC: Improving Interventions and Animal Welfare with Nonlinear Contingency Analysis

Traditional approaches to addressing undesired responses typically involve the exploration of a single desired outcome as well as the conditions under which that outcome is attained. This is known as a linear approach in which the antecedents and consequence for the behavior in question are described (Layng et al., 2022). However, a more thorough examination reveals there are many contingencies that ultimately contribute to the understanding of how and why a specific behavior is emitted. Looking at these many contingencies that are operating on the behavior, also known as a nonlinear contingency analysis, reveal a more accurate explanation (Layng et al., 2022). This information can lead to timely, more appropriate interventions, and ultimately improved animal welfare. Nonlinear contingency analysis also has the potential to provide answers to behavior challenges that often seem difficult to explain. This presentation will provide case studies featuring a variety of species to reveal how nonlinear contingency analysis leads to better understanding of behavior and improved interventions. 



Layng, T.V. J., Andronis, P. T., III, R.T. C., & Abdel-Jalil, A. (2022). Nonlinear Contingency Analysis. Taylor & Francis.  

Barbara Heidenreich


Ask any questions that you have!

With the day 1 presenters 

DAY 2 | August 26th


DAY 2 Welcoming

Sean Will

Maasa Nishimuta


A Day in the Life:
Making Every Interaction Inside
the Shelter a Constructional One 

When working or volunteering in an animal shelter, just fulfilling the animals' daily needs can make it difficult to find time to help them learn behaviors that increase their chances of adoption. What if there was a way to achieve both simultaneously? During this presentation, we will demonstrate how to have constructional interactions with shelter dogs while assisting with meeting their daily needs. Every moment we are around another animal can be considered a learning (or training) opportunity to help them learn social

skills critical to being adopted and staying adopted. 

Sean Will

Maasa Nishimuta


Contingencies of Reinforcement:
The Fearful and the Friendly

Behaviour comes in many forms. When we look at a particular behaviour our own history's with similar behaviour may skew our opinion of it's purpose. In this presentation we will examine the function of reactive behaviour and how a single form of behaviour may serve different functions across different subjects.

Bob Siemens


Supporting the Human Animal Bond Through Matchmaking and Adoption Counseling

The process for adopting a new dog can be an overwhelming one.  A quick internet search for available pets in your area may turn up hundreds of different adoption groups, ranging from individual families seeking to rehome a pet, private rescue groups, and non-profit organizations.  At the MSPCA-Angell adoption centers in Boston, Centerville, Methuen, and Salem, Massachusetts, we know that people have many choices when it comes to finding their next family member.  We are grateful to those who choose to support our mission and take home a pet from one of our adoption centers.  In this presentation, we’ll outline how we design our adoption program to best match the behavioral needs of the animals in our care with the environment, lifestyle, and expectations of the families looking to adopt, and how we layer in behavior support for both the humans and the animal before, during, and after adoption.


Morgan Katz


Both/And: How Nature and Nurture Inform Reinforcement Systems in Bird Training Programs

This is a species by species look at how phylogeny and adaptive strengths and weaknesses can help us build stronger, more ethical training methodology that fine tunes what it means to exhibit natural behaviors in educational and husbandry programs.

Hillary Hankey


Ask any questions that you have!

With the day 2 presenters 

DAY 3 | August 27th


DAY 3 Welcoming

Sean Will

Maasa Nishimuta


“Checking In with a Tiger Using a Constructional Approach
– A case story”

In March 2022 Copenhagen Zoo, Denmark, received a new male tiger and as most big cats when they have been moved to a new facility, he needed some time to adjust to his new environment and caretakers. During that phase it turned out that the hardest part was getting used to the new people. By using systematic desensitization three of his four caretakers managed to make their way to his acceptance and slowly others were also allowed in his presence. Except one: His caretaker Holger Wisbøl. For unknown reasons Holger was not welcome. The tiger showed an extremely aggressive response whenever he could see or even hear Holger. After weeks of trying all former procedures of desensitizing him to Holger, the team finally went for their most resent and least experienced resource: “the constructional approach”. The result was stunning! 

Annette Pedersen


What's Compassion Got to Do With It?

What does compassion based assent have to do with animal training and welfare within the zoological setting?  For many, the philosophy of empowering our nonverbal learners have greater degrees of freedom, choice, and control within their environment is daunting and challenges the idea of behavioral mastery over another individual as expertise. The tradition of the “cowboy grab them up” and make them comply via restraint has been a hallmark of success for many institutions and animal welfare cultures. We will examine how to measure assent within several species, how to build the awareness of assent based body language, how assent changes the system of traditional linear plans and designs, what it means for trainers when our learner leaves a training session, shuts down or demonstrates a “no” response, and how their behavioral response rate changes within a program design.  In our discussion, we will examine and measure the common assent behaviors across species within the taxa of reptiles, mammals, and birds living it zoo settings.

Lisa Clifton-Bumpass


Ask any questions that you have!

With the day 3 presenters 

Contact us

If you have any questions about the conference, please contact us!

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