Discussion Forum 2023 - Meet the speakers: Suzanne Rogers & Jo White


Jo and Suzanne share a passion for animals and a fascination for what makes the human animal tick. Prior to founding Human Behaviour Change for Animals C.I.C. (HBCA) both had backgrounds in animal welfare and were working as consultants. They established HBCA after recognising that insight about how and why people behave the way they do, could provide solutions to challenging issues that affect animals. In 2022 they set up Human Behaviour Change for Life (HBCL), which HBCA now comes under, to reflect the expanding scope of their work to include areas such as the environment, conservation, and human well-being. 

Q: What sparked your interest in the topic?

Early in our - very similar - careers, working with horses and their owners, and in animal welfare, we started to recognise that changing the way people manage their animals is a key challenge – people don’t always act on the recommendations we provide. We also began to notice that where we found animal welfare issues, we often found that the physical and mental wellbeing of the humans involved was compromised. We started to explore the mountain of evidence-based information about what does, and doesn’t, lead to behaviour change in humans – it is found within fields including psychology, social economics, development approaches, behavioural change theories, counselling skills, social marketing and so many more. We recognised a kindred spirit (aka behaviour change geek) in each other over a few meetings and many conversations and jointly launched Human Behaviour Change for Animals in 2016. In 2022, we changed the name to Human Behaviour Change for Life to reflect the wider range of issues we work on in the world of animal welfare, human wellbeing, the environment, and conservation.

Q: Why is this topic particularly relevant now? 

It is easy to assume that if we explain to people why change is needed (for example, the need to address pet obesity or to regularly clean their animals’ teeth) they will then change the way they manage their animals and adopt our recommendations. However, we know from considering our own behaviour (e.g., eating less, exercising more) that even when we understand the benefits of changing, want to change, and know how to change, actually changing our behaviour is difficult. Vets and vet nurses have a very short time with clients in which to explain the importance of finishing a course of antibiotics, or of changing their daily habits regarding the way they look after their animal. This is not easy but there is a lot we can learn from behaviour change science both to support individual clients and also as a veterinary community, to address issues such as the welfare concerns associated with brachycephalic dogs or stress-related cystitis in cats.

Q: What are the key issues of your topic?

Some key issues facing animals that would benefit from exploring through a human behaviour lens are the barriers and opportunities associated with how the veterinary profession is perceived by the public. There seem to be many misconceptions in the general public about the role of vets in providing the best care for their pet, a reluctance to seek help in a timely manner and sometimes mistrust of key prophylactic veterinary medicine such as vaccinations and parasitic control. If these issues were better understood it would provide us with ideas for how to address them, which would ultimately help animals.

Q: What are you hoping delegates will take away from your session?

The talk will provide lots of top tips for people working with animal caregivers that can be put into practice right away. Just one example is as follows: there is a saying “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I truly understand”, which perfectly illustrates a key human behaviour change principle. If we understand that people learn best if they are not just told what to do through resources or being given information, not just shown what to do through demonstration, but are truly involved, the message has more chance of ‘sticking’. People are more likely to do things they are good at and less likely to do things they struggle with. In practical terms, this highlights the need for us to provide a space for owners to practice new skills, such as giving their cat a tablet or changing a bandage – not just telling them to do it, not just showing them how to do it, but giving them the opportunity to practice under the guidance of a veterinary nurse perhaps. If every time we find ourselves telling people what to do, we consider how we could involve them, we can get into the habit of providing recommendations in a more impactful way.

Q: Are there any statistics, research, new developments, or case studies that you can share with us about the topic?

Some research that resonated with us is that, in terms of the psychology of communication, studies in the field of motivational interviewing (a counselling approach that is aimed at eliciting behavioural change) show that confrontation in a conversation is the most robust predictor for failure of the client to change whereas empathetic communication is a strong predictor of change. The challenge for veterinary professionals working with clients is the need to impart an understanding that the way they look after their animal is having a negative effect on their pet without a confrontational element and there are so many tips and tools that can be used to make this easier. We will cover much more research and some case studies in our talk.

Q: What comes next?

What we hope comes next for people who come to our talk is that they are bitten by the human behaviour change bug, want to learn more, explore our online courses, and let us know how they are getting on applying it in their roles – we love hearing from people. For us, we are in the middle of some juicy behaviour change consultancy projects – more and more organisations are recognising the importance of embedding human behaviour change principles into their work and we love helping them to do so.