People have studied animals for thousands of years. Early peoples observed the habits of the prey they hunted. They learned about the animals that browsed on the wild plants people ate, and then on the crops they grew. Later, people studied the distinct behaviors of animals they bred as livestock or as companions.
Today, scientists still study animal behavior to help farmers and ranchers understand agricultural pests and predators, and to breed and raise high-quality livestock. But thatís not all animal behaviorists do.
Animal behaviorists design healthy habitats for animals in zoos, aquariums, and laboratories. Some research ways to help protect species whose natural habitats are threatened. Others develop ways to help people and animals live together in an increasingly crowded world.
Animal behaviorists also study animal behavior to enhance our knowledge of human physiology and psychology. Studies of animal behavior, combined with recent research on the brain, have increased what we know about how the central nervous system works. Animal research enhances our understanding of human disease and aging. It has also contributed a great deal to what science knows about human learning and intelligence, stress, and about what motivates behavior such as aggression and reproduction.
Modern studies of animals come from three scientific traditions:
- Behaviorists who observe animals in their natural environment are often called ethologists.
- Behaviorists who observe and treat animal (especially pets) behavior problems in their home environment are often called applied animal behaviorists.
- Some behaviorists study animals in a laboratory setting. Their work usually involves conducting experiments to test hypotheses.
- Other scientists analyze the neurological and physiological foundations of animal behavior. Many branches of animal behavior overlap with disciplines such as neurobiology, endocrinology, and others. Some animal behaviorists are called biopsychologists or psychobiologists.
Veterinarians and people with degrees in agriculture, biology and zoology study animal behavior. Many animal behaviorists have degrees in psychology. The study of animal behavior requires knowledge of several disciplines, including psychology, biology, ecology, genetics, and zoology.
Animal Behaviorists Help Pets
Letís meet two people who use their knowledge and experience to help pet owners solve behavioral problems in their pets.
John C. Wright, Ph.D.John C. Wright, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (through the Animal Behavior Society.) He teaches psychology and animal behavior classes at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. He supervises graduate research. Wright studies dog and cat behavioral problems and conducts research on solutions to serious problems like dog aggression and cat "inappropriate elimination." Dr. Wright is also on the adjunct faculty at the University of Georgiaís School of Veterinary Medicine. He contributes to the interdisciplinary Psychology & Veterinary Medicine program. Here, he supervises graduate studentsí research, and helps train advanced graduate students learning to diagnose and treat dog and cat behavior problems. He also sees pets brought to the animal behavior clinic.
Wright also has a thriving private applied animal behavior practice in the Atlanta area. He helps owners resolve their petsí serious behavioral problems. These range from separation anxiety or fear of thunderstorms in dogs, to house soiling or biting in dogs and cats.
Wright entered college majoring in the biological sciences. "But, I didnít wanted to go in medicine," he says. A lifelong pet owner and animal lover, Wright "always wanted to get into animal behavior but only knew about veterinarians. Psychology didnít emphasize medicine or sickness."
Wright took an animal learning class. With other students, he designed an experiment that explored learning in tropical fish. "Bitten by the bug," he decided to pursue graduate work in experimental psychology. This discipline studies all aspects of animal behavior, including cognition, perception, and motivation. It requires extensive knowledge of physiological psychology and behavior genetics.
In graduate school, Wright researched aggression in laboratory mice. Later, he studied learning and social relationships in dogs.
After earning his doctorate, Wright decided to apply what he knew about animal behavior to pet problems. He taught animal control officers, who attended the Humane Society of the United Statesí "Animal Control Academy," to recognize and catch aggressive dogs without being bitten. In 1980, while a psychology professor at Clemson University, in Clemson, SC, Wright started a private animal behavior practice. In 1983, he moved to Mercer University and now focuses his practice in the Atlanta area.
Wright meets with pet owners in their homes and observes the animal to diagnose whatís causing the petís problem. Behavior problems include house soiling, growling, biting, and fearfulness.
Pet behavior problems are specific to a particular dog or cat and their environment. The petís human family is a crucial part of that environment. Wright examines how the client and its family lives. He explores when the problem started, what the pet does, and what the owner has done to stop it. Then, Wright develops strategies the pet owner can use to eliminate the problem behaviors. He teaches the pet owner to use the strategy. He follows up with the client by phone.
During the school year, Wright spends most of his time teaching and doing applied animal behavior research at the university. He strongly believes "the best practitioners are those that also do research."
Wright enjoys helping people. He says, "My clients tell me, Ďyou are our last resort.í People are motivated to help the pet, and will avoid destroying the animal, even a pet who has bitten people repeatedly. "They are caring people, by and large," adds Wright, "but they have their limits."
Wright co-edits and publishes the Animal Behavior Consultant Newsletter. He has help leadership posts in the Animal Behavior Society. He was the first Chairman of the ABS Board of Professional Certification, and presently serves as Chairman of the ABS Applied Animal Behavior Committee. "I am pleased," he says, "to be one of the increasing numbers of Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists in the Society. I was among the first."
In 1994, Wright co-wrote an award-winning book, Is Your Cat Crazy? Solutions from the Casebook of a Cat Therapist (MacMillan USA.) Along with his coauthor (and twin sister), Judy Wright-Lashnits, Wright is working on a book about dogs.
Janine McInnis, D.V.M.
Janine McInnis, D.V.M., a Veterinary Animal Behaviorist, owns Behavioral Veterinary Consultants of Dallas, Texas. Besides her practice, sheís active rearing three children, ages ten, three and one.
Determined to become a vet since elementary school, McInnis studied poultry science in college, and took many zoology courses. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degree at Michigan State University in 1981. She then she got additional training in animal behavior.
McInnis has been involved with dogs most of her life. "I put myself through college as a dog groomer," she says. Sheís also worked in boarding kennels and owned a breeding kennel for show dogs. Until recently, McInnis taught dog breeding, show dog handling, and dog obedience training classes in Dallas.
In college, McInnis took courses in animal behavior, zoology, animal genetics, anatomy, pharmacology, and general practice veterinary medicine. "But working in kennels was important too. Animals teach us. You can use that knowledge, if youíre very observant, to help others."
McInnis was a small animal veterinarian for eight years. Dallas-area veterinarians came to recognize her expertise in dealing with behavior disorders. In 1989, McInnis gave up general practice. Now, she says, "I only work with behavior disorders and concerns; cases are referred to me by veterinary colleagues in the area."
McInnis has the opportunity to consult with other vets and their staffs, who have extensive background in internal medicine, dentistry, dermatology, radiology and pharmacology. Unusual behavioral problems veterinarians refer to McInnis have included chronic vomiting or excessive grooming caused by stress. She may even treat animals with seizures, or skin and allergy problems. These conditions may predispose pets to behavioral concerns. "Finding the cause and resolving the problem can be very rewarding." To resolve these issues, McInnis says, "I have to stay on top of internal veterinary medicine." Each case McInnis handles is unique.
McInnis divides her day between her family and her practice. She works from her home office until 5:00 p.m. on established cases. On weekday evenings, McInnis works at her clinic with new cases until 10:00 p.m. On Saturday, her clinic is open from noon to 7:00 p.m. McInnis admits, "I give up evenings four days a week with my family because thatís the best time to meet with owners. In exchange, I get mornings with my little ones."
Part of McInnisí work may include doing physical examinations. For example, a cat was referred to her with a problem with excessive grooming. After looking at the medical history and examining the cat, McInnis recommended a skin biopsy. The test revealed a flea bite allergy; treating this problem helped resolve the behavioral problem.
McInnis prescribes medications in 20% to 35% of her cases. "My goal is to use drugs temporarily." People who insist on drugs for the animal, instead of making positive changes in the animalís environment, concern McInnis. "You have to change the ownerís behavior as well as the animalís."
McInnis also does grief counseling for owners and pets. "Pets," she explains, "may become depressed when another family pet has gone. Some pets react to the loss of the companionship. They may also react to the ownerís grieving of the pet." McInnis helps find ways owners can help a surviving pet overcome its depression, which may result in lost appetite, anxiety, or other symptoms.
Pet owners, too, grieve when a beloved pet dies. Often, the animal is a "child substitute" in the family. McInnis allows people to "talk about the pet, about the relationship, and grieve their loss." She encourages patients to do things, such as having a portrait of the pet painted, to memorialize their lost friend.
"There are two aspects to each case; the peopleís emotional needs and the animalís emotional needs. I can help people because I've been there."
Animal Behaviorists in Zoos
Many behaviorists work with exotic animals in zoos, aquariums, or similar settings. Here are two profiles.
Debra L. Forthman, Ph.D.
In high school, Forthman planned to become a veterinaria
Debra Forthman, Ph.D., directs field conservation at Zoo Atlanta (Georgia). A Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, Forthman applies her knowledge and expertise to wildlife conservation through research programs conducted at the Zoo, and by the Zoo around the world. She is an adjunct professor of Psychology at Georgia Tech. She edits a conservation newsletter, African Primate, produced by Zoo Atlanta.n. "I volunteered at a vet hospital; that convinced me I didnít want to work with broken animals or abusive pet owners."
In college, Forthman interned at an African wildlife park called Lion Country Safari. Here, Forthman met noted scientist Jane Goodall. Goodall was comparing data sheíd gathered about wild chimpanzees in Tanzania with chimps confined in a non-zoo environment.
The next year, Forthman went to Africa. Under Goodallís direction, Forthman collected animal data in a Tanzanian national park. "It was an indispensable life experience," says Forthman. "I learned to do field work, and to live in a foreign country."
Forthman became committed to doing conservation work. She studied conditioned taste aversion in graduate school. She wanted to find ways to manage animals with non-lethal methods, using their own evolutionary biology. Proven methods might help keep animals away from crops, or prevent predators from hunting domesticated animals.
For several years, Forthman worked in a laboratory studying taste aversion in rats. "It was a really hard time," Forthman admits. "It was hard to see how I was going to get back to the field. I loved the data but hated the lab work."
In Kenya from 1980 to 1982, Forthman applied taste aversion techniques to colonies of baboons raiding cornfields on what was once a cattle ranch. "I wanted to work out a compromise between baboons and farmers." Forthmanís techniques worked to some extent. "But," Forthman says, "they werenít feasible with the knowledge at that time. Iím working again on the subject now, with African primates and predators."
Back home, Forthman found work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Los Angeles Zoo. There, she did studies to improve the habitats, and increase the breeding potential of several species. She studied African bongos, California condors, chamois, and sloth bears.
"I think many people get too focused on one species or set of species," Forthman says. "It leads you to discover things in, say, primates, that you think are remarkable, but you may not see the bigger picture. Some behavior is broad in scope. Behavior is so multifaceted. I want to study the similarities and differences among animals."
Forthmanís first zoo experience taught her to be a team worker with curators and keepers. "I had to start learning diplomacy, which wasnít my long suit after two years in the field. Working in a hierarchical organization like a zoo takes practice." Even now, Forthman admits, supervising others and critiquing the research of her students is challenging.
After leaving the L.A. Zoo in 1985, Forthman did taste aversion research and education, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For three years she gathered information and conducted interviews of sheep ranchers on the predation on their sheep.
In 1988, Forthman joined the Zoo Atlanta staff. Hired as an Applied Behavior Analyst, she was promoted to Coordinator of Scientific Programs. In April 1997, Forthman became Director of Field Conservation.
"Zoos are primarily educational facilities," explains Forthman, "a way for people to learn about the natural world. We canít educate without the science upon which education is based. Weíre interested in applying field-based science to our breeding and animal management in the Zoo." With this approach, Zoo Atlanta designed very successful breeding programs for gorillas and many other endangered and threatened species.
Forthman directs the Zooís conservation office in Nairobi, Kenya, which conducts surveys and assessments of tropical/montane environments of high biodiversity. From this research, Zoo Atlanta makes recommendations for conserving those areas. She also directs the Zooís conservation efforts in Belize, Indonesia, China, and in the Okefenokee river system in Florida. She also studies orphaned elephants in a park in Rwanda.
"On Zoo grounds," Forthman says, "we capture, band and release neotropical and migratory birds. We know that bird habitat is being lost due to urbanization; our data show that the naturalized urban environment at Zoo Atlanta is a good stopover." Their results are reported to the Interior Departmentís National Bird-Banding Laboratory.
Forthmanís duties are largely administrative. She handles lots of phone and e-mail messages every day, with correspondents around the world. She edits an in-house newsletter about the Zooís research activities. Occasionally, she leads tours of the Zoo, or gives lectures in the community.
Forthman attends many meetings each month. Some are for brainstorming ways to raise funds for Zoo programs. Other meetings with Zoo personnel explore ways to promote enrichment of the environments of different species of animals living at the Zoo.
Currently, Forthman is giving input to the development of Zoo Atlantaís Conservation Action Resource Center, a public education center opening in September 1997. "The Center is a golden opportunity to get the message to the public about what weíre doing in field conservation."
Forthman advises graduate and undergraduate students doing research at the Zoo. She writes papers for professional journals.
Forthman says that, "funding for research in animal behavior, despite its tremendous public appeal, is Ďpitifulí." Nevertheless, she adds, "in the past ten to fifteen years, formal staffs dedicated to research in zoos have increased tremendously. But thereís no job security in the zoo world. Zoo Atlanta is a corporation without an endowment or government funding. We only get 60% of our budget from the entrance fees."
Joanne Oliva-Purdy, Ph.D.
Joanne Oliva-Purdy, Ph.D., is a behaviorist in the Mammal Department at the Baltimore Zoo in Maryland. She calls herself "a researcher in applied animal behavior, because I answer specific animal-management related questions that the Zoo needs answered."
"I decided coming out of high school that I wanted to study animal behavior," says Oliva-Purdy. She earned a Bachelorís degree in psychobiology, which combined elements of psychology and zoology. She did graduate work in biopychology at the City University of New York, studying the social behavior of zebra finches, a small Australian bird. She earned her doctorate in 1996. Currently, she is active in the Animal Behavior Society and the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.
Oliva-Purdy says, "After I had already started my thesis research, I heard of behavior research going on at the Bronx Zoo. I started volunteering there, first helping keepers, then helping with research. Finally, I got a part-time position coordinating their keeper training program and helping a curator coordinate endangered species breeding programs and research programs." After defending her dissertation in 1994, Oliva-Purdy accepted the full-time Behaviorist position at the Baltimore Zoo.
Oliva-Purdy coordinates habitat enrichment and behavior research activities with Mammal Department animal care staff. "The goal is enhancing our understanding of the behavioral and biology of the Zooís animals." She educates keepers on ways to enrich animal environments. When appropriate, she teaches keepers how to train animals or in other ways to modify their behavior.
Oliva-Purdy also recruits volunteers, some of whom are students, to help with research projects, usually observing. She supervises students who collect data on specific projects. She organizes and analyzes research data, prepares reports and presents assessments from each project to the curators. She reviews the academic literature and publishes and lectures on animal behavior topics.
Currently, Oliva-Purdy is studying black and polar bears, and chimpanzees. "The best part of my work," she says, "is being able to see and be involved in (even from a distance or for a short time) animal behavior of a wide variety of animals. I enjoy being able to study animals and telling other people about them. Itís rewarding when some of the information weíve gathered improves the quality of life for animals."
"Many students are interested in Applied Animal Behavior, especially zoo work," Oliva-Purdy says. "When they come to me, I tell them about the field and where to get more information and find volunteer opportunities, but itís difficult to talk about job prospects.
"Even though zoos are hiring more behavior staff than they used to, there are still many more qualified applicants than there are positions. Itís not a very well supported field. Job opportunities may take years to appear and applicants may have to travel cross country to accept a position." She adds, "except for the largest zoos, it is not unusual for only one behavior researcher to work in a zoo. Often, there are none."
Animal Behaviorists in Animal Welfare Organizations
Animal behaviorists work to promote the well-being of animals from special "animal welfare" organizations. Here are profiles of two behaviorists working in this environment.
Marilyn Cole, M.S.
Marilyn Cole, M.S., directs the Canadian Organization for Tropical Education and Rainforest Conservation (COTERC), based in Pickering, Ontario, Canada. Hers is a nontraditional animal behaviorist career story.
Cole joined the staff of the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo as a secretary in 1973. She had previously worked extensively with training and showing dogs and horses, but had only a high school diploma. When she retired from the Toronto Zoo in 1995, Cole was a Senior Keeper.
Shortly after starting keeper training in 1973, Cole audited a primate behavior class at the University of Toronto. She accompanied her professor to Gibraltar to study the Barbary macaque. In 1976 Cole spent six months working at an orangutan research station in Borneo.
Cole describes a memorable experience from her time in Indonesia: "One day, when I was out searching for orangutans, I came across a troop of red-tailed monkeys. While I stood quietly leaning against a tree watching them, I heard a rustling behind me. Suddenly, a small barking deer slowly approached. It sniffed me, then unconcernedly walked away. Iíll always remember the thrill of realizing that this animal had accepted me as part of its environment and not as something to be alarmed about."
Inspired, Cole attended the University of Toronto while continuing to work as a zookeeper. She earned her Bachelorís degree in Physical Anthropology in 1987. After a field trip as a research assistant on a Leatherback sea turtle project, she earned a Masterís in Environmental Studies in 1994.
In 1991, Cole founded COTERC as a registered Canadian charity "because I wanted to be more actively involved in conservation. While working on the sea turtle project, I purchased some land in the Atlantic lowland rainforest of Costa Rica and established Cano Palma Biological Station. After retiring from the Zoo, I focused my attention on COTERC."
COTERC promotes rainforest conservation through education and research. "In Canada," Cole says, "we provide classroom programs. In Costa Rica, we administer a field research station near Tortuguero on the northeastern coast. Here, students and researchers learn about the rainforest." COTERC also works with the local community on sustainable development projects.
Originally, Cole planned to spend time at the Cano Palma Biological Station to study the three species of monkeys found there. "However," she admits, "I now find Iím mostly doing administrative work and have little time for fieldwork."
Cole is committed to conservation. "We must continue to educate people to try to stop or slow down habitat destruction. It can be terribly frustrating. Many times it seems you take one step forward and two steps back. But," she continues, "then something will happen to give me encouragement to continue."
COTERCís Cano Palma Biological Station is an official wildlife refuge. "And yet," Cole says, "we are not safe from squatters and poachers because there arenít enough people to enforce the laws. Also, the law itself allows people to claim land."
Cole describes the greatest challenge to animals in the wild as humans who demand more of the wild spaces that are left for their own use. "Humans are animals," she explains. "We share this planet with many other animals. If we are to continue to exist (and sometimes I do have doubts about that!) then we must understand how every one of us fits into the entire pattern. Otherwise, we are going to push ourselves to extinction. If we do remove animals from their natural environment, then we must seek methods to replace that environment as much as possible."
Cole says, "the sheer enjoyment of watching animals is wonderful. I never get tired of quietly sitting and observing the creatures around me, whether it be in captivity or in the wild."
Viktor Reinhardt, D.V.M, Ph.D.
Viktor Reinhardt, D.V.M., Ph.D., serves as the Laboratory Animal Consultant of the Animal Welfare Institute , in Washington, DC. He lives and works in Madison, Wisconsin.
Reinhardt grew up in the German Alps. He was "always awestruck by animals. "As a kid, I collected vegetable and fruit scraps from local restaurants and took them to deer-feeding stations. I observed and photographed the wildlife there."
Reinhardt left high school before graduating. "I never liked school," he explains. "I questioned my teachers, and thought a lot of the stuff was garbage. Even biology was too dry."
Reinhardt apprenticed himself to a local carpenter. He enjoyed the work, and was relieved to be finished with school. But he realized after a year that working with wood wouldnít get him where he wanted to be working with animals. "I clenched my teeth and returned to school."
After graduation, Reinhardt sought advice from famed ethologist Konrad Lorenz, whose work Reinhardt greatly admired. Lorenz suggested that Reinhardt study veterinary medicine because it would allow him to earn a living as a practitioner or as a researcher.
In 1971, Reinhardt completed his veterinary studies at the University of Munich. Shortly thereafter, he earned a doctorate in ethology, one of the first veterinarians to do so.
During his graduate studies, Reinhardt became fascinated by animal endocrinology. He worked as a research assistant at a dairy institute near Munich studying reproduction and lactation in cattle. "I worked with a very good team," Reinhardt recalls, "I learned scientific methodology and thinking, and how to write scientific papers. I wrote a lot of papers related to the physiology of milk production."
Reinhardt also "fell in love with dairy cattle. Cattleís behavior fascinated me. I learned they were extremely social animals, and had relationships with one another."
In 1974, Reinhardt obtained a two-year appointment to teach physiology at the University of Kenya. For six months, the Reinhardts drove their car all over the country, camping in the bush, observing animals. "It was paradise," Reinhardt says. "Our time in Kenya was our lifeís highlight."
Reinhardt conducted research in Kenya on semi-wild cattle, a project he tracked for eight years. He learned that cattle, like people, form long lasting "friendship relationships" with animals they grow up with. He also found that cows experienced stress when their calves were taken from them while young; cows whose calves stayed with them in the herd had offspring more often than those that did not.
Returning to Europe, Reinhardt taught physiology and comparative ethology for six years at the University of Bonn. He also studied semi-wild cattle in Germany, and found results confirming his Kenyan data.
In 1982, Reinhardt moved to Saskatchewan, Canada. Reinhardt studied musk ox social behavior. At the same time, he studied American bison. He learned that "although male aggressive behavior may be more dangerous, the aggressive motivations of females may be greater."
In 1984, Reinhardt became the clinical veterinarian and ethologist at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center. Until 1994, Reinhardt treated the health of the approximately 1000 primates at the Center, mostly rhesus macaques. All the animals there are assigned as research subjects to different scientific projects.
During the first year, Reinhardt studied the animals in breeding groups. "I wanted to know what a monkey is," he says. He learned, for example, that among the rhesus macaques, females are as aggressive as males.
"I saw myself as a service person, responsible for ensuring animal health and welfare," he says. "When I saw hundreds of primatesówho are social creaturesó in single cages, I knew something was wrong."
In 1987, Reinhardt looked for ways to reduce the social isolation of the animals without risking their safety. He tried pairing animals in a double cage, in which two monkeys were separated by a fine mesh partition. In this way, the animals quickly established their dominant-subordinate relationship without touching or fighting. In 1994, when Reinhardt left the Center, 90% of the animals lived in a pair setting.
(Reinhardtís practice is now being implemented as part of the federal Animal Welfare Act, which requires respecting the social needs of primates, providing environmental enrichment, etc.)
Reinhardt also disapproved of the way humans immobilized the Center animals while handling them for certain procedures. Forcible restraint severely stressed the animals. One senior animal caretaker tried to train animals to stay calm under treatment. Working with the caretaker, Reinhardt used a system of rewards to encourage a monkey to approach humans, develop trust in humans, and let humans touch the animal safely. Finally, the animal trusted its handlers enough to let them groom its fur. At this point, the handlers could take a blood sample without restraining the monkey. They found they could accomplish the entire training process in less than an hour.
Reinhardt found that the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood of restrained animals were much higher than the levels in trained animals. "Results taken from a stressed animal are scientifically invalid," Reinhardt notes. "With relaxed and cooperative animals, scientists may be able to do valid research with fewer animals. And itís safer for the animal handler."
In 1994, Reinhardt joined the Animal Welfare Institute as a consultant. The Institute was instrumental in creating the Animal Welfare Act (1955, amended in 1985). Reinhardt writes papers to increase awareness among young scientists and the public to improve the living and handling conditions of non-human primates and laboratory animals in general.
Observing undisturbed animals fascinates Reinhardt. He is "humbled that animals of very different species and people share the same emotional and behavioral roots."
"For me," Reinhardt says, "it has always been a privilege to be with animals, to gain their trust and to gradually get some insight into their emotions. Observing animals is often like looking into a mirror; you learn much about yourself."
Applying Animal Behavior to Human Applications
Some animal behaviorists use their knowledge in unique settings. Here are three career profiles.
Avery N. Gilbert, Ph.D.
Avery Gilbert, Ph.D., is President of Synesthetics, Inc. His consulting company specializes in sensory research and communication in Upper Montclair, New Jersey.
Gilbert describes himself as an evolutionary biopsychologist. He has a Masterís degree in evolutionary biology, and a Doctorate in psychology.
Gilbert did postgraduate work and then joined the faculty of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. Monell is a nonprofit institution conducting pure research in areas relating to the senses of taste and smell. Gilbert studied the smell cues that influence how a strain of laboratory mice identified their offspring and selected mates. Then, he began to study olfactory perception in people. "I wanted to see if people could smell the same odor differences as the mice perceive."
The Monell Center is partly funded by the flavor and fragrance industries. Gilbert learned a lot about these industries and their concerns. In 1988 he joined for Givaudan-Roure, one of the worldís leading producers of fragrances and flavors. He spent six years with this European-based company doing sensory research, and was eventually promoted to Vice President for Sensory Psychology.
Gilbert studies the social and psychological factors that affect odor perception, including how expectation can bias odor judgments. He has studied how aging alters the sense of smell. He has explored cross-sensory associations of fragrance to color and sound.
Although he doesnít speak French, Gilbert had no trouble conducting cross-cultural consumer research. "Having nonverbal ways to assess behavior can be very useful," he says. "An ethological approach lets you bypass the language issue."
In 1995, Gilbert launched Synesthetics, and he is its only employee. Gilbert consults with a number of different clients. Often, heís asked to find ways to analyze what fragrances most closely meet their customerís desires. Gilbert helps clients define the problem, and suggests ways to test their ideas. For example, a company that manufactures dishwashing liquid may decide to incorporate a scent that will appeal to a certain demographic group, such as women between 30 and 45, and that fills a special market niche, such as being gentle to sensitive skin. The company may hire Gilbert to conduct research to identify smells consistent with that goal.
"My behavioral background," Gilbert says, "translates to studying what consumers are actually doing with products, such as how a person uses fragrance in the shower. I feel comfortable designing ways to measure that. Sitting behind the one-way mirror in a market research test in a mall is similar to watching animal behavior behind a blind in the field," he explains.
Gilbert says his background has helped him in a business career. "To run your own business, you need to figure out your agenda and make it work. Even as a field biologist you need to handle crises, deal with details, hire and fire field crews, organize supplies, etc."
Gilbert works out of his home office. Heís on the phone a lot, and travels occasionally to meet clients on site. Like a university scientist, Gilbert writes proposals to obtain work. But instead of defining his own research goals, Gilbert writes his plan after listening to clients describe what they want. Then he designs an experimental protocol, which includes timetables, assignments, and budgets.
Gilbert enjoys pleasing his clients. "Iím rewarded when Iíve successfully figured out what they want and need, executed it, and they recognize it." Gilbert helped design multisensory tabletop displays for designer Alfred Sung to help customers in department stores select from among Sungís three perfumes. "When the display was shown at a sales meeting," he says, "the audience spontaneously applauded."
Gilbert can point to products in the grocery store that he worked on. "Itís fun seeing your scientific work turn into an actual product. Seeing it out there, knowing itís based on solid science, is very satisfying,."
For Gilbert, the down side of being an independent consultant is the lack of face to face contact with others. Still he likes the casual atmosphere. He likes making his own schedule. "Iíve always been a night owl," says Gilbert, "like many scientists I know."
Sharon L. Smith, Ph.D.
Sharon Smith, Ph.D., is a Usability Engineer for the computer company Digital Equipment Corporation in Massachusetts. She is currently applying her training in applied research for industry, where she studies the interactions ("human factors") between people and computers.
Smith earned a Ph.D. in biology, specializing in animal communication, from the University of Pennsylvania. While conducting research at its School of Veterinary Medicine, Smith obtained funding from pet food companies, first to study food preferences among pet dogs in the home and then to study interactions between dog owners and their pets in the home.
A move to Massachusetts and career counseling led Smith to the computer industry. Digital contracted Smith to do some human factors research on a consulting basis. Smith says, "I applied my research skills to this project and learned about computers along the way. I worked on various projects for about three years. Then, one group I worked for hired me. That was over eleven years ago."
Smith designs user interfaces for software, based on what consumers need. A user interface may include the graphic or text icons (buttons) on a screen the user activates to perform some action (for example opening or closing the application). She designs and conducts tests with real people to measure how "user-friendly" the interfaces are. Smith may observe people working in order to determine what computer support or changes in processes would help them. She reviews user interfaces and recommends changes that should improve usability. She also writes user interface style guides.
"The studies we do are like ethology in that we observe and try to understand people interacting with computers in their natural environment. My training as an ethologist gives me excellent grounding in a basic naturalistic approach that has become valued in my current field.
"In the last fifteen years," Smith adds, "there has been a move in human factors research away from controlled experiments toward observing people working in their natural environment. Human factors is now more likely to employ someone coming out of animal behavior."
A background in animal behavior, Smith believes, is important for computer science because "it brings an objective, disciplined approach to supporting real people's work involving computer technology. Without this thereís no assurance that computers would help people do their work, or that they would be relatively easy to use."
Christopher G. Prince, M.S.
Christopher Prince, M.S., studies animal intelligence at the University of Southwestern Louisiana-New Iberia Research Center, in its Laboratory of Comparative Behavioral Biology. Prince is working on his Doctorate in computer science. His emphasis is "cognitive science." Studying rats now, Prince earned his Masterís degree in experimental animal cognition by studying dolphins.
Prince earned a Bachelorís degree in computer science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. He participated in a cooperative education program that incorporated work experience into his curriculum. Prince did lab work and some systems analysis in chemistry labs in Alberta and British Columbia.
In his last semester, Prince took his first psychology course. He was fascinated by learning, memory and cognition theory. At the same time, he was building a software application for his senior project, and applying what he learned in his major. "I began to see things I could be passionate about, something I could pursue long-term."
After graduation, Prince spent two years working as a computer programmer in Calgary, Alberta. He was bored and stressed out.
To relax one weekend, Prince and friends drove to Edmonton. They went scuba diving in the West Edmonton Mall Aquarium Submarine Tank. Prince remembers, "I saw the dolphins (behind the plexiglass) in the Aquarium and was totally stunned." He couldnít stop thinking about the dolphins, wondering how their minds worked, what they thought about, etc. "On the drive back to Calgary I decided to take some action."
Prince researched scientists and laboratories studying dolphins. He entered the experimental psychology program at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. "I had an underlying goal of relating what I knew about computer science to animals."
In Hawaii, Prince studied dolphin cognition at the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory.
His studies showed that dolphins can process fairly complex language concepts. One animal, Akeakamai ("lover of wisdom") was trained to understand many hand gestures. Prince taught her to understand conjunctions ("and", "not") and directions (e.g., "left", "right").
Like all Kewalo researchers, Prince learned to train dolphins using hand gestures. They used gestures to feed the dolphins, and to keep them calm and motivated. This way, behaviorists like Prince could interact productively and safely with these large, potentially aggressive animals.
"Dolphins arenít easy to work with," Prince says. "I enjoyed the research. I also enjoyed hanging out with the dolphins, in the observation tower, just watching."
Prince was the only graduate student at the Kewalo lab with a background in computer science. "I was really intimidated by the people with psychology and biology backgrounds. I learned the business of research: how to do work, get data ready, and submit papers."
At Louisiana, Prince is studying spatial cognition (memory and problem solving) with rats. "Rats have spatial minds," Prince says; "they navigate very well. We know that rats forage and remember where they have obtained food in the past, without olfactory clues to guide them." Prince is studying ratsí knowledge of "symmetrical spatial relations."
Prince explains, "When rats learn that food is first in Location A and then next in Location B of a maze, I test if they know the reverse ¾ when food is first found in Location B, does the rat go next to Location A?
"Animal intelligence is different than human intelligence," Prince says. "When people communicate, we form an image in our mind of what a term or idea represents." For instance, when thinking about a "chair," some people will think of a comfy armchair; others will think of a straight-back chair.
This is called an "object-based" mental representational system. When you hear the word "computer", or "love", what image pops into your mind?
Each species uses mental representation to survive in its particular environment. Prince believes "animals have a qualitatively different mental representation from humans. Some of these ways may be better than human ways. And," he adds, nonhuman animals may not have mental representations that are Ďobject-basedí."
Prince will apply his research to increasing our knowledge of how animals think. Scientists can compare this to how humans think and to the foundations of computer science as well. For example, Prince says, "perhaps, using a model of a rat brain, we could apply its mental representation to develop a tool inside a computer that some day might navigate for people on the World Wide Web.
"While an undergraduate student in computer science, one of my professors said, Ďwhat if you were to meet an alien from another planet. How would you establish communication with this individual?í I think the problem of understanding animal cognition is a similar question."
Where Animal Behaviorists Work
Animal behaviorists work in academia, at zoos, aquariums and amusement parks, for government agencies, in animal welfare and conservation organizations, and in business, agriculture and industry.
Incomes in animal behavior vary widely. Earning depend on what the behaviorist does, and their work setting. Animal behaviorists working in the private sector, for profit corporations will always pay more than a university or public institute conducting research.
Michael Hutchins, Ph.D., of the American Zoological Association says, "most animal behaviorists earn from $35,000 to $90,000 and more, depending what they do and where they work. Those earning higher salaries are administrators. For example, the Director of Conservation at the Walt Disney Wild Animal World is an animal behaviorist."
Animal behaviorists must have a strong educational background. A doctorate generally is required for college teaching, independent research, and for advancement to administrative positions.
The American Zoo and Aquarium Association recommends future behaviorists major in fields such as animal science, zoology, marine biology, conservation biology, wildlife management, and animal behavior.
Future animal behaviorists may prepare themselves by earning a Ph.D. in such fields as biology, zoology, psychology, or others. Veterinarians must earn a doctor of veterinary medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree.
John Wright says, "animal behavior studies involve learning theory, brain behavior, and ethology." He suggests undergraduates study zoology and psychology. Wright says "applied behavior programs are increasing and tend to be interdisciplinary. Programs in veterinary schools are increasing. Itís helpful to have a mentor to help you navigate your career options."
Janine McInnis says, "Future veterinarians can complete some requirements before veterinary school by taking undergraduate work in animal science and zoology. Itís also helpful to have background in human psychology."
The Occupational Outlook Handbook says that "biological scientists should be able to work independently or as part of a team and be able to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing."
Avery Gilbert concurs with this assessment. The ability to be a team member is crucial. "You need good communication skills to sell the science that you do, whether itís to a granting organization, marketing people, research and development specialists, or Calvin Klein."
Gilbert adds, "All animal behaviorists I know enjoy working with animals, and enjoy being outdoors. To do this work you must be able to observe and investigate things that might be messy."
Sharon Smith says excellent observational skills are essential. Also, "you must see patterns in lots of data, be able to tolerate ambiguity, and have the ability to design naturalistic experiments."
Persistence and patience are vital to any research biologist. Good research scientists thrive on the challenge of a difficult research problem. Christopher Prince says, "I think perseverance is probably the most important trait. Being able to keep a goal clearly in mind and realize that an experiment or series of experiments might take many months. Also, I think itís necessary to find value in the workings of each experiment. Iím a perfectionist, and itís hard for me to believe good science could come from being otherwise."
John Wright says, "an applied animal behaviorist must be able to listen to the client until they get their story out before you ask them questions. Wanting to help is important. You canít change every dogís or catís behavior; you have to cope with failure. And you must care about the pets and the people that own them."
Janine McInnis says, "Vigilance, calm and confident movements are important. Some people have a natural ability to work with animals; you don't get that from books. An applied animal behaviorists works with the people as much as with the animals. They need to be compassionate toward othersí needs and feelings."
Wright adds that anyone who doesnít have strong people skills can still do animal behavior work. "People who works well with animals often work in a research or zoological setting, or they may test animals for food preferences in a dog food company."
Viktor Reinhardt believes required qualities for a field behaviorist also include reverence of life, compassion, and "no preconceived ideas of how the animals should behave."
About the Author
Valerie A. Lipow, MS, has been a Nationally Certified Career Counselor since 1983. She writes frequently on occupational and career related topics, and is a staff writer for FutureScan Magazine. She hosts a weekly career planning chat on the Prodigy Online Network's Teen Career Trax.
Sources of Animal Behavior Information
American Association of Zoo KeepersTopeka Zoological Park
635 SW Gage Boulevard
Topeka, KS 66606-2066
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians6 North Pennell Road
Media, PA 19063
American Society of Animal Science309 West Clark St.
Champaign, IL 61820
American Society of Mammologistsc/o Dr. H. Dwayne Smith, Secretary-Treasurer
501 Widstoe Building
Department of Zoology
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84202
American Veterinary Medical Association1931 N. Meacham Road
Schaumburg, IL 60173-4360
American Zoo and Aquarium Association7970-D Old Georgetown Road
Bethesda, MD 20814-2493
Animal Behavior Societyc/o Susan Foster, Secretary
Department of Biology
Clark University 950 Main St.
Worchester MA 01610-1477
International Society for Behavioral Ecologyc/o Patty Parker, Secretary
Department of Zoology
Ohio State University
1735 Neil Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
Suzanne MacDonaldís HomepageA nice site on how animal behaviorists work in zoos.
Animal Behavior Links
A most comprehensive site linking to a wide array of Internet resources on animal behavior and the people who study it.
Electronic ZooIf itís about animals, it's here. A very comprehensive alphabetic listing of links.
Spotlight On: Comparative Psychology And Animal BehaviorThis site is valuable if you're doing library research on any aspect of animal behavior. This site lists dozens of reference books, indexes and abstracts, professional journals that publish articles on animal behavior, library headings useful in searching, searchable databases on CD-ROM and other resources for anyone searching for information on animal behavior.
Animal Behavior Society HomepageIncludes links to other web resources, such as:
- Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB)
- Animal Behaviour(journal of ABS and ASAB)
- Biology Departments and Institutes- World Wide
- a Career Planning Center for Beginning Scientists and Engineers
- InterNIC Academic Guide to the Internet
- WWW sites for Animal Behavior
The Nebraska Behavioral Biology Group "Internet Animal Behavior" PageA very comprehensive site at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that offers links to Web sites for animal behavior societies, resources, educational programs, UseNet News Groups and Mailing Lists.
Research With Animals in PsychologyThis site describes the ways animals enhance knowledge of human psychology and health. It describes humane and ethical ways psychologists must treat animals used in research.
Careers in Zoos and AquariumsSponsored by the American Zoological Association, this site describes educational requirements, salaries, and various careers in zoos and aquariums.
Oklahoma State University Animal Science CareersThis site lists careers in animal science. It describes opportunities in agriculture and biotechnology.
Zoology site with lots of interesting and valuable links
Academic Programs in Conservation BiologyThis site catalogs over sixty universities that offer programs in this discipline.