A brief history on how I became an Animal Behaviourist...

Welcome! This is a blog about animal behaviour and training as well as my work as an animal behaviourist.

I have been meaning to start a blog for years now and was recently inspired to bite the bullet by my lovely friend Mia Cobb, who has just started a fabulous blog, about all things canine science, called Do You Believe in Dog? You should follow her blog too if you love (or believe in) dogs!

So here we go. I guess I'll start with a brief history of how I became an animal behaviourist...

After finishing school back in 1996 I had no idea what I wanted to be. So, I did what most kids in such a predicament do, I enrolled in an Arts degree! In my first year of Arts at La Trobe Uni I studied Archaeology, Sociology and History. For a brief while I thought I might like to be a Palaeontologist and spend my life digging in the dirt for dinosaurs. After all, Jurassic Park was one of my favourite movies. Fortunately I realised my real passion was studying living animals when I transferred to an Arts/Science double degree in my second year. I soon discovered I LOVED science! Well, more specifically, I loved Zoology. Learning all about the ecology, behaviour and physiology of different taxa was fascinating! I loved zoology so much that I worked really hard and received high enough marks in my third year to get into the zoology honours program (4th year).

In 2003 I completed my honours year and was fortunate enough to work with a world renowned ornithologist called Dr Richard Zann, investigating sexual attractiveness and mate choice in zebra finches. My honours year was incredible. I loved the whole experience; the friends I made, the independent research and the supervisor-student relationship were just brilliant. During honours I was responsible for the daily husbandry of Dr Zann's zebra finch colony on campus. Every day I would feed, water and clean (even on weekends!). It was hard work but it paid off. I was awarded first class honours!

Male (left) and female (right) zebra finches

In 2009 Richard was tragically killed in the Victorian bush fires, along with his wife and daughter. I still miss Richard to this day. He was an amazing supervisor and a mentor. Generous with his time and genuinely interested in my career after honours, we would catch up every year when I came to lecture his third year students about dog behaviour and my work as an animal behaviourist. I miss him very much and I'm so grateful I had the privilege of knowing, and learning from, him.

After honours, in 2004, I travelled to Thailand and Borneo where I volunteered with SOSRhino in the jungles of the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. You can read about that adventure here.

Me with France and JJ chasing Rhinos in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Borneo, Malaysia

Upon returning from my travels I worked briefly in a large pet shop which opened my eyes to the welfare issues associated with selling animals in pet shops. I saw a lot of things that turned my stomach, the details of which I won't go into here, hence I lasted less than 6 months! During my time in the pet shop customers constantly asked me about pet behaviour problems..."my puppy keeps weeing on my rug", "my bird won't stop screaming", "how do I stop my cat scratching the couch?" I happened to know a bit about behaviour and was able to provide some advice. I realised that many people needed help to understand their pets behaviour and how to resolve common behaviour problems and so Pets Behaving Badly was born! Follow me on Facebook on the Pets Behaving Badly Facebook page!

I left the pet shop and concentrated on the business and gaining more knowledge and experience in the field of animal behaviour. I decided I would go back to university to do a PhD so I set about finding a supervisor whose research area was human-animal interactions (also called Anthrozoology). When I met Associate Professor Pauleen Bennett for the first time to discuss the possibility of her supervising me, we immediately hit it off. At the time she was based at Monash University (now at La Trobe University in Bendigo) and she offered me a casual Research Assistant job in the Anthrozoology Research Group helping her with various research projects her group was conducting.

In 2006 I enrolled to do a PhD in canine behaviour, researching the assessment of shelter dog behaviour for adoption suitability. Six years later and I'm still plugging away. One of the reasons it's taking me so long is that Pets Behaving Badly is now a huge success!

In my first year as an animal behaviour consultant I had less than 10 behaviour consultations. All I had was a basic website and some business cards. I couldn't afford marketing or advertising, so business was slow. Fast forward to this year and I'll crack well over 100 behaviour consultations! In addition to providing in-home consultations I run seminars and workshops for pet owners and people who work professionally in the animal industry and I provide an expert witness service in legal cases where a dog's behaviour has been called into question. I also work as a freelance writer and regularly write articles for Pets Magazine, Pet Pages, Pooch Magazine, Dogs NSW and the Herald Sun. To see more of my media work, including an interview on A Current Affair, click here.

My job is really fun and diverse. Not only do I get to meet and work with amazing people who love animals, I get to do other fun stuff like radio interviews and even a stint on the TV as behaviourist/presenter on the wonderful show all about dogs: Hound TV. Here's the first episode I appeared in...

My job also allows me to travel interstate and overseas for conferences and workshops, as part of my ongoing education in the field. Recently I went to Orlando, Florida to do the Contemporary Animal Training & Management workshop at Natural Encounters Inc.

Recall training with a Green Wing Macaw, Natural Encounters Inc., Orlando, USA

Whilst in Florida I had to visit the theme parks. At Sea World I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to train the Beluga whales. Funniest thing, they feel like hard boiled eggs!

Training a Beluga whale at Sea World, Orlando, USA

Right this minute I'm sitting in my hotel room in Chicago in the USA. Why am I here? Well, it's animal related and a whole other story. So, stay tuned for the next instalment to find out...

Well, that's how I became an animal behaviourist (in a nutshell). Ok, so that wasn't exactly "a brief history". I promise I will try to keep my posts short and sweet from here on in. Thanks for stopping by and (hopefully) reading the first instalment of my blog. I hope you enjoyed it :)

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