Mieshelle Nagelschneider
My Harvard University Experience: In Harvard Yard awaiting to enter my animal cognition course: Dogs: Savants or Slackers? No, Harvard does not have a cat behavior course. Luckily, learning about animal psychology is a comparative study. Was I the only cat behaviorist in the class? I’ll let you answer that one.

An animal behavior professional who attends university (either online or in-person) to study in the field of animal behavior will study many species as opposed to just one because learning about animal psychology includes comparative study between species.

There are many courses on bird behavior and dog behavior – but on many levels cats learn very much the same way as other species do.  Also, as with other species, factors like external (e.g. environment) and internal (e.g. genetics) drive their behavior in both similar and different ways.

Understanding a cat’s evolutionary environment is a big part of understanding domestic cat behavior (as well as other species), how they think, and what they need in captivity to be happy without prolonged stress in their lives.

My experience at Harvard University and at Harvard University Extension School animal cognition course, “The Cognitive Dog: Savants or Slackers?”,  you could attend in Harvard Yard in-person or through their extension school – I did both.  This course was a popular success as one of their most registered extension Psych courses (82 students registered only second to 84 students registered to Intro to Psych). To receive a citation in animal cognition back in 2007 three courses were required (2 bird and 1 dog course).  Irene Pepperberg (Alex and Me) and Bruce Blumberg were the amazing instructors for those courses.  Dogs and birds are easier to study than many other less popular taxa, is the short answer I’ve received by biologists, zoologists and veterinarians when asked why so many behavior courses on birds and dogs. Regardless, when it comes to animal behavior, learning about genetics (an internal factor) is important as it affects all the animal species and their behavior. A large focus in my Harvard course was the famous Russian fox study to help us understand the genetics of behavior in not just the Belyaev Foxes, but other animals, too. Other internal factors that also drive animal behavior are cognition, health status, physiological status, and emotional status.  Again, when studying animal behavior you will find many similarities as well as differences between species when it comes to internal and external factors and how it affects their behavior.

Royal School of Veterinary Studies – University of Edinburgh:  Study of Animal Behavior and Animal Welfare.

Wildlife and Captive Animal Welfare:

  • Common conflicts and ecological conservation and animal welfare.
  • Management of wild animals in captivity and the various ways they are kept – e.g. zoo, circus, sanctuary.
  • Roles of the responsible zoo in conservation and animal welfare.
Defining Behavior (Poole 1988):  Normal, Abnormal, Natural, Unnatural.
What Drives Behavior:  External Factors and Internal Factors.
The Impact of Early Life Events on Stress Responsiveness in Animals: Interview with Professor Cathy Dwyer
Using Animal Body Language as a Measure of Subjective Experience: Interview with Dr Francoise Wemelsfelder

Understanding Wild Animal Behavior

  • Recognize what factors make animals behave the way that they do.
  • How providing different resources will influence animal behavior.
  • The importance for providing for an animal’s behavioral needs.
  • Evolutionary environment:  Where did they evolve and what resources do they need in a captive environment.
  • More than just space.

External Factors that Drive Animal Behavior and Abnormal Behavior and Early Life Environment

  • Evolutionary environment
  • Prenatal environment
  • Brain cells
  • Coping, stress, and frustration
  • Short term environmental stress
  • Current environment and stress
  • Chronic environmental stress
  • Stereotypy: abnormal repetitive behavior and causes
  • Neonatal environment
  • Enriched Habitats: Sensory, cognitive, social, physical, occupational, feeding,

Internal Factors and Animal Behavior (Tigers, Bear, Lizards, Primates).

  • Genetics
  • Animal cognition
  • Health status
  • Physiological status
  • Emotional status.

Animal Behavior and Animal Welfare Assessment  (for cat behavior humane strategies are important).

  • How to assess an animal’s welfare through behavioral testing and physiological measures.
  • Using an animals behavior to assess welfare
  • Physiological measures of animal welfare

Animal Behavior and Welfare: The Truth About Dogs and Cats

Practical Animal Welfare: Companion Animal Welfare
  • Pet Cats and Dogs
  • Street Cats and Dogs
  • Shelter Cats and Dogs
  • Dog Aggression
  • The Alpha Dog
  • Cat Genetics: With Professor Gunn-Moore
  • Dogs and Their Needs in the Shelter: Interview with Emma-Louise Livingston
  • Dog Genetics: With Dr. Rowena Packer
  • Cats Independent Dependents: with Wendy Johnston
  • Rabbits, More Complex Than You Think: With Guen Bradbury
  • Horses Under Pressure: with Gemma Pearson
  • David Fraser (2008) Understanding Animal Welfare. The Science in its Cultural Context, published by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. ISBN 978-1-4051-3695-2
  • Mellor et al (2009) The Sciences of Animal Welfare, published by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. ISBN 9781405134958
  • Appleby & Hughes (1997) Animal Welfare 2nd Edition, published by CABI. ISBN-10: 0851991807
  • Rushen (1996) Using aversion learning techniques to assess the mental state, suffering, and welfare of farm animals.

Oxford University 2019 – Dept. for Continuing Education (MOOC)

Syllabus: Course details here

Introduction to the study and definition of animal behaviour

Evolution, genes and natural selection (Darwin/Wallace

Foraging behaviour

Measuring and analyzing animal behaviour

Signals, communication and sexual selection

Kin selection, inclusive fitness and social behaviour

Decision-making and evolutionary stable strategies

Artificial selection, domestic animals and animal welfare

Learning and memory

Animal cognition and tool use