My Animal Career

Why Sophia Decided to Go Into Behavior

Like most of my colleagues, from the time I was a little kid, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I worked in kennels, veterinary hospitals, and got all the animal experience I could. And I majored in one of the most rigorous college science majors: biochemistry. Then, in 1993, after years of studying full time, my dream came true. I graduated from the University of California–Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and went out into private practice as a veterinarian.

Everything was great. That is, until I noticed that more pets came in with behavior problems than with medical problems. I knew what it was like having a problem pet and not knowing where to turn for qualified help, because I had owned a big aggressive Boxer for 11 years. I had trained diligently with 10 different trainers before I found one good enough to start addressing the issues. Because of my experience with my own dog, I made it a priority to alert clients to potential serious behavioral issues and counsel those who did want help. But the problem was too big to address within the confines of a regular office visit and with just the dog training knowledge I had. So I decided to go back to school and learn more about behavior.

A Well-Rounded Approach

There are a number of routes for becoming well-versed in behavior. Veterinarians can go back and do a two- to three-year clinical residency where they see behavior consults and also perform clinical research. Or there’s the Master’s Degree or Ph.D. route, which involves taking the coursework and performing research that fulfills requirements set by the Animal Behavior Society, as well as getting hands-on clinical experience.

My program consisted of a broad range of animal behavior experiences and a Master’s in Animal Science at UC Davis under Dr. Edward Price. During that time, I studied barking in dogs, took tons of classes on behavior, worked on numerous animal behavior projects, guest-lectured on behavior, and was a teaching assistant in biochemistry.

Here are some of the classes I took.

  • Comparative Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Principles of Domestic Animal Behavior
  • Hormones and Behavior
  • Physiologic Psychology
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Applied Domestic Animal Behavior
  • Animal Cognition
  • Animal Welfare
  • Evolution of Primate Behavior
  • Advanced Animal Behavior
  • Companion and Captive Animal Nutrition
  • Avian Nutrition
  • Acoustic Communication in Animals
  • Topics in Psychology
  • Statistical Analysis

It's Interesting

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