Favourite Thing: Working with animals and learning new things! Particularly getting people to think about the way they do things, and using science to help them consider if there is a better way.
Billanook College (1987-1995) | Wandin North Primary School (1983-1986)
Monash University, Bachelor of Science (Honours) 1996-2000 – Major: Zoology/Biological Science, Minor: Psychology | PhD (part time) 2006-present
Restaurant Waitress (1994-1999); Monash University: Research Assistant (1999-2000); RSPCA Victoria: Animal Attendant/ Animal Ambulance Driver/ Education Officer (2001-2003); Guide Dogs Victoria: Training Kennel & Vet Clinic Manager (2003-2012); Australian Animal Welfare Strategy: Researcher & Working Group Leader (2006-present); Australian Working Dog Alliance: Director (2013-present)
my PhD, Australian Working Dog Alliance & blogging at Do You Believe in Dog?
I’m finishing my PhD. I meet with lots of different working dog groups (e.g. Police, Army Explosive Detection, Assistance Dogs, Biosecurity, Racing Greyhounds, etc.) and learn about the way they breed, raise, train and house their dogs. I am organising a website and conference for later in the year where all the different working dog groups can share ideas about the best way to train and care for our working dogs. I write for a blog called ‘Do You Believe in Dog?’ about science to do with dogs.
Me and my work
I am using science to help understand and improve the welfare of Australia’s working dogs.
Between finishing my university degree in Science (BSc. Hons) and starting my PhD, I worked in animal shelter and working dog facilities. This real-world industry experience has been very helpful to me in understanding how science can help people working with dogs, and how people involved in working dogs can help science. Plus – the puppy cuddles were fantastic!
PhD: My PhD research looks at the welfare of working dogs in a few different ways.
Around half of the dogs bred to be working dogs don’t end up working and I think we can improve on this. Because so much about working dogs is controlled by people, I started by asking over 2,000 people about what they think about dog welfare and how they important they rate different kinds of dog care (like health care and housing and toys). I also ran an experiment to see if young Guide Dogs got stressed when they came to live in the training kennel facility after living in family homes as puppies. I also tested if giving them an enrichment program of toys, exercise, music and other ‘fun’ things changed their stress levels and looked at how this related to how well they did their work.
Australian Animal Welfare Strategy: I am involved in research projects that aim to improve the welfare of all of Australia’s working dogs. My project team have looked at the way things are being done at the moment in all different types of working dogs (from Police to farm to guide dogs to racing greyhounds) and have suggested ways the working dog groups can improve things by sharing their ideas and best ways of doing things with each other. This work has led to creating a new charity organisation called the Australian Working Dog Alliance.
Do You Believe in Dog? I write a pen pal blog, called Do You Believe in Dog?, with another canine scientist (Julie Hecht) who lives in New York, USA. We take it in turns to write about all the exciting science research being done about dogs.
With my dog science pen pal, Julie:
My dogs (Spotty dog Elke in the river, and big stripy Caleb schmoozing on the bed):
My Typical Day
Always a mixture of research, meetings, thinking, reading, writing and (of course) DOGS!
I work from home 3 days a week at the moment, doing lots of reading and writing about my PhD research and for the blog.
I travel interstate (every 1-2 months) to meet with different working dog groups, see their dogs and kennel facilities.
I get to go overseas (about once a year) to talk about my work at conferences with other scientists. Check out this wolf I saw in Austria:
I am working on a new website and preparing a conference for the Working Dog Alliance, so there are lots of phone calls and emails to get all of that organised.
I spend time on social media (Facebook and Twitter mostly) posting information for the blog, my research group (The Anthrozoology Research Group) and the new working dog organisation (Working Dog Alliance).
I am also Mum to a two year old girl, so a lot of my work gets done after she is asleep in bed at night.
What I'd do with the money
I’d use the prize money to run citizen science projects that students could participate in.
I’ve got a lot of ideas about what could work as a fabulous citizen science (that means a project where anyone, anywhere can be involved in making science and collecting data) project. Because the best ideas often come from people looking with fresh eyes, I would like to speak with the prize winning students from each school in our zone to see what they think… Together we could design a great research question that we could then ask everyone to help us answer.
I think we could do a great online science project that could be open to students all around THE WORLD.
My only request is that it is science that relates to dogs in some way! We could design a project that anyone could be part of. You wouldn’t need to own a dog (or even like dogs!) to join in.
If there was money left over from this, I’d probably donate it to the new Australian Working Dog Alliance charity so they could have some kind of student essay or poster competition (with the money being used for prizes) to get some new ideas for working dog science experiments while raising awareness about working dog welfare in schools.
If I won, I’d also organise a Hangout to be able to chat with the students from the schools in our zone and answer any questions you have about my work, or how I became a scientist.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic | Friendly | Hard-working
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I listen to Triple J a lot and I love movie soundtracks. Right now, I like listening to Darren Hanlon, Zee Avi, Damien Rice, the ‘Whip It’ soundtrack and Thelma Plum.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I do lots of fun things – but most of the best ones are with animals! In the last few years, I’ve seen wolves at the Wolf Science Centre in Europe, dived with humpback whales in Tonga, made friends with a dog while hiking in the Annapurna ranges in Nepal and swum with dolphins and sea lions in Australia.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1. To be able to teleport to any place or time 2. To make a positive difference in the world 3. To learn how to do a cartwheel (they look SO FUN but I never learned how!)
What did you want to be after you left school?
I wasn’t sure exactly, but I knew I wanted to do something to do with animal behaviour.
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
My Year 8 History teacher wrote that I was a “facetious toad” on a school report once. My Dad wasn’t impressed! I think I was a bit cheeky at times, and definitely wrote too many notes to my best friend during class!
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Used my science training to help solve problems, making life better for both animals and people.
Tell us a joke.
Q: What kind of dog can’t keep a secret? A: A blabrador
I enjoy non-competitive activities like SCUBA diving, horse riding and bush walking. I don’t follow any specific sports.
Whoever’s winning! Ha! No, really – I don’t watch much sport, I’ve always been too busy playing with my pets!