I grew up in Germany where I received my veterinary degree in 2008, and practiced as a dairy vet for 4 years. In 2013, I joined UBC’s Animal Welfare Program, first as an international student scholar, then as PhD student in 2014. During my PhD I investigated how healthy and sick dairy cows differ in a range of behaviors, completing my studies in early 2019.
While I am still interested in animal behavior, my focus has shifted toWHY individual animals behave the way they behave, and how we can influence their behavior in the most kind and humane way. Farm animals need to frequently learn new behaviors due to our management systems, for example dairy cows need to learn how to go to the milking parlor, and farm animals of any species may need to be moved between different locations. Unfortunately, we often use the animals’ desire to avoid unpleasant, painful or frightening situations to achieve our management and training goals. In zoo and companion animals on the other hand, positive reinforcement training is now the gold standard, where we reward animals for correct behaviors; in other words, animals learn to use their behavior to get access to something pleasant, instead of learning how to avoid something unpleasant, and as result are often more motivated and safer to handle. I hope to see the application of positive reinforcement training increase on farms in the future, and am keen on researching how to make use of this training technique in an effective and kind way for animals and farmers alike.