2007: At Harvard University 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.
My wildcat census study in Costa Rica proved that our domestic cat is similar to their wildcat counterparts in so many ways, but studying other species is just as important to understanding a particular one that you may be interested in. As Dawkins once pointed out – the difference between species is by degree, not kind. 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, and the fundamentals of genetics and how animals learn.
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. You will see many similarities among different species in this regard.
My experience at both 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 (one of their 12 schools at Harvard). 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. Shortly after Harvard, I wrote the first scholarly-cited cat behavior science book for cat owners. In addition to being published in 4 different languages (Random House Publishing), it is used as textbook curriculum in cat behavior certifying organizations to certify other cat behaviorists/counselors that you see today.
Monteverde Costa Rica Cloud Forest Reserve 2014 Cat Census Study, Cat Tracking Study, and Cat Behavior Study with Mieshelle Nagelschneider and Dr. Jordan Carlton Schaul for team “Cat Whisperer” and the next book.
Oxford University 2019 – Dept. for Continuing Education – Animal Behavior and Psychology.
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 (including my partner who is a veterinarian) 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 classes were 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. I gained important knowledge on how dogs learn through operant conditioning (B.F. Skinner) in my course and this strengthened by knowledge on how animals learn in general (humans too). Even though I had studied this in college in my early 20’s, now with my cat behavior profession, I have found that cats can actually learn more quickly and more reliably than dogs in some cases if they are truly food motivated.
University of Edinburgh – Royal School of Veterinary Studies: Study of Animal Behavior and Animal Welfare Course – Cat Behavior
Syllabus: Course details here
Several animal behavior courses were taken here. External Factors that Drive Animal Behavior and Abnormal Behavior and Early Life Environment Enriched Habitats: Sensory, cognitive, social, physical, occupational, feeding. Internal Factors and Animal Behavior (Tigers, Bear, Lizards, Primates). Study of genetics, animal cognition, emotional status, health status, and physiological status.