As a graduate student at the University of North Texas, Nicole became interested in animal training and specifically decreasing problem behavior in animals. One of her first endeavors was an olive baboon that was engaging in self injurious behavior which caused huge lacerations on its arms and legs. With Nicole’s knowledge of behavior analysis, her first thought was to see what was maintaining the baboon’s problem behavior and to conduct a functional analysis. From the data collected with this method, she was able to eliminate the self injurious behavior and found that the cause of the problem was the keepers telling the baboon to “stop doing that” that was acting as attention and increasing the self injurious behavior. This was the first time this method had been used with an animal and has since been used to determine the maintaining variable of self injurious behavior in other captive primate species. After this project, Nicole was hooked. Although her Ph.D. at the University of Exeter was focused on investigating social learning in a variety of zoo animals and dogs, in her spare time she consulted on training and decreasing problem behavior at the Paignton Zoo and successfully co-organized a zoo training workshop.
After her Ph.D. she moved to Florida and began working as a postdoctoral fellow, where she has published a number of papers and book chapters on canine social cognition and behavior. Her recent research focuses on developing a line of research that will serve the dog training community and seek to find a deeper understanding of the factors that underlie problem behavior.
In addition to conducting her research, Nicole is also a board member for the Animal Behavior Management Alliance (ABMA) and is a lecturer at the University of Florida teaching a variety of courses including Animal Cognition and Research Methods. She has also been an invited speaker to a number of national and international conferences and workshops, including Karen Pryor’s Clicker Expo and APDT. Her work has been featured in the media including Discovery News among others. In addition to her research and teaching, Nicole is also one of the directors of the BARC group (www.barcgroup.org). She believes that her research will provide dog trainers with a more informed way of choosing training methods by providing research based information on which methods work best for certain behaviors.
Recorded OnDemand Lecture: Research in Dog Training: Current Projects and Future Directions (Recorded Live: January 12, 2012)