Applied Animal Behavior Science (ANS 305)

Integrating practical elements into a theoretical applied animal behavior course for Animal Science undergraduates K. Laughlin & A.J. Zanella

Department of Animal Science, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824

The teaching of applied animal behavior is of increasing importance to Animal Science undergraduates in North American universities. Following the recent attention to animal welfare, and in anticipation of the growing opportunities for research and employment in this field, it is essential for there to be a body of students with the requisite level of knowledge, expertise and interest to realize the potential of this area of study.

The theoretical teaching of applied animal behavior principles in the classroom can be optimized by the integration of practical laboratory sessions, utilizing the wide range of facilities and livestock on hand at most Land Grant universities in the US. We have developed a curriculum, in which parallel weekly laboratory sessions first familiarize students with the fundamental techniques of behavioral observation, including sampling and recording methods. Subsequent sessions gradually introduce greater complexity of experimental design, formulating and testing hypotheses, statistical analysis of data and interpretation of results. Throughout these lessons, we focus on different aspects of behavior (e.g. reproductive behavior, fear responses, social organization and motivation), thus consolidating the information presented in lectures, whilst providing hands-on interaction with a variety of farm animal species. In collaboration with Potter Park Zoo, and the Capital Area Humane Society, we are also able to educate students on behavior and welfare issues of captive wild and companion animal species.

Students are required to submit reports throughout the course, which are graded on, among other things, the standard of scientific writing and critical evaluation of the study. The final assignment is an in-depth field research project, submitted as a written paper and an oral presentation, allowing individuals to utilize all the tools and techniques they have acquired during the semester, including peer review.

We propose that an integrated teaching approach, such as this, enhances the understanding of the theory underlying applied ethology, maximizes the appreciation of the practical considerations necessary in research, and stimulates a level of interest that may not be attained in the classroom. The purpose of this presentation is to encourage discussion about the current teaching of behavior in Animal Science departments.

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