August 2015 Newsletter

 August 2015

What's New

ABI students and alumni are now eligible for a discounted rate at Kennel Pro, an insurance company for dog and cat trainers. To get this rate, go to Kennel Pro's website, click on Request a Quote Online, and check off the box “Are you a student or alumnus of the Animal Behavior Institute, Inc?” Once your status is verified, you will receive the discounted quote.

ABI students are also eligible for a 10% discount at Loop Abroad, an organization that provides training for students interested in becoming veterinarians through trips to other countries where they study native animals alongside professional veterinarians. Students can get this discount by asking ABI to send their transcript to Loop Abroad to prove they are a student.

Dogs Look Like Their Owners - Inside and Out

We’re taking man’s best friend to a whole new level. According to a new study found here, not only do dogs look like their owners, they also synchronize their hormones to match them. Recently published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, this study found that dogs and humans connect on both a conscious and subconscious level, impacting their biochemistry. This finding speaks to the depth of the bond that can be forged between dogs and humans. Dogs and humans can even affect each other’s levels of oxytocin, or the “love hormone.”

Oxytocin in humans helps mothers and babies bond. In dogs, it makes the animal much more obedient to the owner. (A similar article explains the effects of oxytocin.) Oxytocin helps the human or dog understand emotions and solve social problems. A dog’s levels of oxytocin can increase after just three minutes of being pet by a human. The closer a human feels to a dog, the higher the level of oxytocin is found in their urine.

Alicia Phillips Buttner, Breanna Thompson, Rosemary Strasser and Jonathan Santo conducted a study on the synchronization of dog and human hormones at the University of Nebraska. To test hormones, they took saliva samples from dogs and their handlers before and after agility competitions. They also gathered information about the people and their dogs and watched how they interacted after competitions. The samples showed that levels of cortisol were mirrored between the dog and respective owner. (Cortisol is reflective of excitement, arousal, or physical exertion.)

This bond may be due to the fact that dogs and humans are both such social species. The synchronization of hormones aids in social communication and cooperation. This is supported by findings about what dogs perceived from their owners. The study showed that dogs with male owners had higher levels of cortisol than dogs with female owners. Researchers speculate that this is because men might generally be more competitive and dogs respond accordingly. Conversely, women tend to socialize during the competition, which can help lower cortisol levels. Dogs are surprisingly perceptive of cues like this. In fact, if a human is stressed but tries to appear calm, the dog will still detect stressed hormones in the human’s sweat - which in turn affect the dog’s own hormones.  

Researchers believe the close connection between dog and human allows for this hormonal synchronization. However, it is also possible that a dog could temporarily sync with another human such as a friend or partner of the owner, or even a friendly stranger. They do this by picking up subtle social cues you may not even be aware of. Dogs have recently been proven to be able to recognize human facial expressions. (This article explains how gazing into your dog’s eyes can release extra oxytocin.) A recent study showed they could determine their owners’ moods by recognizing a smile or a scowl. Some can even determine the mood of a stranger by viewing their facial expression. They associate a smile with a positive meaning and a frown with a negative meaning.

Because the hormones cortisol and oxytocin are found in all mammals, researchers predict that studies like this will soon come out regarding the hormonal bond between humans and cats or even horses. This research will help animal trainers to chemically get dogs to listen to cues. It shows that dogs do look like their owners both inside and out.

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Enriching Their Lives - DIY Fun for Small Animals

(This article is the second in a series on DIY Enrichment Devices. Be sure to check out our first article on Enrichment Devices for Dogs and our second article on Enrichment Devices for Cats.)

Besides cats and dogs, some of the most popular pets in America are small animals such as hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits - animated balls of fluff. They are easy to care for; yet, many owners may place their pets in a cage with little to occupy their time. Though these animals may seem fine, a cage is nothing like the natural habitat. There aren’t many opportunities to exercise their natural skills and senses. However, this can easily be remedied with enrichment.



In the wild, hamsters live in a complex series of underground tunnels. They forage for food, travelling several miles per night! (Ask anyone that owns a hamster with a squeaky exercise wheel.) Hamsters need to search, forage, and move, even in captivity. While we many not be able to provide miles of tunnels, there are ways you can simulate a hamster’s natural habitat through easy enrichment devices that you can make yourself.

One of the easiest ways to enrich your hamster’s life is to make a maze out of cardboard. This is similar to the underground tunnels hamsters live in and allows them to use the skills they would in the wild. They may modify the tunnels themselves and even cache food inside deeper parts of the tunnel. Check out the video below for step-by-step instructions on how to easily make this toy for your pet!

How to make a maze for your hamster

Alternatively, you can create a digging pit by filling a tub with dirt. Your hamster will love the opportunity to burrow through the soil. This will also keep its coat in good condition, believe it or not. These simple devices facilitate the hamster’s natural need to dig, work through tunnels, and navigate their way through three dimensional space.

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs can also benefit from similar enrichment devices. However, they also have a very strong drive to hide. They need the sense of security found in a place of refuge. Creating hiding places for your guinea pig will make them happy and comfortable. PVC pipes are a fantastic way to provide this for your pet. Guinea pigs love to hide inside them, run through them, and jump over them. Because of their need to hide, many guinea pigs stay at the edge of their cages. Putting a PVC pipe in the middle of the cage will increase the amount of usable space the pet has. Cardboard hideouts are NOT recommended, however. They can be dangerous because guinea pigs often gnaw at them and ingest the cardboard. However, guinea pigs cannot eat PVC pipes, so they provide a much safer method of enrichment. Another advantage of PVC is that the tubes can be put together in different configurations. They can be changed as often as desired, adding variety – an essential component of good enrichment.


Though all of these animals can benefit from similar enrichment devices, rabbits particularly enjoy playhouses where they can look around and explore. Rabbits are active, inquisitive, social and intelligent. When they don’t have enough to do, rabbits can easily become bored, which detracts from their welfare. Pet rabbits are often kept confined for most of the day. During this time, they need to have some control over their environment or they may become stressed. Fortunately, there are many easy and cheap ways to provide your pet with what they need.

Our recommended DIY device for this issue is the cardboard box house. All you need for this project is a large cardboard box and a pair of scissors. Simply cut some holes in the top and sides of the box that are big enough for the rabbit to go through. You’ve instantly created a playhouse for your bunny to run around in. Though it is extremely simple to make, your rabbit will absolutely love it. For an extra touch, add hay to the inside of the box for rabbits to lie in or eat.

As with any enrichment, ensure that:

  1. There are no links or dyes in the material you're using

  2. The animals won't ingest things that they shouldn't be eating.

  3. The animal can't become stuck in any device or hole.

  4. Things can't break off and be swallowed.

Basically, the factors that make toys dangerous to toddlers will pose the same risks to animals. It’s our job to keep them safe, after all, so have another person look over your DYI enrichment or ask your veterinarian.

Rabbits playing with cardboard box house

For a more complex cardboard toy for your rabbit, click here. This link demonstrates how to make a slotted cardboard ball for your rabbit. It is a round cardboard contraption filled with food that your rabbit has to play with to retrieve. This gets their mind and body going and simulates the actions they would use in the wild.

Don’t fall into the misconception that a nice cage and daily feeding for your pet is enough. Enrich their life with these easy DIY ideas! And be sure to check out our next issue featuring DIY enrichment devices for pet birds.

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Careers in Environmental Education

How would you like to share your passion for the environment every day – while making a difference in a cause that is important to you? As an environmental educator, you’d have the opportunity to increase awareness of these important issues. Does this sound like the perfect job for you? Read on to see how you can achieve this dream!

What does being an Environmental Educator entail?

The job of an environmental educator is very broad and can take on many forms. Some environmental educators work in pubic settings such as museums, zoos, botanical gardens, parks, and nature centers. Others work in Pre-K-12 school settings and colleges. Some educators even work in corporate sustainability departments or in the media.

Video on Environmental Education

With such a diverse career range, the background and training required of environmental educators varies greatly. Some have a degree in education, others in natural science, resource management, or social studies. Others do not have a degree but possess a lifelong passion and expertise for an environmental topic. Regardless of the specialization, all environmental educators aim to spread awareness and promote a unique cause in improving our environment.


If the job of an environmental educator is so broad, it is hard to set specific guidelines for a qualified professional. EE communities throughout North America are considering how to ensure that practitioners have the proper knowledge and skills. The North American Association for Environmental Educators (NAAEE) has a set of Guidelines for the Preparation and Professional Development of Environmental Educators. This outlines the preparation an environmental educator should go through before practicing professionally.

An EE community will often establish a minimum set of knowledge and skills that must be demonstrated by people who complete the program to become certified. The community must identify a Certifying Agent that will issue the official certification credential, and then determine how candidates will attain it. There are several ways an EE community can approach certification. It can be experience based, where the candidate must participate in workshops, presentations, and visits to environmental centers. It can be criteria based, where the Certifying Agent establishes specific criteria to be achieved through written assignments, tests, video recordings, and other documents. It can be course based, through community provided courses reviewing the required background. Lastly, it can be mentor based, where the candidate must work with a mentor to learn what is required. The Certifying Agent may also require a combination of these approaches. Therefore, attaining certification can vary greatly depending on the community.

Finding Jobs and Internships

Internships and volunteer opportunities are excellent ways to start your career and gain experience for almost any application of environmental education. Not only are these important steps in certification, they can create professional connections and provide invaluable learning opportunities. Internships can help you decide what you want to do (or don’t want to do) as an environmental educator.

The NAAEE provides a great link to the multitude of careers an environmental educator can pursue. In addition, here is a brief list of some great employment, internship, and volunteer opportunities:

Also, check out these grant opportunities for environmental educators working in primary and secondary schools: K-12 Classroom Grant Opportunities -- PLT GreenSchools! Update May 2015

Professional Associations

Another great way to make connections and get involved in the professional world is to connect with colleagues through professional associations. They will help you stay updated with the most recent EE news, find resources and opportunities, and network with other professionals. If you are planning on pursuing environmental education, consider joining one of the following organizations:

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Animal Assisted Therapy In Action: An Interview with ABI Prof. Tracey DePaul


Do you love working with animals? Ever dream of a career where you can foster an incredible human-animal bond to help people in need? Then tune in to our exclusive interview with Tracey DePaul, our own Animal Assisted Therapy Professional at the Animal Behavior Institute! Tracey is the Animal Assisted Therapy and Nature Education Program Supervisor at Wordsworth Residential Treatment Facility, a nonprofit residential treatment program for children who require residential placement. Tracey coordinates with a Treatment team to provide Individual and Group Animal Assisted Therapy & Education for these children.

Learn more about Wordsworth’s Residential Treatment Program


You may have acquired your love for animals later in life, but for Tracey DePaul, it was a lifelong passion. During her interview, Tracey recalled, “I always grew up being in tune with nature and animals.” Tracey started out studying psychology in residential treatment facilitiesÍž However, her love of nature led her to realize that something was missing: there were no plants or animals for the residents to interact with. After a few years, Tracey took the initiative to bring in her own fish tank and later convinced the administration to set up a rabbit house in the facility. The impact of these animals inspired Tracey to become certified in the field of Animal Assisted Therapy.


Although Tracey currently works with animals at Wordsworth, she originally worked in fundraising and marketing. However, when Wordsworth started their animal program they solicited her involvement, knowing that she was becoming certified in AAT. Now she works with two populations of children: those at the residential treatment center and those at the Approved Partial Hospital Program (APHP). Children in residential treatment are there for longer periods of time, often with a nine-month minimum stay. APHP kids are there for a short-term stay, with a 20-25 day maximum. Tracey explained, “Some of the residential treatment children receive traditional animal therapy, where we have treatment-oriented goals that coincide with goals already in place. They might work on socialization, but a lot of it is trauma work.” This is where the animals come in. Rehabilitating animals can make a huge impact on trauma recovery in children through a trauma-informed practice called parallel processing of recovery.


Tracey told ABI that “most animals in the program have been abused and neglected prior to coming here and many have behavioral issues that need to be addressed. It’s powerful for kids that have experienced trauma to help the animals work through their own traumatic past.” Many of the kids that Tracey works with are able to experience parallel process of recovery in their work with the animals. This means that they help animals recover from their experience while processing and working through their own traumas. Tracey told us that this method “models resiliency and instills hope, which is so important in children who have experienced trauma.” Often, the children will create trauma narratives about animals that have been abused when it is too hard or they are not yet emotionally ready to make one for themselves. They sympathize and identify with the animal, bonding with it and later gaining the ability to begin to process their own trauma by recognizing parallels in experiences, behaviors, and resiliency.


One of the most inspiring examples of parallel practice occurred during Tracey’s second year at Wordsworth. She described, “I was working in an outdoor group with rabbits when an administrative assistant came across the field accompanied by a woman with a small cage. There was a blanket between her and the cage and the animal inside was going crazy trying to bite her and get out. The woman went into a horrific story about her adult son who would torture the bird. She said he was on vacation and she wanted to give me the bird to rescue it. I agreed to take the bird, thinking I would take it home with me, not wanting to bring it back to that situation.”


However, the children at Wordsworth had different ideas. They could really sympathize with the bird and wanted to help her. Like them, the bird was only misbehaving because of a horrible event that happened to her. They confronted Tracey, explained their feelings, and asked if the bird could stay with them. Tracey told ABI, “They really made a strong argument, so I went to administration to ask to keep the bird. We put really strict guidelines into place and the bird, named BJ, got to stay.”


The truly remarkable part, however, was how the kids reacted. “None of those kids got to see BJ to the point where she could be out and be pet or handled,” Tracey said, “It was 3-4 years before that could happen. But the kids would stand by her cage and not flinch or shy away. They would ignore her negative behavior until she would relax and they could feed her. They would tell her she was good and give her treats, such as peanuts. These kids labeled with all these disorders, or as being incorrigible, sat still for day after day for hours and never got any secondary gain, but were able to be with the bird and identify what had happened. We still have the bird. She still has flashbacks, but can be out on a perch and even be pet now.”


This story demonstrates the amazing impact that animals can have on children as well as the way children can change the life of an abused animal. Tracey has rescued many animals that would never have been adopted out if they went to traditional animal rescues. However, their behaviors transform them into wonderful therapy pets because of the patience, love, and understanding that kids have. Tracey told us, “Our kids recognize what the animals have been through. They willingly invest time and energy into animals that they might not ever be able to touch or hold, but they accept this delayed gratification, recognizing that they are part of the process.”


Tracey advises students entering the field of Animal Assisted Therapy to make a conscious decision about exactly what they want to do. She believes that it is vital to make a plan so that you can market yourself and be clear about what services you want to provide and how you will provide them. “I was very fortunate. I kind of fell into the field,” Tracey said, “and although it is an emerging field, it’s still a bit of a niche. If you don’t have an opportunity waiting for you already, you should be very clear about exactly what it is that you want to do.” However, Tracey also explained, “If you’re driven, determined, and good at writing goals, people are really ready to hear about animal therapy/intervention/education. And it is an area for creating your own path at the moment.”


Tracey told us that one of the best things about her job is seeing the complete change that can take place when a child walks into a room with animals. Most of the kids she works with are profoundly traumatized, having dealt with physical sexual abuse and more. They are hyper vigilant and tense. However, the tension in their shoulders and faces fades when they walk into the animal room. With animals, kids can let their guard down and just be kids.


Tracey’s job is all about inspiring love and understanding between people and animals. An average person might say she performs miracles on a regular basis, but to her, it’s just another day at the best job in the world.

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