I always found observing animal behaviour and understanding their mind, how they communicate, cope and interact with their environment fascinating.
When I had to choose my career, I had no doubts that I wanted to be an ethologist. I graduated in Biological Sciences in Parma, where Professor Mainardi founded the first Italian School of Ethology. My Master thesis, on the validation of a temperament test to profile shelter dogs before adoption, was the first step toward my current main areas of interest which include human-animal relationship, animal behaviour, cognition and welfare.
In Parma I was also awarded my PhD in Behavioural Biology investigating the social behaviour of popular dog breeds.
Straight after my PhD, I worked as a researcher for the Human-Animal Relationship and Animal Welfare Unit at IZSAM, an Italian Public Health Veterinary Institute. There I was involved in the development of several research projects on companion animal and livestock welfare and on stray dog population control and management. My most relevant work focused on the use of animal-based measures as indicators of welfare for dogs housed in rescue shelters.
I recently ended a Post Doctorate fellowship at Queen’s University Belfast on canine behaviour and welfare on a BBSRC funded project looking at lateralisation as a new predictor of personality and welfare in domestic dogs. The research group include Dr Deborah Wells and Professor Peter Hepper.
Currently, I am on a Post Doctorate position at Purdue University (IN, USA) at Croney Research Group directed by Dr. Candace Croney. The project I'm working on explores new assessment methods for improving the welfare of dogs kept and rared in large commercial breeding establishments in the U.S.
My favourite teacher? My pet dog Mia of course.
EDUCATION & WORK EXPERIENCE
CURRENT RESEARCH & COLLABORATIONS
Motor laterality in non-human animals
One of my more recent research interests is brain laterality, i.e. the left and right hemispheres process emotional and environmental information in a different way. Measures of laterality have been associated with emotional stress, problem-solving and behavioural reactivity in many vertebrate species. In the past I investigated motor laterality as an indicator of emotional stress in ewes and lambs during a separation test.
My current main project focuses on paw preferences and the link with personality traits in the domestic dog. So far we published 3 papers and two more are in preparation.
2000 - 2007
Master Degree in Biological Sciences
Universitá di Parma (Italy)
Focus in applied ethology
Thesis title: Validation of a behavioural test for sheltered dogs
Livestock welfare during long transport
Within the EU funded project (SANCO 2011/10834) I contributed to the development of two welfare assessment protocols for sheep and horses during long transport (you can read the papers published on Animal Welfare here and here). Also I was involved in a study on sheep welfare during rest stops at control posts (read the paper here).
Free roaming dog population control and management
For several years my work focussed on the development of new and innovative tools to control stray and free-roaming dog populations and improve their welfare. Such tools include an application for smartphones and tablets to help in surveying roaming dogs in a given area (read the papers here and here).
I supervise and co-supervise PhD and Master students on projects related with dog behaviour and welfare. Currently I am collaboratig on these projects with Prof. Françoise Wemesfelder (SRUC), Dr. Gareth Arnott (QUB), and Dr. Paola Valsecchi (UNIPR).
PAST RESEARCH & COLLABORATIONS
Shelter dog behaviour & welfare
During my Master (equivalent) degree I applied and validated a temperament test for shelter dogs to improve their adoption success. In a recent review paper such test was mentioned as the only fully validated test for shelter dogs published so far (Haverbeke et al 2015, JVBCAR). The full test and validation procedure was published on JVBCAR and can be found here). One of my main accomplishments in this field has been the development and publication of the Shelter Quality Protocol, an easy-to-apply tool for the assessment of dog welfare in shelters using animal-based measures (read the paper published on Veterinary Records here).
During my PhD I had the opportunity to collaborate with Professor James Serpell at UPenn (PA, USA). There I investigated the validity of model devices commonly used in temperament tests for dogs (article here). I familiarised with the C-BARQ (Canine Behavioural Assessment and Research Questionnaire) and I have been using this tool in most of my research since. I'm very grateful to Prof. Serpell as he has been a great Mentor.
Read more about my work in the
Read more about my work in the
English - fluent; Italian - native; Spanish - fluent; French - conversational
2014 - 2018
PostDoctoral Fellowship on Canine Behaviour and Welfare
Queen's University Belfast (UK)
2014 - 2016
Independent expert of a study on the welfare of dogs and cats involved in commercial practices in the framework of a European Commission project
(Specific contract SANCO 2013/12364).
2011 - 2014
Researcher on animal welfare and human-animal relationship
2007 - 2011
PhD in Behavioural Biology
Universitá di Parma (Italy)
Thesis title: Ontogeny and phylogeny of social behaviours in the domestic dog
2003 - 2004
Awarded a 10 months Erasmus programme scholarship attending the Faculty of Sciences, Universidad de Alicante (Spain)
2018 - Present
Post Doctoral Fellowship on Dog Welfare in Commercial Breeding Establishments
Purdue University (IN, US)
Welfare of dogs in commercial breeding establishments
Puppy production occurres at an ‘industrial’ level in intensive commercial breeding establishments (CBEs), typically referred to as ‘puppy farms’. There is considerable public and societal concern regarding a range of potential welfare issues associated with CBEs. Despite these concerns, there is currently a lack of scientific understanding regarding the behavioural and welfare consequences for puppies and breeding animals originating from these facilities. Dog welfare and welfare standards in CBEs have been largely overlooked in terms of scientific attention compared to the traditional livestock specie, despite the fact that this ‘farming’ system impacts more people directly given that the puppies raised in these facilities enter our homes becoming our family pets.
For the next three years I’ll be working on what I believe is an extremely crucial and timely project that will have a huge impact addressing key knowledge gaps as well as informing future policy and legislation changes in this area.