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Teaching students how to interpret animal emotions 2: putting research into practice

02 March 2023
11 mins read
Volume 14 · Issue 2
Table 1. Behavioural signals of emotion identified for dogs, cattle and sheep


Part one of this article discussed the importance of teaching veterinary nursing students how to interpret animal emotions, and presented educational strategies for the classroom and clinical placements, informed by Herrington and Oliver's ‘Authentic Learning Framework’. However, translating educational strategies into tangible teaching plans may require considerable effort. This article aims to reduce some of the work involved by sharing an authentic teaching design that was used to support veterinary nursing students, in stage two of the University College Dublin's BSc Veterinary Nursing programme, in learning how to interpret animal emotions. Insights into the student learning process gained from analysing the teaching are also discussed, including student engagement (participation), the use of anthropomorphic descriptors, and the students’ strengths and weaknesses in interpreting animal emotions. Future directions for teaching are also considered. This article is an example of how veterinary nursing students can enhance teaching for future cohorts by participating in educational research.

The first part of this article discussed teaching veterinary nursing students how to interpret the emotions of animals. It also provided educational strategies for the classroom and clinical placements that were aligned with the ‘Authentic Learning Framework’ of Herrington and Oliver (2000). However, transforming teaching approaches into tangible plans may require considerable work. To avoid the unnecessary duplication of effort, the first aim of this second part is to share the design of a specific teaching and assessment plan on interpreting animal emotions. The second aim is to analyse the outcomes of this teaching and discuss any insights gained, as well as their significance.

This article focuses on a stage two module (animal behaviour for veterinary nursing) within the Bachelor of Science in veterinary nursing degree at the University College Dublin. This 4-year honour’s degree programme is recognised by the Veterinary Council of Ireland and the Accreditation Committee for Veterinary Nurse Education. Animal behaviour for veterinary nursing ran in the spring trimester and had a capacity of 45 students. It included education on normal animal behaviour, animal welfare assessment, learning theory and training methods, and animal behaviour problems. The animal emotions teaching and assessment were fully developed for the 2019-20 academic year. The teaching was planned for delivery at the beginning of the module, so that student understanding could then be built on. Emotions were explored in dogs, cats, cattle and sheep, and taught by this author. Equine behaviour was taught by a different lecturer and did not take the same approach, while the behaviour of exotics was not included in the module. The associated learning outcome was to ‘correctly identify/interpret the behaviour, body language and vocalisations of domestic animals’.

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