Alumna Lucia Lazarowski, '18, combines love of dogs and psychology in research

Photo of Lucia Lazarowski

College of Liberal Arts alumna Lucia Lazarowski received her Ph.D. in Cognitive and Behavioral Sciences (Department of Psychology) from Auburn University in 2018 after completing a doctoral dissertation on detection dog cognitive development. Prior to her doctoral studies, she completed a master’s degree in psychology with an emphasis on comparative cognition from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and later worked as a research specialist studying canine behavior and olfaction at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Lazarowski is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Canine Performance Sciences program (CPS) at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Her work has been published in a variety of journals including Animal Cognition, Learning and Behavior, Behavioural Processes, Applied Animal Behavior Science, and Journal of Veterinary Behavior. She was recently awarded an Auburn University Intramural Grant to study the multimodal characterization of working dog suitability. Learn more about Lazarowski in our Q & A, below: 

1.       Would you please tell us about yourself? 
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but grew up in Durham, North Carolina and attended college at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. I moved to Auburn in 2014 for my PhD, which I completed last year. I'm now working as a post-doctoral fellow in the Canine Performance Sciences (CPS) program at Auburn's College of Veterinary Medicine. 

2.       How did you decide to attend Auburn for your PhD? And how did you become part of the Katz lab?  
I actually first met Dr. Katz many years before I ended up in his lab. After graduating with my bachelor's, I continued at UNCW to pursue a master's degree in psychology focusing on animal cognition. For my master's thesis, I studied a topic that was related to the research Dr. Katz had been conducting, so I was familiar with his work and actually met him at a conference where I presented my thesis findings. After finishing my master's I worked as a research associate at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine which is where I first became involved with dog behavior research. I decided I wanted to pursue a PhD in animal behavior, so I applied to several programs around the country. At the time, Dr. Katz's lab studied pigeons and was beginning to delve into fMRI (with humans). Because my main interest was to study dogs, and I knew that Auburn had a canine detection dog program, I contacted Dr. Katz to discuss the possibility of joining his lab to study canine cognition. I also contacted the directors of CPS, who I had met previously at a conference as well, to discuss the possibility of working with their program to conduct my PhD research. Everyone was very receptive and luckily there was increasing momentum among Dr. Katz's current graduate students and colleagues at Auburn to study dogs. I visited a few other programs but after visiting Auburn it clearly stood out in terms of the atmosphere, students and faculty, and research opportunities.  

3.       Would you tell us about your current research, and about the AU intramural grant you just received?
I’m involved in a wide range of projects related to CPS’s mission of advancing canine detection science. This includes studying how dogs learn, remember, and detect odors, how early experiences and socialization of puppies influence their development, and how to evaluate and select dogs with the best potential to be successful in the field. The IGP grant that I just received will use a bio-behavioral approach to examine the factors that influence the chance of success as a detection dog. To do this we will conduct a range of behavioral tests, fMRI scanning, and collect physiological measures. The demand for detection dogs is on the rise but current methods of predicting which dogs will be successful are not very reliable, so by utilizing a more in-depth cross-systems approach we hope to better identify the behavioral and neural correlates that might tell us more about why some dogs are successful and others are not. The project will be an interdisciplinary effort between CPS, Psychology, and the College of Engineering.

4.       What do you like most about the research you conduct?
I love the diverse nature of the research and my roles, which means that every day is different. Some days I am conducting behavioral observations either in the lab or at an off-site location, other days I am at my desk analyzing data and writing reports. Also, puppies! I get to do work that I enjoy while interacting with dogs and playing with puppies, which is what I always dreamt of doing but never thought was a real option. 

5.       What is your career goal? 
My ultimate goal has always been to be an animal behaviorist. Ideally, this would involve a combination of basic research to further our understanding of the mechanisms underlying behavior, while applying that knowledge to improve the well-being of the animals we work and live with.

Last Updated: March 28, 2019