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A day in the life

Simon Gadbois, senior instructor


If you're passionate about what you do, it tends to be contagious.





A 'dogs' life

Simon Gadbois’ life went to the dogs a long time ago, and he couldn’t be happier about it.

A senior instructor in the Department of Psychology, Dr. Gadbois has been studying “canids”—animals like wolves, dogs, coyotes and foxes—since he was a PhD student at Dal. Now he’s passing on his wisdom to his own students.

“The teaching is easy because I talk about stuff that I’m absolutely passionate about,” says Gadbois. “If you’re passionate about what you do, it tends to be contagious.”

Of course, it helps that Dr. Gadbois’ passion involves some adorable and amazingly talented furry friends. His research specialty is “sniffer” dogs, which he trains and then takes out into the field to identify other animals.

Gadbois has used his four-legged scent experts to help conservation teams locate endangered turtles and track the movements of aggressive coyotes, among other projects.

“It’s like you see in the movies when the dogs go looking for criminals—except that it’s turtles,” says Dr. Gadbois.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m still completely amazed by what they do and how good at it they are.”

Dr. Gadbois shares this sense of amazement with students in his second- and third-year Animal Behaviour courses, telling stories from his own work in the Dal dog lab and in the field. But second-hand stories can’t totally capture his excitement.

That’s why Dr. Gadbois invites undergraduate students to volunteer in his dog lab, where duties can range from basic dog-sitting chores to handling animals in the field to helping with scent training. Regardless of their level of experience, students get to weigh in on the research and care of the dogs, all of which are pets volunteered by owners.

“We have a lot of spontaneous brainstorming sessions where we talk about how we can solve a specific problem with a specific dog,” says Dr. Gadbois.

Not surprisingly, his lab is popular with student volunteers, with 50 or 60 participating on the lab’s private Facebook page at any one time.

Any one of those dozens of dog lovers could be the next Simon Gadbois, someone who turns a fascination with animals into a rewarding career.

“Every kid is interested in animals,” Gadbois says. “I just managed as an adult to do what I wanted to do as a kid."